Before the product, there is an idea. As a passionate entrepreneur, it is easy for you to get ahead of yourself in your belief that your idea will be the “next big thing”. But do not let emotions blind your judgment and immediately commit everything you have (career, house, family) on the get-go.
This is why bringing your idea through the stages of Proof of Concept (POC), Prototyping, and Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a necessity. By following the process through these three stages, you can conservatively commit your limited resources in the most efficient way, to bring the idea and product to market.
Disclaimer: If the characteristics above don’t apply to you, the general concepts are still applicable, but specifics may differ.
Proof of Concept (PoC)
You may have your idea on the back of a napkin, but that does not mean you can go straight to hiring a developer and get things started. Instead, you should always start with a PoC.
The purpose of PoC is to test a concept, product, or process; basically to validate your assumptions as well as those of your potential customers. It ignores all UI/UX issues while focusing on proving the potential use-cases and operational feasibility.
In fact, the PoC does not have to be about a software product or something technical. It could be as simple as observing the execution of your ideas by using simple tools such as pen-and-paper forms, spreadsheets, or following a checklist of tasks, formulae, and processes while making sure that it solves the problem you have identified, or improves the efficiency of processes you are trying to optimise.
Once you have validated your idea through your PoC, you may want to embark on the prototyping process.
The prototype enables you to actually see how the product will operate in real life. It is the physical embodiment of the ideal concept.
A prototype in software development has two different stages:
User Interface/User Experience (UI/UX) Prototype
A UI/UX Prototype shows how your inputs are collected and how your outputs are presented in the product you are building. As a result, startups will have to work closely with stakeholders to develop a UI/UX that is useful and usable.
Often, a prototype of this stage consists of static paper sketches or digital drawings or web pages that are interactive and clickable.
Once the UI/UX is done, a working prototype might be developed and tested with a small group of potential stakeholders to ensure that the prototype function just like how they wanted. The defining point of the working prototype over a UI/UX prototype is that it works on real data. It may also reflect a more accurate UI/UX.
Depending on the scale of the product, a working prototype may not be required. It is advisable to build a working prototype if your product depends on a lot of inputs with different processing paths.
For example, your PoC was a fairly complicated spreadsheet, or your checklist of tasks and processes spans many pages, to ensure that you can replicate your PoC realistically.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
An MVP is a product with a minimum number of essential features and remains viable. This is your version 1 release where features should be selected based on the feedback of the PoC/Prototype users instead of assumptions.
Also read: Things to consider before you build a profitable SaaS MVP
It is a common misconception that the MVP is the same as a Prototype. However, an MVP is actually shipped to the early adopters. Beyond the initial release, your MVP is further developed through an iterative process based on your early users’ reviews to identify pain points and eliminate them.
As an MVP is considered the very first version of your product, a preliminary business/monetisation plan should be available before this stage to help you use some rudimentary form of cost/benefit ratio to decide on the core features to develop.
Comparison at a glance
|Proof of Concept||Prototype (UI/UX)||Prototype (Working)||Minimum Viable Product|
If you have run your concepts by a few potential users and they all/mostly come back negative, then this concept is not viable.
Stop, review, and decide if you need a new concept.
|1-2 months for developing UI/UX prototype and obtaining user feedback.||Takes 1-2 months to develop a working prototype||3 to 6 months on average|
Optional technical expert (if you want to develop your PoC in an electronic form or to ensure you gather enough technical knowledge)
|UI/UX Designer |
Your potential users for feedback
|UI/UX Designer (To reconcile any technical requirements) |
Developer (Nominally 1-2 freelancer/outsourced developer)
Your potential users for feedback
|Maximum 3 developers|
A long-term technical expert, who could be one of the developers.
|Takeaway||Have information written down/documented for someone else to carry out the concept.|
If everything is still in your head, you probably have not developed the concept sufficiently.
|Your UI/UX designer should understand your PoC very well. If not, it means you need to revisit your PoC. |
You have a good prototype of the product you want to develop.
You and potential users are fairly happy with how it has turned out.
|The developer understands your PoC very well, just like the UI/UX designer. |
Real-life data gathered during the PoC phase continues to work/be valid.
Many people confuse this step with developing an MVP. It tends to overlap due to how most people develop their MVP but making it distinct may save you time in the future by not having to test the basics out on a live or production system.
|For most start-ups, anything beyond 18 man-months/6 calendar-months just means you are targeting too much in your MVP.|
Look at re-prioritizing your feature set and get it down to a maximum combination of 18 man-months AND 6 calendar-months.
Be ready to start selling/marketing your product at the beginning of the last third of development.
Most importantly, this is your production system.
When it comes to assessing the feasibility of your product’s potential, each of these stages is useful on their own. PoC is great for a completely new product and idea while the prototype allows testing product viability in an internal user group. On the other hand, MVP is the best option for improving the product by letting the mass to validate its potential.
Still, It does not mean you must go through all stages sequentially and not skip any stage. A startup may, ideally, go through all the stages according to the software development stages.
However, depending on the business idea, you might find that it is unnecessary to spread out the resources across all stages of product development. This may sometimes occur when your product is the digitalization of existing processes, where the existing processes form your PoC.
When to go MVP mode
As mentioned before, you might want to choose the MVP approach or go for it after developing a PoC, UI/UX prototype, and finally, a working prototype.
So let’s take a breather, and consider these questions below before venturing into the MVP stage.
Do you have an experienced technical expert/advisor onboard?
It is crucial for ensuring that you have a long term expert or advisor. Ideally, this should be a co-founder or your very first technical hire.
Funding and monetisation plans?
When you know what to build, the next question is ‘how?’. In a very early stage start-up, development is your #1 cost factor, and you need to show something to your customers to get their buy-in. As the saying ‘you need to spend money to earn more money’ goes.
Clear business requirements for development?
Imagine assembling a car without knowing how the individual parts connect. Sounds awful, right?
This goes the same for product development in tech startups. They need to know what they are building and expectations. Being able to document what your product is all about is extremely important.
Also read: How to launch your MVP faster and smarter
This should be a living document. The good news is that it gets better each passing day.
The Proof of Concept will help in verifying the feasibility of your idea, and Prototyping helps to refine it even further, while the MVP will be the very first step of your product’s life outside the internal development cycle.
With that in mind, one should consider these stages as a measure of your progress.
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