A Beginner’s Guide: POC vs. MVP vs. Prototype
Many companies struggle to decide whether creating a proof of concept (POC), prototype, or minimum viable product (MVP), or a combination, is the right route for their project. Understanding and properly utilizing these 3 different methods will ensure that your product idea is received well by stakeholders and users, increasing the chance of success of your product launch.
Before you decide to develop a POC, Prototype, or MVP, you need to consider the following:
- Who are you targeting with this method?
- Who is your target audience for your product?
- What are you trying to validate?
1. Proof of Concept (POC)
A POC is a smaller project, typically used internally rather than introducing it to the public, to verify a certain concept or theory that can be achieved in development. Usability isn’t considered at all when creating a proof of concept because it’s not only time consuming but might interfere with proving that the principle concept is viable, which is the main purpose of this particular method.
One reason Clearbridge has grown significantly into one of the leading mobile application development companies in North America is that we create POCs whenever possible. This method allows us to share internal knowledge among the team, explore emerging technologies, and also prove a concept to the client for their product. First, the developer assigned to the POC conducts research and begins to develop the feature with the goal of proving that it’s feasible. Once this is proven, it’s either presented to the client and the product team to sell the idea for an upcoming project or used internally within our development teams to share knowledge and inspire innovation.
This technique also provides our team with a more accurate estimation of stories and gauging how long it will take to complete. In some cases, a POC may simply be research that leads to a concept of the coming project, or a more complex concept such as a mobile app checkout feature. The final POC doesn’t have to be bug-free but should ultimately demonstrate the functionality of the concept. This method allows you to assess project or feature success before jumping into development.
While a POC shows that a product or feature can be done, a prototype shows how it will be done. A product prototype is a working and interactive model of the end product, communicating the design and navigation of the app, for example, to stakeholders in order to maximize the efficiency of the development process. Prototyping is a valuable exercise to allow you to create a visualization of how your product will function, demonstrate user flows, and give an idea of the design and layout. It’s presumed that there will be errors throughout the process but discovering these errors early on is the main purpose of a prototype, which will save you on costs in the long-run.
Testing the product with a prototype will trigger new ideas and confirm which direction to take with development. Essentially, it’s designed to determine feasibility but does not represent the final deliverable. This allows for more room for evaluation in order to fix problems early on during the development process. It’s far less expensive to rectify problems in the beginning stages of the project lifecycle rather than the end as it provides a closer examination and evaluation of the end product. With the proper prototype, you can achieve buy-in, attract investors, and begin developing your MVP.
3. Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
Prototypes often influence an MVP and 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 allows you to learn how your users will react to your product before you waste a lot of money and resources building something they don’t want or need. While a prototype rectifies problems during the beginning stages of development, an MVP’s iterative process is designed to identify users’ pain points when the product is actually tested in the market.
An MVP is a version of the product which includes only the features that allow you to release it to market, solving a core problem for a set of users. With this process, you can verify the following:
- Product viability
- Assumptions the team has about the product itself
- Market demand
It provides immediate value, quickly, while minimizing development costs. Ultimately, an MVP allows you to build a product with minimal features and iteratively build it up 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.
What an MVP entails can be very subjective, differing from organization to organization based on business needs, industry, and what the competition is doing. In some verticals, for example, the minimal feature set for an app could be quite complex as it is industry standard. Nonetheless, there are major benefits to choosing this iterative, agile process over the all or nothing approach. Some include the following:
Choose a Core Set of Functionalities to Test Key Business Concepts Early on
The MVP allows you to get a version of your product to market early to test your business concept. By offering the core set of features rather than a full-blown, feature-heavy product, you can test key hypotheses, gather user information and intelligence, get your product to market quickly, and keep costs down.
Win Over Stakeholders and Strengthen Business Cases
MVPs are initial installments of what is to be a larger, more complex product. The more features added and the more resources required to build up the app, the higher the cost. MVPs allow you to demonstrate the market validity of a product and create a business case for investing more in its development. Therefore, if you are seeking funding from stakeholders – whether from within an organization or from external investors – you have a strong, viable product ready that will strengthen your position.
Iterative Process Allows for Evolution of the Product
Since a Minimum Viable Product entails going to market with core features and functionalities, it allows you to begin building up a user base and 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 help increase sales/ROI, and exactly where you should allocate budget.
As mentioned above, mature products are the result of years of development, with the price tag to match. But because these apps were created iteratively over a longer period, the cost is spread over time, often with a reinvestment of the revenue generated from earlier versions.
MVPs allow you to take the same approach by driving the highest value for your business, within the shortest amount of time while minimizing cost. Providing immediate value is at the center of releasing the MVP, and as you gain more users and gather more information to inform the direction of the product, you can begin to invest more (and more intelligently).
Which Method is Best?
These three techniques can be used as a quick and less expensive way to validate a product, 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 product success, using one or all of these techniques will help you avoid common product mistakes, from faulty features to a product that has no space in the market altogether. Each method is individually advantageous when used properly whether testing key business concepts early, winning over stakeholders, or validating marketability.
Exploration and experimentation using these techniques will produce better end results and create products that are above all, valuable for the user. With a better understanding of POCs, prototypes, and MVPs, you’ll be able to avoid common product development mistakes by testing for feature validity or market viability to ensure product success.