What Is Proof of Concept in Software Development?

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Investing in software development, and in technology in general, is always connected to risks. Companies that try to stay ahead of the curve and offer a new service to their customers are bound to innovate. But how can one be sure that introducing a new technical solution would serve as expected and deliver the required results? Proof of Concept is one way to gather more information and test the waters.

But what exactly is a Proof of Concept, and how does it fit into the broader software development landscape?

What is Proof of Concept (PoC)?

At its core, a Proof of Concept in software development is an experimental demonstration to test the feasibility of a concept or idea. Its main purpose is to verify whether the chosen approach of technical solution can achieve the desired outcome.

PoCs are a vital part of the innovation process within the tech field because they offer a way to gain a well-rounded understanding of the idea’s potential. This way, the stakeholders can make informed decisions about further investment and large-scale software development without spending a substantial amount of resources, time, and money.

In a PoC, developers create a simplified version of the proposed product or technology, focusing on validating its core features or functionalities. This minimalistic approach allows for quick testing and iteration. PoCs are particularly valuable when dealing with cutting-edge or unproven technologies, as they help reduce the risk associated with full-scale development.

If the aim is to improve and expand on the existing service and technology, PoC may not be the best course of action since there are already live examples that the concept itself is viable and has been successfully implemented by the competitors or predecessors. In this case, the resources should be diverted to other stages of the software development process, like Software Prototyping, Minimum Viable Product, etc.

What are the differences between PoC, MVP, and Software Prototype?

Proof of Concept is often mentioned alongside the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and Software Prototype. Let’s compare these terms and explore the process behind them more thoroughly.

Proof of Concept

As we’ve covered previously, Proof of Concept is a preliminary project to determine whether the concept and proposed technical solution can address the specific problem and whether it can be implemented at all, considering the budget, projected release window, technical complexity, and other factors.

Key characteristics include:

  • Assessing technical feasibility
  • Drafting a rough version of the concept, core functionality only
  • Validating chosen technology and approach

Minimum Viable Product

MVP is a functional version of software, one that can be released to the target audience for public testing, generating traction, and improving based on feedback. MVPs include just enough functionality to be usable in their raw form. For a mobile application, for example, that would be the user registration, basic interface, and limited, simplistic functionality.

Key characteristics include:

  • Validating the market appeal and testing whether early users would use the product
  • Prioritizing user experience and testing whether the product can provide value for early users
  • Ensuring continuous improvement through iterations based on user feedback

The key difference between a PoC and MVP is in their purpose and scope. Proof of Concept helps determine if the idea can be realized from technical perspective and can hint at cost-effective ways to implement the concept. Minimum Viable Product is a functional piece of software with basic features that help to test its market viability, see the user reaction, generate traction and collect feedback for future product iterations.

Software Prototype

Often referred to as UI/UX Prototype, it emphasizes the user interface and user experience. In essence, it’s a fairly accurate representation of how the product may look in its final form. Implemented after the Project Discovery phase, the prototype provides a number of benefits that can save time and money during development.

Key characteristics include:

  • Simulating the look and feel of the final product
  • Showcasing the functionality to provide stakeholders with the idea of its intended use
  • Collecting user feedback on usability and design, empowering refinements

The difference between a Proof of Concept and a Software Prototype is in the objective. Unlike PoC, Software Prototype is not developed to test the feasibility of the concept. On the contrary, it’s an attempt to polish the final look of the product before spending money on development. The prototypes help stakeholders to interact with the product in the early stages, providing a window of opportunity for changes of whatever scale due to the comparatively cheaper costs.

Proof of Concept vs. Proof of Technology

PoC also has a sibling concept, or approach, Proof of Technology (PoT).

While PoT and PoC terms are sometimes used interchangeably, several distinct aspects are worth mentioning for each case. While validating the concept can sometimes be a broad task, encompassing more than just the technical side, Proof of Technology is a process that aims to validate the technology stack, tools, or infrastructure chosen for a project.

It is often required to ensure that the technology in question can support the intended product or system. Often discussed in the context of a brand-new product, PoT can also be used to prepare the technological foundation for expanding an existing product, its current capabilities, and service lines.

The Takeaway

Software development lifecycle (SDLC) consists of many steps, each performing a distinct function aiming to reach the most cost-effective solution to the problem within the set budget and time limitations.

Proof of Concept is the litmus test for technical feasibility, exploring the chosen approach and validating it. It’s a valuable initial step that can save a huge number of resources if the idea proves to be hard to implement or too pricey. A verified concept can greenlight the next stages of software development, providing a foundation for the future.

MVPs allow an early market entry and further refinement of the product based on real user feedback, while Software Prototypes help finalize the vision of the product before software development.

Each stage can be incorporated into the software development process without being mutually exclusive. Based on the needs and business objectives, chosen software development methodology, and more, all of these stages can bring plenty of benefits to the table.