If you’re going to write a Proof of Concept (PoC) for software, you are on the right track. Building a PoC is a crucial stage in software development that allows businesses to test the idea and increase project success chances. The importance of a proof of concept in a startup, medium-sized, or large company is often underestimated. However, a PoC serves many goals and offers plenty of benefits.
Using a PoC, you can showcase the future app or website to potential investors, test it on the audience and collect user feedback, define user needs and expectations, as well as receive customer loyalty long before the final product is released.
For over 7 years in software engineering and consulting, I have been watching how proof of concepts help organizations validate their ideas, fill a niche on the market, and succeed. That’s why I always affirm that it’s better to start with PoC development.
In this article, you will receive answers on the following questions:
- What is a proof of concept (with an example)?
- What are the key benefits of proof of concepts?
- What is the difference between a prototype and proof of concept?
- How to write a proof of concept? A step-by-step guide.
- Bonus from our company.
What is a proof of concept in software development?
When it comes to the definition of a proof of concept, we should note that a PoC is widely used in various industries such as construction, engineering, security, drug creation, filmmaking, etc. As the method of project development is almost the same, the meaning of PoC doesn’t have some significant differences across different sectors.
A proof of concept is a popular approach to building software that implies checking a certain idea in order to confirm that it is feasible, viable, and really applicable in practice. Hence, by writing a PoC, you will see whether a digital solution or a separate module/feature really meets a particular business need.
Why do you need a proof of concept?
An idea precedes the creation of any digital solution. Unfortunately, not all ideas come to fruition.
The most common reasons are for project failure are:
- Unclaimed by the target audience
- Too general
- High costs
- Impossible to implement an idea technically
That is why I say that before making any app or website, you need to ask not only HOW but also WHY and WHOM. If you write a proof of concept, you will be able to build not just a technically quality product but a product that adds real value. Furthermore, you will be sure that your solution will be demanded on the market.
The primary benefits of creating a proof of concept are:
- Choosing the best technology stack for app/website development.
- Increased changes to attract investors and raise funds.
- Proof of concept testing in action and idea validation.
- The ability to test a PoC on users, collect their feedback, and learn from it.
- Receiving engaged customers even before the product release, since people who participate in its development process, will be more loyal to your brand.
The creation of a software proof of concept is a process entirely built on the interaction with the target audience. Take a look at the formula that illustrates the essence of PoC development:
Question + Test = Solution
With a working concept of your idea, you can show to stakeholders how a future product will solve business problems, what features it will have, how it will look like, etc.
Since the notions “prototype” and “proof of concept” are often misinterpreted, I’ve decided to clarify the difference between them.
Proof of concept vs prototype: what is the difference?
To clarify the difference between these two notions, let’s consider prototype and proof of concept meanings. A proof of concept serves as a realization of a certain idea to test its feasibility and applicability. A PoC is a small project that cannot be moved to production, for instance, published on app stores.
A POC covers only a critical project part, or the core functionality, and verifies that your assumption is correct and can be implemented with the help of technologies.
A proof of concept example
Say, you have an idea of making an online delivery service that allows food pre-ordering in different countries. You don’t have to build the entire project from scratch as it may be in low demand on the market.
So, you write a proof of concept to check whether such a product is needed by users. You also see whether its development is technologically possible regarding various complex features you may like to add.
Use multiple schemes and diagrams when creating a PoC: they will help you better understand the project and show them to potential customers or investors.
Simply put, a prototype is a model of software system development that answers to the following questions:
- How will the future solution look?
- How will it be developed?
- How will users interact with the product?
A prototype is a working model of the final app or website that provides the visualization of the design, user navigation, and layout. Thanks to its dynamic nature, you will be able to see how the product will look and behave.
Now, let’s move to PoC development that also includes prototyping. Here is a proof of concept checklist that will help you write a PoC properly and succeed.
Define the target audience before you write a PoC
Most likely, you won’t be able to make a digital solution that everyone needs (although you can try). A product that takes into account the problems and preferences of a specific group of users is much more likely to succeed.
