1) Ideate with the market context data in mind. How is that...
Context is a King.
During the process of looking for the core idea for your future product any decision that you take for your proof of concept creation without considering external and internal conditions will most probably lead you to an uncontrolled result and even failure.
Internal contextual conditions cover everything related to your business and personal goals, resources, priorities which you should use to evaluate every action during the process of creating a proof-of-concept for your product( or service, yeap, I know! that this approach is applicable for any type of a product and/or a service at any business niche ).
The external context that you must take into account before following the next in the list of proof of concept steps includes all factors which influence the research, planning, designing and delivery of a proof of concept version of your product but you are not able to influence and change them directly.
Do not make mistakes by acting as you existed in a vacuum and the marketing conditions were ideal, because it is not the case.
So as the first proof of concept steps ideate in a smart way:
- reach out to potential competitors
- explore organic demand for the solution or a problem that you are thinking about
- run a test ads campaign, check an interest level
- explore similar functioning or announced solutions on Producthunt, Crunchbase and other tech products accelerators or crowdfunding platforms
2) Formulate 3 to 5 solutions, for different audiences, with various business and monetization models, and several hypotheses to prove
The next proof of concept step you should follow is to ensure variability. Do not get stuck with only a single option for your proof of concept solution, imagine what options can be changed to make it fit to different scenarios.
But do not start by simply changing the proof of concept's features. Think of how your product may interest different types of clients, how can you change the way you acquire them and get payments.
Depending on that, the specificity of your proof of concept solution will vary.
Check out, for example, how Google changes a value message of similar products, which are email client and infrastructure, for different types of users:
- for non-commercial individual users that will be monetized by offering other services at later stages of product's usage Google puts a pressure on communication and possibility to get more time by using a smart typing assistant
- business clients that have totally different pains and need to solve other tasks and will be monetized right away Google highlights different messages
security, customization, compatibility with other business systems
Take the same approach and think where is your proof of concept's potential for different market segments.
3) Gather initial feedback from hypothetical clients, peers, and/or within your team
Do not rush with implementing your proof of concept project. Include this step as mandatory.
But be ready for objective and sometimes subjective criticism.
Make sure you are able to form proof of concept feedback request in a way that allows people who you examine to answer thoroughly, so the feedback is of value to you.
You can approach the target audience in different ways, like:
- cold requests( emails, linkedin, facebook ), you will probably have to make many of them to get some data to work with
- ads campaign that leads to your proof of concept's landing page (or even several landing pages tailored for different audiences ) where you evaluate your target audience interest and collect opinions. Can be a good one because helps to segment feedback audiences and connect them to the actual data
- reach out for professional opinion, ask specialists who either created their own proof of concepts or manage existing products at later stages
- ask your friends and their friends, reach out to your team. Might be not the best option to validate your proof of concept ideas because of their bias. But you can always reach their acquaintances which will probably improve the feedback quality.
4) Choose winning proof of concept versions based on received insights
- when you figured out conditions, you will be creating and validating your proof of concept in,
- when you analyzed what proof of concept versions you can build and
- collected valuable feedback about the pros and cons of each option ( I hope your list was long enough to choose from all opportunities )
you are finally ready to make this step in the process of creating a proof of concept for your product ( or service, remember ).
Before choosing which options you should continue working on, please recall the fact that you still have to act in the context of your external and internal business tasks and conditions.
So assign an initial value to every proof of concept solution that you wrote ( described, specified ).
It can be a rating from 0 to 10( based on your knowledge and data or on your gut feeling based on professional experience):
- general business potential
- time to get an investment
- time to market the proof of concept
- flexibility in case of an unsuccessful validation
- expected return on investment from a proof of concept ( yes, it can be and should be evaluated )
- competitors ( number, maturity, market share )
- market scale
- you can add your parameters
Then go through a feedback list and write down important advantages and disadvantages of every evaluated proof of concept product version. Add them to your rating list.
Now calculate the average rating for each of the options. The highly-rated proof of concepts should be designed, delivered and validated first.
At this step, based on your complex evaluation from above, you may figure out that all your proof of concept ideas are not sustainable. It is totally ok, better now than after you invested several thousands into proof of concept development and launch.
In this case, you need to repeat from step number 1 or 2.
5) Design the basic product elements
In this step, you will be able to finally start the work on your proof of concept. In a nutshell, this part is about
- defining user roles
- choosing business metrics
- specifying user stories
- picking up crucial functional modules or operational processes( if it is about a proof of concept for a service)
- designing a simple path from onboarding to the core value
- implementing the way to validate your proof of concept with users money( decide if you want to ask them to pay )
- for products with interfaces - preparing UX/UI ( btw in some cases this can be already a proof of concept )
- for hardware proof of concepts at this step, you might want to specify an architecture, micro schemes and boards, and other.
6) Estimate proof of concept delivery costs, consult with a professional and implement the most efficient approach
Now when your proof of concept is designed, you will need to find the best way of delivering it to your target audience, e.g.:
- a presentation
- a clickable prototype
- a simple software or hardware setup based on existing templates like Arduino
- a list of documented processes, scripts, business tools to support a new offline service that you want to test as a proof of concept
In each case, this step is all about costs and how to make the highest possible return for every dollar spent for creating your proof of concept.
To ensure that the budget is planned well you will have to find a proven consultant or to request from your team more details about why every part in the proof of concept development plan is the best in this case.
When you are done with the estimation, you are ready to develop your proof of concept and market it.
7) Measure success metrics, like conversion ratio, number of new users, or client acquisition cost. Compare them to the threshold and make conclusions
One of the most important proof of concept steps is measuring its performance after it was marketed.
Finally, you will see if your assumptions were any close to reality. Be ready that it will take time, and most probably will cost you money to collect data about your proof of concept performance. But it is an inevitable investment that you should plan upfront.
As for the success metrics they vary from case to case. Sometimes it can be a simple answer to a question of whether your future product or service will get funds from investors. In cases when you need to get traction, you will probably be collecting data about user acquisition cost, conversions from a user to a paid customer.
In any situation, among all proof of concept steps, this one will reveal which of your hypotheses is the one to pursue.
Btw delivering a proof of concept not necessarily always related to making it publicly available. It can be designed for other purposes, e.g., to present to a potential investor or to show your boss how a new business product may look like and operate. There are other reasons why you need proof of concept, check them out.
8) Make a real product based on proof of concept results' quality, or repeat from proof of concept steps 1, 2 or 3 leveraging real traction data.
Every successfully tested proof of concept solution will either lead you to the next phase of its existence or to a better understanding of what does not work for the chosen market segment.
If you succeeded in following all proof of concept steps, you will definitely make it to a Minimum Viable Product and further! Because these steps which I shared effectively cover every important planning and executing stage of this challenging journey.
If your hypotheses failed to be proven, do not be upset, it was probably toughie. You take the data and insights that you gained and come back to the proof of concept steps number one, two or three and improve the solution with a better understanding of your market.
Someday you will be working on growing a matured product, which is a way more complicated task.
But if you approach every new release with the template you just explored above be sure your product development will be meaningful and solid.