All software development projects start as an idea to solve a problem or introduce customers to a new experience. With any luck, the idea is strong enough to generate the desired results.
But a strong idea alone is not enough to justify investing valuable time and tens of thousands of dollars on a project. What you really want is a project that’s driven by reliable data.
Software developers assess product ideas by using the proof of concept (POC) tool. A POC can assess the feasibility, functionality, cost, market fit, and viability of software development ideas.
What is a Software Proof of Concept (POC)?
A software proof of concept is a test tool created to validate assumptions about an idea and assess an idea's technical feasibility. It is not meant to be released as a final product.
A business or team can use the results of a software proof of concept analysis to make data-backed decisions when building software.
Company executives and stakeholders also use a software POC as a decision-making tool during the development process. It provides a granular image of a software idea’s cost implications and user acceptance level.
Furthermore, a POC supplies both product owners and engineering leads with a holistic view of how a product idea will look in practice. This makes it easier to align the development process with metrics, in order to create the desired result.
The Difference Between a Software POC, a Prototype, and an MVP
Although a prototype, a minimum viable product (MVP), and a software proof of concept are used to test a product idea, they come with differences. Each methodology is interdependent and relevant to various software development continuum stages.
The next section explains why it's best to create a POC before moving on to a prototype, followed by an MVP. Anyday observes these critical, early-stage steps during software development to develop an initial concept, rigorously test ideas, and create a beta version.
Software POC vs. Prototype
A software POC assesses an idea's technical feasibility, whereas a prototype is used to assess an idea's potential design and user experience.
A POC test tool is created during the conceptual stage of a software development process for the purpose of testing an idea’s technical feasibility. Product owners and engineering leads use POC to visualize the entire software and choose the best technical approach.
Another defining feature of a POC is that it is not shown to external stakeholders. It is purely an internal document created for, and viewed by, decision-makers and management.
By contrast, a prototype is a testing method that is used to create a mockup of a product's potential look and user navigation flow. Prototyping typically starts after a successful POC.
Therefore, once a proof of concept has confirmed the technical feasibility of a software idea, it’s safe to begin designing a prototype.
Creating a prototype requires a cross-functional team of strategists, user experience researchers, user experience designers, interface designers, engineers, and product managers are part of the collaboration process as well, though development is not required during this stage.
A prototype is usually an interactive representation of the product itself. For example, a Figma design file.
Software POC vs. MVP
A minimum viable product (MVP) is a working version of a developed software, limited to its core features. In other words, the purpose of an MVP is to act as an early-stage product both for market trial and gathering user feedback.
Any data obtained from an MVP rollout is used to identify pain points and improve the product.
MVPs are made for public release, but most companies prefer to release the MVP to a select group of real-world end users. This market research methodology is better for gathering feedback.
By definition, an MVP is markedly different from a proof of concept. Both idea-testing methodologies work in chronological order.
The development team should only create an MVP after the completion of the proof of concept and prototype stages. Minimum viable products are not meant for the early stages of go-to-market. Instead, use them to test a software idea in preparation for the final, market ready product.
Once the MVP is developed and rolled out, the next step is to create a feedback system and pre-launch strategy for further development.
When do you Need a Software POC?
Think of a proof of concept (POC) as a blueprint for a home. Before committing to the development of a new home, a blueprint allows architects, builders, interior designers, and all tradespeople involved to be aligned on feasibility, budget, and timelines.
The most typical situations in which a POC is useful are:
When you're creating a new software or digital product
New ideas are exciting. That’s why it can be so tempting to invest time and money in new product development without so much as a roadmap to guide you.
Instead, make proofs of concept a central part of your business plan. A successful POC can not only gather feedback about the idea’s viability and risks, but also determine if the idea is technically feasible and, most importantly, fulfills a real need in the market.
When you’re adding new features to an already-existing technology, service, or product
A successful proof of concept can help you understand the usability, market demand, and real-life worth of a proposed feature and its pain points. This lowers potential risks and ensures you aren't squandering money on things that won't bring your users any added value.
When you're introducing new technology
Before introducing a new technology or developing a new feature, you need to verify that it won't create more issues than it solves. Also, ensure that it will function with your current workflows, systems, and procedures.
Using a POC, project managers can determine if a new software idea is functionally sound. The POC will also help to determine if the idea is compatible with other systems and products. Furthermore, it can identify pain points prior to rollout.
When you’re seeking investments
To persuade investors about the viability of a new idea, a proof of concept is crucial. The data generated by a successful POC will show potential investors that you are committed to the project and have the necessary information to support your claims.
Benefits of Software POC Development for any Organization
Identifies scaling opportunities
It is just as important to identify a scaling strategy for your product as it is to release a product that potential users will love.
A good product is bound to grow over time. To accommodate that growth, use the early stages of development to determine how you’ll expand your product at the technical and commercial levels. Your hardware and software architecture should evolve to accommodate a growing user base.
In software development, proof of concept (POC) helps you design adaptable and scalable systems for future growth. This will save you time and money by preventing the need to transition an active project to a new, more scalable architecture.
