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What is a Proof of Concept and How Does it Differ from a Prototype?

Testing out your new brainwave might involve undertaking a POC (proof of concept) and you’re likely to develop one or more prototypes and a minimum basic product too. So what is a proof of concept? How can you distinguish between it and a prototype? What about that minimum basic product? Let’s begin at the beginning!

It all starts with you and what looks like a great idea for a new product or service that you hope will take the market by storm! But before you invest vast amounts of money into getting it out there, you need to find out whether your idea is going to be welcomed as enthusiastically as you think it will. You’re really just testing the waters at this point. In doing so, you’re undertaking a Proof of Concept exercise. You’re sharing your ideas and illustrating what you’re so excited about and it’s a two-way street in which you receive input from a market sample. 

Once you’re confident that your target market rather likes your idea, you’re ready to start testing it out a little more thoroughly, and you build a prototype that actually works to help you perfect the technical side of things. Of course, you’ll be asking people what they think about it too.

Already, you can see the differences. With a proof of concept, you’re testing an idea. With a prototype, you’re developing and testing the actual product itself. The two activities occur at different times in the product development process. The proof of concept vs prototype differences are thus easily distinguishable from one another. 

What is Proof of Concept Testing? A How-To Guide

1. Know Your Market

Before you go through all the trouble of developing prototypes for a product that may not be received with the enthusiasm you envision, proof of concept testing gives you some valuable information. Based on your findings, you may opt for a complete rethink of your concept, a few tweaks, or decide that the evidence points towards an unqualified go-ahead. 

However, it’s not simply a matter of approaching people at random and saying “Here’s my idea! What do you think?” It’s a structured process that gives your proof of concept meaning.

Begin by understanding the problem or pain point that your idea addresses. While you might have some of your own ideas about what this constitutes, getting your information directly from potential users may result in some surprises. 

Needless to say, the results of this first step may mean that you adjust your concept. Consider whether your solution covers all the issues your potential audience raised and revise your plans accordingly. A further verification from your market will tell you whether you’ve hit the nail on the head or are still missing some vital features that should be incorporated into your concept. Rinse and repeat. Each change to your concept requires verification from your target market to determine whether you’re still on track.

2. Formulate Your Proof of Concept Proposal

In our first two steps, we’re primarily canvassing the market so that the proof of concept includes exhaustive input from your prospective customer base. Now that you have the data you need, it’s time to capture the information, determine the feasibility and cost of delivering your idea and present it to stakeholders in a format that allows them to decide whether your new product gets the green light.

Your finalised proof of concept document should include the functions of your product, the features it incorporates, and the benefits it confers on its users. But it’s also about practicality and planning, so you must define or estimate the timelines needed, determine the cost of product development (including prototyping), and stipulate the criteria which would indicate success. 

The Prototype and Minimum Viable Product

After passing the proof of concept stage of product development, you’re ready to look at prototyping – building a working version of what you had in mind and testing it out. A prototype rarely looks much like the final product. It’s simply a preliminary version of what you have in mind and it will form the basis on which the final product is produced. 

You may also want to incorporate a minimum viable product into your planning. It’s a trimmed-down or basic version of what you ultimately hope to produce. You’ll introduce it to the market in a small way and gauge its response, incorporating feedback before cutting to the main act: the final design, production, marketing, and sales of a version that incorporates all the features of your final product. 

Skip the Proof of Concept at Your Peril

Every new product begins with an idea, and the person who has it is enthused and eager to get started. But launching a new product is a process that can take years to complete. Going from ideas to design and production may seem tempting, but a lot of factors could influence how the market receives your innovation. 

While some of these issues, for example, the production cost, need to be thrashed out during the prototype stage, it isn’t worth going ahead at all if your target market isn’t ready to receive the fruit of your labour. The basic concept must be tested and refined based on customer needs and expectations.  Without proof of concept testing, you run the risk of going through a time-consuming and costly process with the possibility of substantial losses after all your effort and investment. 

In essence, the POC helps to mitigate the risk involved in developing a new product by testing the market to see if there’s demand and whether additional features would be required. The better your POC testing is, the greater the risk-mitigation it affords. Just asking your friends and family for opinions isn’t enough. You want input from sources that aren’t personally involved with you or your idea and won’t pull their punches when it comes to offering opinions and suggestions for improvement. The more data you gather, the more effective your POC will be. 

You Don’t Have to Go it Alone

Now that you understand the proof of concept definition and where the POC fits into product development, you may be wondering just how to go about it. Obviously, you need to communicate your message clearly and ask the right questions to gauge potential users’ opinions. And, yes, you’ll be talking to strangers. It’s not something that most individuals, or even companies, can easily undertake on their own. 

At RSVP, handling almost any form of customer-faced communication is our speciality. That includes conducting POC testing, collating information, and giving you the results in a digestible format. Our Proof of Concept Testing Service offers you experienced operatives to get your ideas across, and since listening to and identifying with customers is our core skill, you can be sure to get all the feedback you need. Testing out new ideas? Let us do the legwork! Contact RSVP today, we’d love to be part of your success. 

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