If you are an entrepreneur or aspire to be one, I am sure you have heard of at least one of these terms: proof of concept, prototype, and minimum viable product. Do they seem similar? Well yes, they do! However, there are several important differences that can help you build a better product – let us see how.
Proofs of concept (POCs), prototypes, and minimum viable product (MVPs) are just different stages of a typical product. While most companies and developers follow this pipeline, it should be noted that this process is not rigid and entrepreneurs should feel free to rewire and modify it according to the specific needs of their company and their product.
The division of the product development cycle into distinct steps makes it easy to organize the process and maintain quality throughout. This is because each step is assigned a specific goal, and can be given a definite timeline.
Proof of Concept (POC)
Once you have completed preliminary market research to understand the problems faced by people, and brainstormed a possible solution, a POC allows you to ask the question, “Will the idea work?” A POC is meant to test if your idea is a viable solution, and usually involves a small group of participants.
How to build and use a Proof of Concept?
Before you begin, understand that you do not have to spend a lot of time building a POC. The whole idea behind POCs is to gather rapid feedback, and you can begin with something very simple – a POC can be as simple as a paper sketch or a presentation. It is perfect as long as you can communicate your concept.
Rather than focusing on functionality in the beginning, try to gather as much feedback as is possible. Verify if the underlying problem really exists and if your concept is efficiently solving it. As you gather feedback, keep on adding more aspects to your prototype and continue building upon it.
Iterate (i.e., undergo a build-test-repeat cycle) several times until you end up with a clear picture of what your product will look like.
Why build a Proof of Concept?
There are two reasons why a POC is important. First of all, a POC enables you to test your hypotheses against your target market’s expectations. This will make sure that your business or social venture idea has adequate market opportunity.
Secondly, a POC can also reduce technological risks in your concept. While you test your idea with potential users, you get a clear insight of how the product can be implemented in the future – including technological tools that you will have to employ. Thus, instead of trying one tool after another – looking for the one that accurately fulfills your needs – you can directly start with the right tool and technologies. This can save both time and money – two of the most crucial things for your emerging business.
Once you have confirmed that your concept can work, a prototype will help you understand how it can be implemented. It asks the question, “How will the idea work?”, and involves a relatively larger group of participants.
How to build a prototype?
Decide upon the most basic and central elements of your solution – and begin with only those features. Not only will this allow you to prototype quickly, but will leave sufficient space for incorporating feedback while preventing you from adding features that are ultimately not required (i.e., rejected by users during testing). A prototype does not have to be an actual product!
Focus on seeing how your users react to the solution, what they feel about the experience (that it can potentially offer), and check if your solution meets their expectations.
Again, iterating is very important. Don’t be afraid to spend time iterating – it will always be worth it. Once you have an accurate picture of how the product will be built, you can move on to the next step.
Why build a prototype?
When people have something real in front of them – something that they can touch and feel – they can provide direct and immediate feedback on its features.
Moreover, the feedback that you receive will eventually help you make your product more desirable for users, by addressing their pain-points in a better way. You will also be able to spot errors and fix them quickly, without spending a lot of time or resources – thanks to the simplicity of a prototype.
Finally, a prototype also demonstrates that you and your team are making progress and are seriously interested in pursuing the business that you have envisioned. Since you have taken the extra step of building something real for your concept, you have also made your concept more “invest-able”.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
An MVP asks the question, “Will customers buy?” and helps you mold your concept into an actual product that people will be willing to spend money on. This might seem obvious after the previous two steps, but it is very crucial to understand that the fact that people like the solution does not guarantee that they will pay for it as well – since a lot more factors come into play when it comes to spending money.
How to build an MVP?
Just like a prototype, your MVP does not have to be a full-blown product. Yes, it will be much closer to your final product, but it is still only a starting point. Use the feedback from your prototyping stage to see which features must be placed on the product to make it ready to sell. Try to make sure that these features work properly, even if in a simplified manner.
Also, note that it is perfectly fine to start with a small segment of your target market. Adding too many features to satisfy all users will over-complicate this step and as mentioned before, you might end up spending time on features that will ultimately not be required. Begin by appealing to a small set of users, and slowly expand outwards as you receive feedback.
As you might have guessed by now, iteration continues to be very important. Build, test, repeat!
Why build an MVP?
An important factor in the success of your business or social venture is clock speed. If you reach the market too late, you might miss your opportunity no matter how good your product is. An MVP allows you to rapidly build a product that can help you cross the initial barrier of entering the market, and begin interacting with customers and competitors.
This will allow you better assess the market demand, and narrow down your target-audience by finding your niche. Since MVPs can be built with less resources, you can also feel free to experiment with your business or social impact model until you find the one that suits your solution – without taking too many risks.
Finally, as you proceed further in the product development cycle, you can seek more focussed feedback from users about your interface and usability.
Final Word and Some Extensions
As I said before – the purpose of this information is to give you a general idea about how you can make your product development more effective and eventually, successful. Every business or social venture and every product has specific requirements which depend on its values, goals and vision – and there is no “one-for-all” guideline. Feel free to improvise by adding or removing some steps from the process if that allows you to better develop your concept.
In fact, some extensions to the product development process are already being implemented by several companies. For instance, the Minimum Viable Product is often divided into several steps like:
- Minimum Marketable Product (MMP)
- Minimum Lovable Product (MLP)
- Minimum Awesome Product (MAP)
What each step means depends completely on you – there are no rules!
Can you guess which product had this prototype?
Justin.TV was the first version of what we today know as Twitch. This website began with a single channel – a livestream of Justin’s life – and a chat box next to it. As you can see, it does encompass Twitch’s basic features even though it is nowhere close to its present version.
Similarly, this is a very early version of AirBnB. No map, no payments – it does not have any fancy features. It just does the job!
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