Evaluates technical feasibility and practical usability
Creating a POC helps you verify your product's technical viability and potential to meet market needs and demands. Also, a POC analysis will help you choose the best development approach for each business idea.
A software proof of concept is necessary to identify and resolve any technical challenges early on. It also helps you better understand the product, making it easy to address potential risks before development.
Ultimately, a software POC saves your business significant time and money, which you would have otherwise spent trying to solve issues.
When you have a working POC, you can easily create a roadmap for your product's development and market launch.
A POC helps you identify and deal with technical pain points and possible pitfalls before development. These efforts can shorten the development process time frame because there are no surprises in the pathway.
Identifies profitability and expansion potential
Software development is a resource-demanding process. A proof of concept can help your company estimate the cost implications of building a product before starting the project. As a result, your expenditure decisions will be driven by data, not assumptions.
Also, software POCs explain the market potential of your product. It shares evidence to support how and why your target market will use your software product idea in the long term.
Helps you understand market needs
A POC helps you understand your market needs before starting design or development. This is a great way to gather feedback and create a suitable MVP for testing your market of potential users.
Identifying your audience is an important first step in any project. When you know your ideal customer profile, you can begin to understand their specific needs.
This process can be done in different ways, such as:
- Market research
- Focus groups (though keep in mind, folks don’t always know what they actually need)
See also: The Key Differences Between B2B and B2C Audiences
Steps to Creating a Good Software Proof of Concept
1. Identify and define the problem
Usually, a product concept is created on assumptions. It’s important to test new ideas and assumptions, but before moving into development, you should validate those assumptions through research.
The research will focus on gathering data. That data can then be used to verify your assumptions about the software’s ability to tackle real world, expected problems.
Speak with users who fit your ideal customer profile to gather feedback and identify the pain points you need to address.
It's crucial to keep the scope of a POC limited and narrowly focused. Attempting to solve too many problems at once will only complicate the development process.
2. Research potential solutions to the identified problem
Carefully research and select the best solutions to the problems you identified earlier. This is an opportunity to modify your initial idea into a more robust solution.
Your research should identify technology tools for building the solution and market growth approach.
3. Create an action plan
The development team will look at the project's requirements during the action plan stage. Project managers will provide detailed scenarios, timetables, and guidelines and choose the best team members for the job.
Note that the quality of your development team will determine the outcome of a project, even if a POC suggests success. Your development team is responsible for the idea’s execution, so make sure they have the skills and experience to deliver.
If you need a capable development team, consider outsourcing. Blue chip firms like Google use outsourcing to keep development on schedule.
4. Develop a prototype of the chosen solution
A prototype is a visual, usually interactive, representation of your proposed solution. It allows you to test your hypotheses and collect user input.
A prototype can be a low fidelity or high fidelity wireframe or interactive 3D design. The ideal prototype depends on the project and the available resources.
To develop a digital prototype, you might consider using a program like Adobe XD or Figma.
5. Controlled prototype testing
It’s crucial to test your prototype with prospective consumers and obtain their feedback before continuing development. User feedback will help you identify aspects of your solution that require improvement.
There are a handful of ways to test a prototype.
First, test your software internally. This is called alpha testing.
Second, outsource software testing to a dedicated team. This approach is called beta testing.
Third, release the prototype to a small group of customer volunteers. This is called release candidate testing.
No matter the method you choose, ensure your prototype is used in a controlled environment that protects your IP.
6. Assess Your Prototype Test and determine if your POC is successful.
After testing your prototype, you should assess the feedback to determine if the POC was successful.
Was your proof of concept successful? If not, then why?
Was the proof of concept the best technique for your project? Could a different approach be better? What lessons can you take to future projects?
These questions should help you decide if your POC was effective and worth developing.
7. Create a roadmap
Use everything you've learned to create a step-by-step product development roadmap.
A detailed roadmap breaks design and development into phases, showing an overview of the activity for each phase. This plan lets everyone grasp the product development goal and stay on track.
Great Examples of Proof of Concept in Software Development
Pixar: Occasionally, Pixar makes short films to test sophisticated animation technologies. If the film succeeds and animators like the results, they'll adopt the new techniques.
Pixar used the short film, Geri's Game, to test human face animations. After a successful trial, Pixar used the technology to produce Toy Story and other full-length human-character films.
Airbnb: Airbnb’s co-host feature was added after a POC test in Tokyo. The co-host feature allows homeowners to list their properties on Airbnb, but someone else manages it. Airbnb hired a team to manually pair apartment owners and co-hosts to test the idea.
Airbnb used the POC to develop a co-hosting algorithm for their platform.
Software development is an exciting process, but it’s also time-consuming and capital-intensive.
When executed correctly, a software development process creates a viable technology product. Without a software POC, a product risks becoming a resource sink. You can avoid the latter by following the principles of creating a software POC before moving to full development.
If you aspire to maximize your resources for the best product value, make a software POC part of your development process.