Therefore, before preparing a proof of concept plan, you should define the target audience. PoC development will help you find your customers, as well as collect and analyze their feedback.
How to define the target audience of the future service:
- If you have a website with multiple users that are interested in your products belonging to the same category as the future application will belong to (e.g., your site is devoted to a healthy lifestyle and now you want to launch a mobile fitness app), picking the right audience will be much easier.
The first thing you should do is to connect Google Analytics to your website. This will let you monitor user behavior in real-time, segment and analyze the audience by age, city, country, etc., as well as see their interests.
If you have a mobile application, you can also employ analytics tools like Flurry and Localytics. Using these services, you will get a lot of data about people who are interested in your product.
- Another important thing that you should do before building proof of concept software is to conduct competitor analysis.
One of the most useful tools for this purpose is Alexa Rank. The free version contains data on user location and gender. In the paid version (from $149 per month), you can also see age, annual income, ethnicity, and whether they have kids or not.
The resulting portrait of the target audience is the starting point of PoC development.
It is very important to determine the problems that your potential consumers have. With PoC creation, it becomes a rather simple task. Well, you need to know what they are really concerned about. This is the only method to clarify how relevant your software is and how you can add value for your target audience. And now, we move to the second step.
Collect user feedback once you have a proof of concept
There are many ways to collect user feedback to see how you can improve/scale the product and fill a niche on the market. Employ different polls, surveys, interviews, check out groups and forums in social networks.
This will help you identify the most common questions and pain points of your customers. Furthermore, you will get a clear understanding of how your app or website can solve their issues in the best possible way.
- I highly recommend you to analyze your existing group of clients/users (if you have any). To highlight the main points, it is not obligatory to interview a large number of people, 25-50 participants is generally enough.
- I recommend using Google Forms or Surveymonkey, which are trusted by thousands of companies from all over the world. These tools will help you easily create surveys and polls, receive answers, and analyze the results in real-time for free.
Encourage your target audience to participate in testing your proof of concept template. You can give them a discount, or promo code, or some other bonus in exchange for filling out the survey. Then, collect user feedback on your PoC. The main goal of this stage is to define how to tailor the product to their needs.
Thanks to this proof of concept study, you will build customer loyalty and determine the key functionality that you should develop. You will also see whether your website or application complies with the preferences of your customers or not.
It’s not necessary to showcase a PoC to people and ask them to use it. You can describe your software solution and ask for reviews or make a short video and publish it in groups with your target audience as Dropbox did.
For example, you can announce a PoC on various channels:
- Groups in social networks
- Your social media account
- The company’s page in social networks
- Your website or blog
- Websites and blogs with the target audience, e.g.
Summarizing the answers, comments, and reactions received, you will understand what functionality resonates with potential buyers and what things can be (and should be) removed. This way, you will leave only those app features that are really wanted.
This way, a proof of concept is transformed into a great product that fully meets and even surpasses user expectations. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Well, the key advantage is that you create a perfect solution from the very beginning, which is much more difficult without writing a PoC.
A pre-assessment of the selected solutions
At this stage, you already have a shared vision of how the final website or application should help users and what functionality it should have. The more aspects you consider, the easier it is to receive a proof of business ideas.
Here is a list of the main aspects that you should consider to convert a proof of concept into a successful product:
a) Competition. How worthy a digital solution directly depends on the presence or absence of competition. Pay attention to similar projects, investigate the reasons for their ups and downs, learn from them. Conduct a competitor analysis before you write a proof of concept.
How to identify competitors before PoC development:
- YouTube. Enter a few keywords in your subject area and get channels that are related to your product category.
- Social networks. The same, only here use the search in groups and pages.
- Organic search. Enter inquiries and choose trusted leaders.
- App Stores. In the case of mobile app development, check out the App Store and Google Play. Enter keywords for the desired category and see ratings and descriptions for similar applications. This will help you create a great proof of concept and stand out from the competition.
b) Technical issues. At this point, you will most likely have to hire a custom software development company. An IT service vendor can help you with a choice of programming languages (AngularJS, Ruby on Rails, Python, PHP, etc.) and tools (editors, compilers, interpreters) for creating and testing a proof of concept.
