What Is a Proof of Concept (POC)? How to Write It with Examples
The software development process comprises many essential moving parts that can hardly be overlooked or underestimated. One is an end-to-end feasibility and viability study of an early-stage idea that is not mature enough for technology enablement and consecutive implementation.
For example, suppose you are in the mood for traveling. In that case, you research potential sightseeing destinations, assess the availability of free time, and check the most affordable spots on Airbnb or Booking before buying plane tickets and scheduling some time off your work. The next traveling endeavor is exciting, but without putting your plans and ideas to the test, you may not end up with the vacation you expected.
Like any idea, a new software development idea needs to be validated and prepared to respond to real-life problems and challenges. There are multiple ways for entrepreneurs to confirm that a raw idea is applicable to practice. In one of the previous articles, we contrasted POC vs. Prototype vs. MVP, but today, we will talk about the approach that allows you to test a raw idea without commitments.
We'll put proof of concept POC in the spotlight, it's a common practice for those planning MVP development or adding new features to an existing product. Let's define and explain this term and consider the topic of POC in software development in detail.
What Does Proof of Concept Mean?
A proof of concept isn't just fancy startup vocabulary. It's a feasibility study of a novice idea in the earliest stages of the project. It eventually leads to obtaining confirmation of the idea's credibility and readiness for the target market.
Importantly, the proof of concept approach in software development allows you to verify that a product or feature idea is feasible and capable of living up to user needs. It may even note how it can work and the possible tech required for its creation. POC involves doing research, lets you collect early feedback and eliminate risks and errors in the later stages of the SDLC or product development life cycle.
The proof of concept definition also implies that the project:
- will solve real-world problems;
- can be implemented with present-day technologies;
- is safe from potential roadblocks.
At which point of the project should you go through proof of concept? Suppose you want to find evidence that the new idea can pass the test of time, meet appropriate industry standards, and interest stakeholders and investors (i.e., thanks to the facts you've added to your created pitch deck). In that case, POC should follow the ideation stage of your project. It'll provide valuable feedback, direct you in the right way, and let you assess the idea from different and, in most cases, unexpected angles.
However, not every project requires a proof of concept because some are based on generic or already proven ideas.
So, what is a POC handy for? Next, we'll go over the advantages of proof of concept, who the target users and adopters of a POC are, and which projects can get the most value out of it.
When Do You Use a Proof of Concept?
The main question you need to ask before jumping to conclusions about adding a proof of concept POC step to a project life cycle is whether the use case is brand new and unique.
When the answer is no, then every envisioned functionality has already been tested and proven that it can be implemented. The verdict: there is no need to perform POC actions. When the answer is yes, you don't have access to previous projects and compare the outcomes of the precedent work. The verdict: you need to test the new idea from scratch.
What do you get from undergoing this process?
Creating an efficient and actionable proof of concept in software development is about:
- procuring the project's initial requirements;
- identifying its objectives, OKRs and KPIs;
- and establishing the right flow of actions to make it a success.
As a result, you can leverage detailed documentation that outlines the process brick-by-brick, from core functionality to consecutive deployment and development, and find answers to many important product development questions.
What Are the Benefits of Proof of Concept?
Now that we know what is POC in business (and that it's generally handled early on during the discovery phase, let's take a quick look at why this process is meaningful and which gains it can bring. Some of the major proof of concept benefits include:
- Business viability evaluation — going through POC lets you answer a vital question: is this idea worth it business-wise? You get to study preliminary data and make certain that there exists a problem that needs solving, that there is demand for such a feature, product, or service, that there's customer interest, and the market is ready for it. Hence, you can use evidence to decide whether you want to engage in full development.
- Validating technical feasibility — proof of concept allows you to ensure that it is technically possible to bring such a solution to life. By finding out about probable gaps from the start, it'll be easier to iterate before full-scale development starts.
- Mitigating tech-related risks — a POC is also a way to avoid risks before getting things done and putting to question initial expectations. You get to identify various bottlenecks and possible issues early on, as you'll investigate integral parts of product development dealing with the optimal tech stack, solution scalability, performance, integrations, and other fundamentals.
- Reducing financial risks — importantly, going through a proof of concept requires much fewer resources than developing a full-fledged and complete product. This way, you can weigh the pros and cons of investing in the project, calculate a realistic estimate of the expenses and resources needed, as well as the potential ROI. Not to mention that even if a POC proves that the idea isn't a good one, this can save you the trouble of investing in a non-viable product.
- Refining the business strategy — with a clear understanding of all the points mentioned above, you can better mold the business strategy, choose an appropriate model, polish your product scope, as well as put together logical requirements and specifications, which will all surely help you with a smoother product or MVP launch.
Major Steps to Write a Proof of Concept
As you see, not skipping the proof of concept stage can bring multiple advantages. But where do you begin with POC, and how do you organize the process? Let's go over the common proof of concept steps in this short checklist to help you get started and ensure a successful evaluation.
