Many businesses come to a point when they have a software development project idea but aren’t sure that it has potential. Be it building a mobile application or anything else, if you didn't find product-market fit, the undertaking might turn out to be a waste of resources.
Does it really make sense to spend a lot of money and time on creating a complete product and only then show it to the world and make further conclusions? Sadly, it is common that a project isn’t well-received, doesn’t bring the expected ROI, or simply fails. But there are smarter idea validation approaches, safeguarding us from such disappointment. You need to “test the waters”.
What are the best practices in this respect? As a rule, having a project discovery phase before jumping to software development gives you the chance to conduct thorough market research and learn more about the target audience and competitors. You, therefore, make better decisions regarding the choice of the tech stack, UX/UI elements, and other end-product features. It allows you to perform tests and get feedback from real users, ensuring that you are creating something worthwhile and not investing in a dead-end.
How exactly does this happen? Well, there are several ways to prove the project’s viability before proceeding to full-scale software development. On this page, we go over what is proof of concept, a prototype, and a minimum viable product. We explain how an MVP vs prototype vs POC differ from one another, and the benefits and use cases of these strategies.
As the name suggests, proof of concept (POC) is all about validating a concept. Most projects usually start with idea initiation, but you must ensure that the idea is worth the investment. So the project moves to the next phase of discovery, during which you perform POC actions, proving that you’re on the right track. Proof of concept can take several days.
Proof of Concept Features
At this point, you have assumptions and theories. You need to figure out the potential of your ideas and whether you should get tied up in software development altogether. This implies not only the financial side but also the technical perspective.
So what is proof of concept in software development? It is an idea validation method, during which you hold several brainstorming sessions with a development team, browse the market, and conduct tests. The gathered data can serve as evidence for analysis, predetermining your next steps.
You get to answer many questions:
- Does the project stand a chance to be successfully brought to life?
- Is it possible from the technical side?
- Can you execute it with the intended functionality? Will it operate effectively?
- Can it be carried out the way you want and within the desired budget?
Proof of Concept Benefits
There are numerous advantages a product owner can gain by spending time on proof of concept (POC):
- reducing risks of investing in an unsuccessful project;
- identifying the possible roadblocks, including from the technical side;
- making better decisions early in the project’s lifecycle;
- determining how the product can address pivotal issues and user pain points;
- choosing the technology and features;
- understanding the final goals and aims;
- listing the success criteria;
- creating a delivery plan.
Proof of Concept Example & Use Case
Let’s sketch an example case. Say you have a running mid-sized e-commerce store. You notice that you have a visible drawdown in mobile conversions. People tend to buy more using desktop computers, and something stops them from making purchases using their smartphones.
“We need a mobile application!” Being full of enthusiasm that this is the optimal solution to your problem, you hurry to start planning a native application development project, which is usually a costly and time-consuming process.
But when the product is finally launched, there’s a big chance that you will realize that it’s too hard to get your users who shop in your store only once a month to actually go to the App Store and download the application to their device. They hesitate to do so because they don’t want to clog their smartphone’s memory with an app they won’t use regularly. And your mobile conversions didn’t show a visible boost.
Why did you need to go through the proof of concept in this scenario? If you’d done your research, you could have discovered that your mid-sized e-commerce store doesn’t need a downloadable app (at least not now). Maybe creating a fast browser-run PWA that’s well-polished in terms of UX/UI would be enough. It would have been cheaper and faster.
After all, PWAs allow for a smooth user experience from a mobile browser and can be added to the home screen as an app-like short link if the customer wants without taking up much device space. Such proof of concept examples demonstrate that comparing a mobile app vs mobile website and their pros and cons prior to decision-making could have made a difference.
Keep reading: Types of Mobile Apps: Native, Hybrid, Web and PWAs
A prototype is created to envision how a specific solution should work. If we compare a prototype vs proof of concept, the main objective of a prototype is to take the ideas that were verified during the previous proof of concept step and build a model of the product that would present its future functionality at a basic level. It usually takes a week or two to make a clickable prototype, but this timeframe may vary if there are many iterations.
A prototype can be considered a simulation or draft which embodies the solution’s usability. Prototypes may hint at the product’s design and look yet don’t go deep into the UI details.
Generally, these are wireframes and clickable prototypes. Thanks to the latter, you can interactively test the solution’s features, going through them one by one. They present the overall flow and user journey, showing how people interact with the solution, moving from one screen to another.
And by testing the prototype, you evaluate whether the shortlisted functionality is optimal. These insights are crucial to find out before you move on to the production stage.
Creating a prototype before working on the designs that are passed to the developers brings many advantages:
- finalizing the design concept of the solution;
- omitting unnecessary clicks and steps;
- optimizing the user journey;
- doing preparation work for a clean-cut design;
- experimenting with the design and keeping only the best-fit solutions.
Prototype Use Case Example
Let’s fall back on the previous example of a mobile solution for an e-commerce store. Say you’ve discussed how the mobile app should work and shortlisted 15 must-have features of the product. Why do you need a prototype?
The UX/UI designer creates wireframes and clickable prototypes of the product-to-be. You follow the user journey and discover ways to improve the solution in terms of usability (and even profitability). You can get many insights:
- Maybe you can omit an unnecessary click or cut down a step?
- What if an important button can be placed closer to the bottom of the visible screen, so the user doesn’t have to struggle to reach across the smartphone’s screen with their thumb?
- Is this menu type convenient enough for users to find what they’re looking for quickly?
- Will placing a search bar within the menu with filtered results provide some neat product suggestions that would expand the average number of items added to the cart?
- Does your checkout need all these fields and steps? Can you make the process shorter?
The bottom line is that a prototype allows for improving the product from the usability perspective, therefore increasing its chances of success.