What Is Proof of Concept?

Every year 6.5 million start-ups are born, 10% of which fail. With a feasibility test, you can save your enterprise from falling into that 10 per cent.


Would you invest in anything without ensuring that there will be some return on investment? No, right? That’s what proof of concept is. It may sound like a simple idea, but it is actually an essential and fundamental concept. An effective proof of concept proves that the proposed project is viable, and if invested in, will be a success. The core focus of proof of concept is to test the feasibility of the actual project, and hence it is not associated with any deliverables. A proof of concept ensures that the project will have a real-world application.

The value of a proof of concept helps a project manager gauge if any interventions are needed that can improve the possibility of success for the project. It also helps garner feedback from all the stakeholders involved in the project, thus mitigating the unforeseen risks. Although proof of concept sounds more like a prototype, there are significant differences between the two. We will talk about it in the next section.

What are the benefits of proof of concept?

Proof of concept has many benefits. Let’s see them one by one.

When you theorize, you consider an ideal condition and keep adding features that might not be feasible in a real-life scenario. It helps to visualize what is practically feasible even if it is conducted in a limited time.

The worst that can happen to any founder or entrepreneur is a flop product or a business idea. A proof of concept helps to determine if you have enough resources to develop an Minimum Viable Product. It also helps to understand if your investment would be worth it or not.

An effective proof of concept helps project managers to find out potential risks and obstacles. This is a huge benefit because project managers need not wait till the last moment and get caught in some last-minute surprises during implementation. They can intervene and take necessary measures before it is too late.

It also helps project managers to understand if the idea is scalable. So, along with feasibility, a proof of concept also helps gauge if it can be scaled immediately or over time. Further, it also gives insight into scope creep (if the product requirement is going to multiply or escalate over time) during the project lifecycle.

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Before you start creating your proof of concept, it is important to define your proof of concept goals.

When does your business need proof of concept?

Every year 6.5 million start-ups are born, 10 % of which fail. While there are several reasons for the failures, the product not fitting with the market need because the founders had a poor envision of the market is one of the common reasons for startup failures. Proof of concept would be immensely helpful in such scenarios.

If you plan to launch a greenfield project, where there is no similar product in the market, a proof of concept is the only way out.

Key differences between proof of concept and prototype

As already discussed, a proof of concept is needed to validate a product idea’s functional and technical aspects before it is launched. It addresses whether the product can be built or not, whereas prototyping addresses how to build the product.

It aims to test an idea, whereas prototyping brings that idea to life through a working interactive model. You proceed to the next step of building a prototype only when there is a functional and technical validation of the product.

As compared with a proof of concept, a prototype is more concrete in shape. You create a prototype which is a simplified version of your product for testing purposes. A prototype based on user feedback to find the most suitable UI and UX for your product.

A proof of concept is a theoretical demo of the idea, while the prototype is the physical demo of how the actual product will look like.

How to create a proof of concept in 2021

You may find it tempting to jump into launching your recently conceived idea, but it is essential to build a proof of concept to test the viability. Here are a few ways to create it.

Define your proof of concept goals

Before you start creating your proof of concept, it is important to define your proof of concept goals. What do you want it to achieve? A typical proof of concept goal can be to verify the approach or specific tools under certain circumstances.

Identify the right set of people

It makes a lot of sense to involve the right set of people while planning. Remember, the success of your proof of concept depends on various factors, including technical knowledge, business knowledge, experience in different modeling techniques and methodologies, along with moderation skills and analytical skills. So, finding the right set of people with different skillsets is important.

Plan the technical environment

Consider a simple local developer’s environment for the testing and integrating environment. This would help you save time. In case you still need to access a system interface, build a test system that you can quickly use and verify.

Steps to create a proof of concept

Prove the need

Identify the problem that you want to solve. Is there a problem at all? Do your target audience really need a product to solve that problem? The first stage for creating a proof of concept is identifying the need, the problem that you want to solve. Define the pain points and gauge if this is something worth investing time in.