Start with a Clearly Defined Business Idea and POC Objectives
At this step, you need to transition from operating on guesswork and assumptions to sourcing and finding a business idea that's clear and straightforward. Otherwise, you won't be able to conduct research properly nor articulate the value of the future solution to stakeholders.
Start by answering the following question: "What do I want to explore through the POC process?" You need to define the idea behind your proof of concept initiative, the problem you're thinking about solving with the future product, or the goal you want to achieve with it.
Therefore, you have to finalize the proof of concept objectives and project aims. To do so, you must identify who the end-users are and what you think their pain points are. Then, suggest how the envisioned software or solution will help address them.
Define the Scope of Your POC
Scope creep is a common scenario, as not all teams manage to determine what to include in the proof of concept stage. Although there are no strict rules as to what can or should be included in the phase, you must evaluate the project and indicate the boundaries of what you're including in the scope.
For example, your proof of concept process may include testing specific use cases, shortlisting the functionality to focus on first, calculating and prognosing the MVP cost, or anything along these lines.
Set Your Performance Goals
You should also ideate the deliverables and end results of POC activities to ensure consistency of your work. Which outcomes will let you determine whether the proof of concept was successful or not?
To set the new idea in motion, you need to generate hypotheses and assess which parts of the process work correctly and which ones need refinement. For that, it is necessary to track their progress and measure the efficiency of each undertaking when going through a POC stage.
As a result, you will be able to prove the validity of your offer on target markets and ensure that the idea is feasible in the long run. Startups rely heavily on tracking startup KPIs and metrics, so it makes sense to shortlist a pool of relevant criteria to measure your success. For example, could a large number of sign-ups on the landing page signal user interest and high demand? The specific criteria set will differ from product to product.
Plus, now could be the right time to get hold of decent analytics solutions, for instance, Amplitude or Mixpanel.
Note the POC Process Participants and Pick the Right Resources
Who will participate in the proof of concept activities? Who will be making the calls? Depending on how developed your company is (or if you're running solo altogether), you can look into the startup team structure and distinguish the roles or particular people who'll be involved.
You might need to involve stakeholders, marketers, designers, developers, business analysts, testers, or any other relevant team members. So, try to decide who'll be responsible for production and decision-making.
Create a shortlist and finalize the skills required to complete the flow of POC tasks with precision and quality in mind. Identify knowledge gaps and fill them with the right expertise of internal or third-party specialists.
Estimate Duration and Effort
At this step, you need to identify the resources and explain how you will use them during your POC. To prove the feasibility of your business idea, it is important not to forget to count the time and effort necessary for its implementation.
Do you have specific tasks in mind? How much time will you need to complete them? Initial estimations can do you a favor once you've interested the stakeholders, as you can hit them with carefully planned deadlines and person-hour totals.
As it is likely to be a pilot project with no preceding evaluations of that kind, the proof of concept stage needs to consider all the factors affecting time and effort estimates and suggest ways to overcome potential challenges and risks. Otherwise, you won't have accurate project estimations or timelines, and being realistic is highly important.
Proceed with POC Activities
When the plan is lined out, it's time to move on to implementation, that is, act on specific tasks. What could these be?
- For instance, you'll likely need to do your homework and invest time into conducting thorough user, competitor, and market research.
- Another crucial goal of the proof of concept in software development could be to ensure that it is possible to implement the product or SaaS idea you have using current technology. Therefore, you need to provide a plan for consecutive iterations of the solution and define its long-term value.
- The proof of concept phase may also include formulating and testing your hypotheses. To do so, you might need to put together landing pages, make email send-outs, hold interviews with focus groups, or do other things.
- You could also build a concise product development roadmap at this point, indicating the must-have features and the release plan for the product's early version. Making doable timeline estimates of the entire project (in line with the startup budget) could be part of the scope as well.
Proof of Concept Evaluation
Once you've executed the tasks in your POC scope, you have to evaluate the results. Study the collected data, user insights, and feedback, and analyze your findings. In essence, this is the moment for informed decision-making as you should determine whether the proof of concept was successful or not and whether you should proceed to development.
Perhaps the gained insights will push you toward amending the initial plan, re-focusing your efforts, or will lead you to the necessity of going through another proof of concept round.
If the POC was a success, reassess how you should best proceed with product execution and the project on the whole. If the POC wasn't successful, log all the outcomes and details of the experiment and your work (maybe you'll return to these results one day).
Proof of Concept Template
To ensure a smooth and effective proof of concept process you'll need a systematic approach. This way, you'll have more chances to end up with a well-executed POC that delivers the desired outcomes. To equip you with a solid plan, we've put together a simple proof of concept template. This proof of concept checklist can serve as a roadmap, guiding you through the key checkpoints and helping you test the waters in an organized manner. So, roll up your sleeves and get started!
What Happens After Proof of Concept in Software Development?
The proper proof of concept meaning is to collect all the necessary information and form a foundation for future product development. It is worth keeping in mind that it should contribute to the fulfillment of the company's or stakeholders' goals. So, after you've arrived at feasible non-tech or tech startup ideas, it is time to check if they are workable. Here's what you need to proceed with.
