Prototype or Proof of Concept (POC) or MVP?

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Marketing was, in the earlier years, applied after the product was completed. The result was, marketers are often forced to promote products that didn’t resonate, that didn’t really work. And the reason marketers didn’t contribute to product development was that they didn’t have any interest or the skills to do so.

New product building recognizes that when you focus on understanding your users and how they discover and adopt your products, you can build features that help you acquire and retain more users, rather than just building it based on what you perceive would work for the customers.

This has changed the way startup building happens and how experimentations to gauge the market response has become the center stage of starting up phase.

The whole point of these experiments is to build a path to product market and seek stronger market validation. That is the path where you see people working on the proof of concept, or building prototypes, and launching MVP along the way.

Many founders struggle to decide whether creating a proof of concept (POC), prototype, or minimum viable product (MVP), or a combination, is the right route for their project. Understanding and properly utilizing these 3 different methods will ensure that your product idea is received well by stakeholders and users, increasing the chance of success.

Why is name important?

A mistake we see too often in business is founders get mixed up over the terms – proof of concept, prototype, and minimum viable products.

Our mind works like a thesaurus and remembers the meaning rather than the individual words per se.  A name without an emotional, non-verbal association will not be retained.  A symbiotic relationship is necessary to embed it.

And without that connection, many people tend to rush into their execution plans, many times, using the wrong method for the wrong application.

If you implement either method in the place of the other, you’ll have problems.  Knowing what each term means, and when to use them, is quite useful for your product launch.

Proof of Concept (POC)

A POC is a smaller project, typically used internally rather than introducing it to the external people,  to verify a certain concept or theory that can be achieved in development.  This technique also provides you with a more accurate estimation of how long it will take to complete. In some cases, a POC may simply be research that leads to a concept of the coming project, or a more complex concept such as a mobile app checkout feature. The final POC doesn’t have to be bug-free but should ultimately demonstrate the functionality of the concept. This method allows you to assess project or feature success before jumping into development.

The POC should use minimal time and resources, and should only verify one part within the whole system. Therefore, you might have multiple POCs to test different components of your complete solution.

In short, POC is to show that an idea can be done.  It is a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer — if the answer is no,  product building will not move forward and you will go back to the drawing board.

Prototype

While a POC shows that a product or feature can be done,  a prototype shows how it will be done. A product prototype is a working and interactive model of the end product, communicating the design and navigation.

The model itself may or may not include functionality. When it comes to software, a prototype usually includes things like wireframes/screens, product specs, planned features, and user flows. If you have a good prototype, your developers are more likely to deliver the product that you imagined.

It’s presumed that there will be errors throughout the process but discovering these errors early on is the main purpose of a prototype, which will save you on costs in the long-run.

Testing the product with a prototype will trigger new ideas and confirm which direction to take with development. It’s far less expensive to rectify problems in the beginning stages of the project lifecycle rather than the end as it provides a closer examination and evaluation of the end product.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

MVP needs to demonstrate that you should build this solution. The MVP stage is the time to build a minimum version of the product, and share it with a maximum number of people. The MVP needs to answer the questions — will people buy it? If you can begin to build a user base of early adopters that are enthusiastic about your product, and find it valuable enough to open up their wallets, then you know you’re onto something.

MVP is an ongoing process of build ⟶ measure ⟶ learn. When you make iterations based on user feedback, you enhance your value proposition and increase viability.  At any stage when you go through Learn-Build-Test loop,  your most critical assumption that you want to test drives what features you build in the product.  And, this essentially is the core of MVP.  MVP concept was devised – to build a functional but “minimally-produced” kind of micro-prototype, ship it and battle-test our concept.   There are several ways in which you build MVP.

The bottom line

All of these three techniques can be used as a quick and less expensive way to validate a product.

Each method is individually advantageous when used properly whether testing key business concepts early, validating marketability.

With a better understanding of POCs, prototypes, and MVPs, you’ll be able to avoid common product development mistakes by testing for feature validity or market viability to ensure product success.

To sum up:

  • Proof of Concept validates “something people need” can be built.
  • Prototype shows how “something people need” can be build.
  • Minimum Viable Product validates that “something people need” should be built.
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