Many companies struggle to decide whether creating a proof of concept (POC), prototype, minimum viable product, or a combination is the right way to approach mobile app development. Understanding and carrying out these three methods of mobile product validation properly can significantly improve the chances of winning investor buy-in and acquiring funding, reducing project costs, as well as establishing longevity in the mobile app market.
The first step in the mobile app development process is to understand what you’re building. All three methods of product validation set a mobile app up for success by challenging assumptions, revealing user needs, and defining an explicit direction for product growth. With a proper validation strategy, you can be sure the proposal you take to investors and stakeholders makes a strong business case with several clear return on investment (ROI) opportunities.
Approach: Is the idea feasible?
Implementation: Developing a POC is the quickest and most accurate way to validate or invalidate assumptions about your target users and app concept.
Approach: How will this product function?
Implementation: Mobile app prototyping is a form of user research to validate the strategic design direction of a product. A prototype is a preliminary visualization of a working product. Prototypes build an understanding of the mobile app’s look and feel, which helps test how customers use and react to the overall user experience (UX) design. Using a prototype for usability testing gives you enough time to make changes to critical design issues before the product reaches development and it’s too late (and too expensive) to make major changes to the UX.
Approach: What are the product’s core functionalities and value proposition?
Implementation: A mobile app MVP is a minimal and usable form of your complete product to release and test in the app market. The MVP development method allows your team to learn how the product’s target users experience and respond to the app’s core business purpose. Using the insight and learnings from real users, you can allocate your time, effort and budget to areas that best satisfy your overall business objectives. Building an MVP is an iterative process designed to identify user pain points and determine the proper functionality to address those needs over time.
“A POC will provide a definitive “yes” or “no” answer; either the concept is viable or it’s not.”
A mobile app POC is typically a small, internal validation project. The POC approach to product validation is about demonstrating functionality and verifying whether a particular idea is feasible for development. Using a POC is also an excellent method for sharing knowledge internally about a product’s core functionality. Decisions about usability and UX are not considered for a POC because mapping our UX is not only time-consuming, but UX design can also interfere with proving viability. A POC will provide a definitive “yes” or “no” answer; either the concept is viable or it’s not. Even if a POC proves that the concept won’t work, it’s possible to find other solutions from the same starting point.
Creating a POC is particularly important if the concept doesn’t exist in the app market, or to differentiate the concept from competitor products. There are certain types of mobile apps that already dominate the app market – messaging apps, for example. Developing an app with heavy competition doesn’t require proof that the idea is feasible, but to build a user base, the product needs to include a unique feature-set to stand apart from similar concepts, which requires a POC.
While a POC shows a product concept can be done, a mobile app prototype shows how it will be done. There are countless methods for prototyping, but in mobile app development, a prototype typically starts with sketches or a paper interface and evolves into an interactive model that resembles the final product. The purpose of a prototype is to communicate a product’s design and navigation flow to maximize the efficiency of development. Prototyping is a valuable exercise which results in visualization of how the app will function by demonstrating user flows and depicting a working design and layout. Naturally, there will be errors in a prototype, but discovering these errors during the early stages of a project is one of the purposes of a prototype.
Testing a mobile product with a prototype is essential for user-centric design and development. Prototyping is a central part of the design thinking research process and uses rapid iteration to arrive at a product that offers maximum user value. Often the prototyping process will expose new ideas and confirm the best direction to take during development. Developing a prototype is a cyclical activity where product teams continually review and refine the product concept, returning to the beginning of the process several times until the concept meets business objectives and user needs. Overall, the process helps identify and fix problems early on in the project when it’s far less expensive to make changes.
“Conduct prototyping research early and iteratively to ensure your mobile design is easy and enjoyable to use, as well as to align all strategic design decisions to user needs and safeguard the project’s ROI.”
There are many benefits of working with an interactive model before reaching the final product. Mobile app prototyping keeps the user at the forefront of the design process and involves stakeholders when exploring new ideas for development.
Let’s go over a few of the benefits in more detail.
Mobile app prototyping validates an early concept and provides opportunities for the exploration of new ideas early on in the development process. During the prototyping phase of the design thinking process, user testing can help identify possible improvements to make before the product is complete. A prototype is the product foundation that is continually improved until the mobile app meets business goals and is marketable. Testing a mobile app prototype will uncover new ideas and confirm the most profitable direction for the product roadmap.
Starting a project with a mobile app prototype saves costs in the long run. It’s far less expensive to solve problems at the beginning of the process rather than towards the end.