Solution Prototyping and Design
After ensuring that the project is worth a shot and planning the work ahead (from prioritizing features to marking the milestones), it's time to put the documented scenario into action.
Throughout the process, you are going to create imitations of the user interface and the steps that will take place there. You can demonstrate the basic features and workflows by developing mockups, wireframes, or sketches. There are plenty of MVP tools that can facilitate the creation of a great MVP design, including Figma.
MVP Creation and Launch
Then it's time to build the most basic version of the future solution. We mean creating an MVP of the software, which serves as the base for a full-fledged market-ready solution. You can opt for various types of minimum viable products at this point, which can differ in intricacy and required resources.
As a rule, the product will only have a minimal set of core features that are capable of solving the user problem. Nonetheless, it has to be free of bugs and glitches, thus, the QA testing process is crucial. Once the solution's early version is well-tested and ready for takeoff, you can proceed to its launch.
Next, it is necessary to gain real-world feedback by engaging a small group of designated end-users. Insightful feedback from all interested parties will fully equip you with the needed knowledge about what needs improvement.
By collecting and analyzing user feedback (say, by building in public or reaching out to the audience to learn their point of view), you may create a genuinely polished interface, add relevant features, and lay the groundwork for optimal performance.
The MVP testing process will point at drawbacks and inefficiencies that could have been overlooked at the initial stage. The final aim is to ensure the envisioned solution aligns with end-user and stakeholder expectations.
Once you've gone through an ungrateful business of fine-tuning and adjusting your solution after MVP release, there comes a moment when you start going through repeated success. That is the most optimal period for entering the next stage of growth or expansion.
When creating an entirely new software product from scratch, stakeholders are likely to expect it to be scaled over time. Luckily, with proof of concept and the agile MVP approach, this road has a minimum number of blocks and hindrances as it removes unnecessary or non-viable features from the very outset.
Proof of Concept Examples
How can you harness the power of POC? Let's overview a few notable examples of proof of concept usage. These companies leveraged POC, which eventually led them to success.
Bringing up a proof of concept in software development, Netflix's story about harnessing innovation is a great fit. Initially, Netflix was a service offering to send DVDs by mail. Yet ten years after its 1997 launch, the company completely transformed its business model and introduced an Internet version of its video services available on subscription. How did they ensure demand for transitioning online and shifting to such digital content?
Starting from 2000, the team leveraged data analytics and studied user behavior based on the collected data. They came to discover that this could be a wonderful opportunity for business expansion. Their online version reached over 4m subscribers by 2005, which served as a basis for their 2007 launch of video streaming services. Their value proposition still focuses on accessibility and affordability, making the product such a global hit today, appreciated for its great recommendation engine with personalized suggestions.
Airbnb is the most reputed service for finding and booking properties for travelers. They came up with an idea to streamline the collaboration of hosters and co-hosters to make the management process more efficient and straightforward.
The company initiated a POC in Tokyo to lay the foundation for the new feature of co-hosting. As Cameron Wu, an Experience Designer, mentions: "It would be several months before we could design and implement the components of our service, so in order to test the concept, we launched a service prototype in Tokyo." The goal was to create a simulation of the new feature, which is still in the early stages of development. Today, Airbnb is among the most renowned MVP examples for inspiration.
Here's another great example of proof of concept in business. Back in 2013, Melanie Perkins, an Australian entrepreneur, wanted to transform the concept of digital design, making it more accessible to the masses. The aim was to provide a straightforward alternative to difficult-to-grasp design platforms like Microsoft and Adobe and help people no matter what they wanted to accomplish (e.g., make a logo, social media images, business cards, presentations, or anything else).
Before rushing to build the full-fledged online design platform, Melanie and the team wanted to test out the idea, so they set up a petite online school yearbook design business. In particular, they launched a website that helped them prove their hypothesis: there's a need for such a simple design solution.
It took a substantial amount of time before the first Amazon Go shop went to market. Initially, the company needed to test the idea and provide evidence that it would be in demand among ordinary consumers.
For that, Amazon had to prove the viability of its new product by testing it on employees internally. After a couple of rounds of trying different technologies, Amazon came up with the perfect combination of tools, which was included in the Amazon Go facilities.
Final Thoughts on Proof of Concept (POC)
Keeping in mind that the startup failure statistics suggest that only 10% of startups make it through their first year after launch, it is crucial to ensure that the raw idea can survive in the long run. One of the most credible ways to achieve that objective is to document every step and detail of the proof of concept.
Many successful proof of concept examples pinpoint that it is a great way to showcase an idea to end-users and stakeholders and confirm its feasibility. Think of it as the first step in realizing a pilot project or adding new features to your current offering. Without it, it is hard to imagine consecutive development phases and further deployment.
If you want to get the most out of proof of concept in software development or get a consultation on MVP development services for startups, don't hesitate to contact us. Upsilon has years of experience in helping startups grow from MVPs to 9-digit businesses, and we have sprint-based dedicated team pricing too!