Start with having conversations with your target audience

As discussed above, the first step of building a proof of concept is to prove that there is a market need for your product or solution. To do that, seek answers to these specific questions.
Is there really a need for the product?
The people (target audience) have realized that they have a need?
Are they facing any pain points that the product can solve?
Is the pain enough for the people to take any action? Do they really need the product? Can they still live without the product?
While there are different market analysis tools and surveys, talking to your target audience is the best way to gauge their requirements. Try to understand how much the pain is causing trouble for them and how they are trying to solve it. All these insights will help you to build your case.

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A proof of concept helps founders and entrepreneurs see if their product idea is viable or not for its target audience.

Map the pain points with solutions

Once you identify the pain points, map each of the pain points with your solution. Once you have jotted down all solutions against each of the pain points, evaluate the technological feasibility, cost and time demand, unique value proposition, etc., The outcome of this exercise should be to list all the identified solutions for pain points. Each of the solutions should be useful and feasible to qualify for the final product.

Don’t underestimate the power of feedback

Once you gather enough inputs about the pain points, you come up with a solution that will curb the target audience’s pain points. But how can you be sure that the solution you have is actually going to help the target audience? Instead of relying on assumptions, it is always a good idea to ask for feedback.
Ask specific questions like which is the most difficult part of the problem? When was the last time it happened? Why was it difficult, and how the person tried solving the problem?

Include all the practical details

Once you find the right solution that your target audience has approved, it is time to check all the practical details. So far, you have seen the product from the user’s perspective. Now it is time to check for the technical feasibilities. Is the product going to be financially sustainable? Think about the resources you need to build the product. Do you have the skillset in-house, or do you need to hire? How would the pricing be? What would be the revenue sources? These are some practical aspects that you need to consider at this step.

Work on a prototype

Armed with all the customer insights, it is now time to build a rudimentary product or a prototype. The prototype should have the basic features and your desired UI/UX. Test your prototype and incorporate the feedbacks before you pitch it to the investors. Your prototype feedback should include insights into the user experience. Did they really enjoy using the product? Does your product address their pain points? Did the users find the interface intuitive? Are you missing any key functionalities?

Engage

Finally, it is time to create an engaging roadmap for a launchable product. You need to build a step-by-step map that will intrigue your investors. Remember to communicate through storytelling, don’t make it boring by adding too much jargon, incorporate your user persona so that the reader can envision the product better, finally build engagement through personal connections.

A case study

Consider you want to create an e-learning app for high school students through which students can learn coding. You think this is a great idea to engage the kids during this trying time. But is there a need for such an app? For this, you need to create a proof of concept to test the viability of the idea. 

You would tie-up with a few reputed schools in a selected few city and let the students try your idea for free. Let the students and their parents log in to the system to experience it. At the end of the free session, you can gather feedback from the students and the parents to see if they found the idea useful. Is it really going to engage the kids? Are parents willing to invest in such an app and let their kids try their hands-on coding? Once you have positive feedback, start working on the UX and design the prototype. 

Here is a quick checklist for an effective proof of concept

Define the problem
Define the scope
Identify resources
Develop a detailed plan

Proof of concept best practices 

While proof of concept is good for one or two concepts, they are not the alternative of implementations. In fact, they can delay your implementations. Hence, limit the scope of the proof of concept to fasten the process. 

Use cases are always impactful. So as a best practice, create use cases with your desired end state solution. 

Allocate enough time for the proof of concept so that you can collect target audience feedback and make adjustments to your idea if needed. 

Key takeaways 

A proof of concept helps founders and entrepreneurs see if their product idea is viable or not for its target audience. Through a proof of concept, entrepreneurs, founders, and project managers can explore the product’s technical and financial feasibilities and if the company has enough skills and resources to make the product happen. Thus, a company can assess its readiness to implement the idea and make a successful product.

Chayanika Sen
Chayanika Sen
Over a decade of experience in Corporate Communication Chayanika writes on Human Resources, Recruitment, Marketing, Employer Branding and Thought Leadership.

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