Source: Interaction Design Foundation
Consider the image above; if you only start testing on an “almost-finished” product, you run the risk of finding serious issues too late to make changes. Prototype research is the mitigator – you’ll spend less if you do upfront research. The closer you get to launch the more expensive changes are. Conduct prototyping research early and iteratively to ensure the design is easy and enjoyable to use, as well as to align all strategic design decisions to user needs and safeguard the project’s ROI.
During the prototyping phase, it’s beneficial to involve the most important stakeholders in the planning process. As much as possible, stakeholders need to have co-ownership of the project’s design ideas and decisions. For example, developers might think a particular design decision is appealing, but the concept is technically difficult and time constraints prevent them from experimenting with alternate solutions. At the same time, other stakeholders might want to implement other components first which align more closely with the long-term strategy of the project. Or maybe the marketing department already did market research on an entirely different set of users. When the most relevant stakeholders are involved in the prototyping phase of a project, it creates a broader perspective and you can be sure you’re making the most efficient use of your time.
To summarize, it’s important to involve stakeholders for several key reasons:
Approaching prototyping collectively helps ensure the final product closely embodies the company’s ideas and features, while ultimately meeting specific project goals. Involving everyone – upper management, product managers, marketing, developers, designers, stakeholders, and clients will help examine problems in greater detail from several perspectives and backgrounds. Encouraging feedback and discussion goes a long way towards creating a product that solves user pain points well.
Creating a mobile product that results in deep user engagement is a difficult task to accomplish. Running a prototype through a user test is one of the most effective ways to validate usability and UX.
According to Localytics, only 32 percent of users continue to use an app after three months and 21 percent of users abandon an app after one use. It’s vital to have a goal that goes beyond the mere number of downloads. Retaining users by providing continual value is an essential goal of UX design and a prototype will test the product’s potential for app engagement, longevity and lifetime value. Again, saving on costs before proceeding with further development.
Prototypes often influence an MVP and the two work together to create a successful end product. An MVP is a minimal form of your complete product that is tested in the market. This approach to development allows you to learn how your users will react to your product before you waste a lot of money and resources building something no one wants or needs. While prototypes solve problems during the early stages of development, an MVP’s iterative process is designed to identify users’ pain points when the product is actually tested in the market.
The risk of developing more (or less) than you need is why validating your product assumptions with an MVP is so important. Starting with a core feature, learning how users react to that feature and building in accordance with user feedback is essential for determining the appropriate amount of functionality your product needs to acquire and retain users. Over time, the learnings that come from an MVP define your product roadmap and guide the evolution of your app.
An MVP is a version of a product that includes only the features it needs to be marketable. With the MVP process, you can verify the following:
MVPs provide immediate value while minimizing development costs. Ultimately, an MVP allows you to build a product with minimal features and iteratively build it out to create a better, more polished product while leveraging user intelligence to make the best decisions possible. With every release version, the product evolves to maximize ROI and move towards a fully mature application.
Today’s most successful apps all started as something much simpler than they are today. Apps like Uber, Instagram, and Spotify, for example, are all mature apps; they’re the result of years of development and large amounts of capital. Developing an app of a similar scope requires a lot of time and a large investment.
This is where an MVP comes into play. An MVP provides immediate value, quickly, while minimizing development costs and revealing the most suitable direction for further development.
What an MVP entails can be very subjective, differing from organization to organization based on business needs, industry, and competition. In some verticals, for example, the minimal feature set for an app could be quite complex as it is the industry standard. Nonetheless, there are major benefits to choosing an iterative, agile process over the all or nothing approach to app development.
An MVP allows you to get a version of your product to market early to test your business concept. By offering a core set of features, rather than a full-blown, feature-heavy product, you can test key hypotheses, gather user information and intelligence, go-to-market quickly, and keep costs down.
As mentioned above, mature products are the result of years of development, with the price tag to match. However, these apps were created iteratively over a longer period of time, and as a result, the cost is spread over time, often with reinvestment of the revenue generated from earlier versions.
Since an MVP entails going to market with core features and functionalities, it allows you to begin building up a user base to gain insight into what works and what does not. This is vital information as it allows product teams to use data to make decisions on future iterations of the product, including what other features to add, what aspects will increase sales, and exactly where to allocate budget.
These three methods are quick and cost-efficient ways to validate a mobile app idea; however, they have many other added benefits including eliciting new ideas and areas for improvement, client and stakeholder involvement and making sure the entire team is on the same page throughout the project lifecycle. If you want to enhance your product launch and increase the likelihood of success, using one or all of these techniques will help you avoid common product mistakes, from faulty features to a product that has no place in the market altogether. Each method is individually advantageous when used properly whether testing key business concepts early, winning over stakeholders, or validating marketability.