Furthermore, they can help you with defining the requirements, market analysis, system maintenance, and even competitor analysis.
When such technical issues are clearly defined, it is much easier to figure out the following two points to write a proof of concept.
c) Cost. Calculate the project budget taking into account your available funds and possible investments. It makes no sense to plan complex functionality for the development of which there are not enough funds, right?
There are several ways to define cost. I suggest focusing on the primary options:
- Professional software studios estimation. Such a calculation will be more accurate since the team will take into account a more significant number of details. Many companies offer budget estimation for free.
- Development cost calculators. With this application, you can calculate the price of the app with a minimum set of functions. For example, to define the cost of a mobile app, you can use Cleveroad or OOZOU, but it will only give you a concise pricing overview.
Learn How much it costs to make a mobile app in 2020. The article also provides useful recommendations on how to reduce the development price while saving quality.
d) Timelines. The more complex the future solution is, the more time a software development partner will need to launch it. Therefore, the more expensive the final app or website will be.
There are two options: you can expand the time frame or think about optimizing the functionality. Just keep in mind that in the first case, you’ll get the product closer to the original idea. In the second case, you’ll be able to enter the market faster (but the success rate could be much lower).
Create a prototype of your future product
Now it is the time to use the information you already got! The main purpose of proof of concept prototyping is to imitate the work of the user interface.
Basic requirements for the proof of concept prototype include:
Keep your design and functionality understandable and straightforward. It’s hard for people to figure out the schematic representation of a program. Add some basic UX and UI features, so that your users can use the product without thinking.
Make sure your prototype is compliant with all the devices and screen sizes that it is developed for.
Display at least the main interactive elements of the future application. This will help you to get more data on bugs and errors during the test phase.
Make sure your content is well fit for your target audience. It will allow you to get a more efficient response during the test phase.
Prototypes solve 3 main problems:
- Requirements clarification — you will be able to spot the product defects more clearly.
- Alternative research — you can find solutions to address the shortcomings.
- Final product creation — you will have the basis of the end product, which can be modified by implementing a sequential chain of the software development cycles.
A Software Requirements Specification depends on how your digital solution will be used, its goals, your business-specific or user needs. Once you’ve created a proof of concept, move to prototype. It will show you the way users will interact with your program.
Test a prototype
At this stage, you attract a small group of targeted users and ask them to test out your prototype. This will allow you to understand how to enhance the app, what elements should be changed or added. As a result, you will receive a quality solution for further development and improvement.
Where to look for users to test a prototype of your proof of concept?
- Actual website visitors. Write a blog article or create a landing page, announce the early alpha or beta testing, send emails to your subscribers. In other words, invite the audience that is already interested in your product to use it.
- Social networks. Announce a prototype of the future app on your social networks, niche groups, forums, and blogs. Everywhere you can. This will give you more users for testing. Then, most of them will become your loyal customers.
- Specialized companies. You can hire a custom software development agency that will conduct full-cycle testing for you, which is a good, but expensive option.
Prototype test results will show you if you have understood your target audience's needs correctly. At this step, you can still easily make changes and check different ideas. A big plus is the cost of these changes is quite low since there is not much code that needs to be rewritten.
Now, you have a proof of concept and prototype!
To sum up, let’s review the main steps of the PoC development process.
- Understand the needs of your target audience
- Create solutions to customer problems
- Analyze existing solutions in detail
- Create a realistic, user-oriented prototype
- Test your prototype
So, when creating a PoC, you conduct a detailed study of user needs, preferences, and expectations. PoC development helps businesses and product owners make rational and informed decisions. With it, you will have the full picture for the future app or website extension.
You can write a proof of concept on your own, with an in-house team, or outsource it to an IT service vendor. If you want to learn which option will perfectly suit your project, what pros and cons each of them has, read our articles:
- Why hire a software house instead of freelancers
- When is a software development firm the best option?
- What need to know about outsourcing vs in-house software development
The key thing to remember is that you must not underestimate the importance of a proof of concept and your ideas will be successfully implemented.
Watch more about PoC in our Youtube channel!