Are you a product manager or startup founder working on a new product? If so, you may be wondering whether you should focus on building a PoC (proof of concept) or MVP (minimum viable product). But did you know that choosing the right product validation approach for your product – whether it's a PoC or MVP – can be the difference between success and failure?
This article will help you understand the key differences between a PoC and MVP, and the pros and cons of each approach. By the end, you'll have a better idea of which approach is right for your product, so you can reduce development risk and get to market faster.
- What is a Proof of Concept (PoC)?
- What is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?
- PoC vs MVP: key differences
- What should you choose: PoC or MVP?
- Moving forward with further development
What is a Proof of Concept (PoC)?
A proof of concept is a demonstration of the feasibility of a particular software project, product, or business idea. While not a required part of every new product development process, this very early stage assessment of feasibility can help to reduce project risk and prevent investment in a project that lacks practicality or market demand from target users.
A PoC can be used to validate if a particular technology is feasible to use (especially if it is critical to a product’s success). It can also be used to more generally validate if a new product or service idea would be desirable for users. Because a PoC can be used for many purposes, it can come in many forms, from a landing page or a marketing video to a crowdfunding campaign or ultra-basic physical prototype. The unifying idea is that a PoC should be low cost, quick to build, and require minimal actual development services.
A PoC is typically developed as an internal project with a small group of people to help keep costs down. However sometimes a custom software development company will be brought in to develop the PoC for a new startup that doesn’t have adequate resources internally.
PoC shouldn't be used to:
- Create a working app for user testing (use a web or mobile app prototype instead)
- Determine potential design flaws or finalize the UI/UX design for the product (do this in a later design phase)
- Build a shippable app (use an MVP instead)
What is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?
Although originally coined by Frank Robinson in 2001, the term was brought to the mainstream by Eric Ries in his popular book “The Lean Startup” released in 2011. In short, a minimum viable product (MVP) is defined as a product with just enough features to be usable by real end-users.
Typically, a minimum viable product continues down the development path started during prototyping. The idea is to build a version of the product with all of the basic functionality, release it to real target users and use this initial feedback to inform later versions of the product.
Utilizing an MVP is one way of embracing validated learning in app development. As you learn more about what your target audience likes and doesn't like, you can adjust your complete product to better align to the market. Essentially, an MVP is one way to test your business idea directly in the market.
MVP shouldn't be be used to:
- Assess feasibility of using a particular technical approach (use a PoC instead)
- Validate basic market demand (market research should be done earlier in product development)
- Provide design concept validation (do this during the prototype stage instead)
PoC vs MVP: key differences
There are a lot of terms thrown around when it comes to product development, and it can be confusing to keep track of all of them. Often a PoC is conflated with an MVP, but they are actually distinctly different phases of the product development or mobile app development lifecycle.
So what is the difference between a PoC and MVP? Let’s take a look at some of the key differences of a PoC vs MVP:
|Basic description||Proof of product viability||A basic, shippable product with only the core features|
|Investment required||Minimal to moderate||Moderate to high|
|Time required||A few days - a few weeks||3 - 6 months|
|Product development stage||In the early stages of the product development life cycle||In the later stage of the product development life cycle|
|Form||Comes in many forms from a basic landing page to a marketing video||A real, shippable product|
|Main purpose||To determine basic feasibility of the product before further development||To launch an early version of the product and get real user feedback|
|User group||Internal testers or hand-selected focus groups||Real paying users|
In short, a proof of concept is typically an internal project built during an early product development stage to help validate the feasibility of further development, while an MVP should be used to deliver the core features of your product to real, external target users.
When deciding between a PoC vs MVP, you should carefully weigh the pros and cons of both to ensure you are making the right choice for your project. Let’s start by looking at the top 6 pros and cons you should know about building a proof of concept.
PoC — 6 Essential Pros & Cons
A proof of concept can be a great option for teams who are early in the product life cycle, who haven’t started down a formal development path yet, and who want to reduce overall project risk and validate basic assumptions they are making.
However, a proof of concept is not always the right fit. The top pros and cons you should know about building a proof of concept include:
- Allows you to validate a product, app idea, or market hypothesis before fully committing to it. This can help you and your team to only fund proven ideas.
- Can be used to test out different technologies or approaches before committing significant resources to them. This will save resources long term, as the team will only be pursuing development paths that have promise.
- Can help you attract investors or partners by showing them that your business idea is worth pursuing. A proof of concept can help show investors how serious and thoughtful you have been.
- Can be time-consuming and expensive to develop and may require specialized skills or knowledge. This initial investment might not pay off.
- There is a risk that a proof of concept will not be able to accurately simulate the real-world conditions in which a new product or service will be used. Because of this it might not actually provide assurance of the success of a final version of the product.
- A successful proof of concept may not lead to a successful finished product. While it might reduce risk, it won’t eliminate it entirely.
MVP — 6 Essential Pros & Cons
A minimum viable product is a product with only the features required to meet the needs of your target audience. By creating a minimum viable product, businesses can reduce development costs and speed up time to market. Additionally, MVPs allow businesses to gather feedback from their target audience and make necessary improvements before launching the final product.
While building a minimum viable product is generally recommended, it’s not always the right fit. Here are a few pros and cons you should know:
- Helps accelerate time to market by keeping a clear and singular focus on delivering the core features only. Removes the tendency for feature bloating while helping you obtain initial users faster.
- Keeps product development costs to a minimum by looking at real user analytics data after you launch. Instead of developing a long list of features (that you think your users will use), you can pull real user data and interview users to see what they really want, helping you to cut down your development to only these features.
- Can help generate buzz and interest in a product before it is fully launched. Don’t discount the effect of early feedback (hopefully positive feedback) from your first adopters.
- Will have limited features and functionality compared to the final product. This can be a problem if customers are expecting a certain level of functionality that is not yet available.
- Can create false expectations if it is not made clear to users that the product is still in development. To maximize positive feedback it’s important you make this very clear to users.
- May only have a limited appeal to customers, as it will not offer the full range of features and functionality that they may be looking for. Expect this to come up in early feedback you receive from users.
What should you choose: PoC or MVP?
In general a proof of concept is typically used to test a new or innovative idea, while a minimum viable product is used to validate a more established concept. As we have seen, there are a few key factors to consider when deciding between a PoC vs MVP.
If your product is further along in development, a minimum viable product may be a better option. This is because a minimum viable product can help you get your product to market quickly and start generating feedback from customers.
Another factor to consider is the resources you have available. If you have limited resources, a simple proof of concept may be more achievable than moving straight into a mobile app prototype. However, if you are simply trying to save resources overall, a minimum viable product may be useful as it can help your team to focus on the most essential features of your product and get it to market quickly.
Finally, consider your goals for your product. If your goal is to validate your product idea, a proof of concept may be a better option. If your goal is to get your product to market quickly and conduct real user testing, a minimum viable product may be a better option.
When to choose a PoC
A proof of concept can be a great option for teams who are very early in the product development lifecycle who seek further clarification on the feasibility of a particular idea before embarking on developing a final product.
A PoC may be right for you if you fit into any of these scenarios:
You are in the early stages of development
If your product is still in the early stage of development, a web or mobile app PoC may be a better option than an MVP. This is because a PoC can help you validate your product idea and test it with potential customers even before investing in building a high-fidelity prototype (let alone a full MVP).
You want to determine basic feasibility
If there is significant uncertainty about whether a new idea will work, a PoC may be the best option. This could be the case for a completely new product or a significant change to a product that already exists in the market. A PoC can help assess the feasibility of the idea and identify any potential issues long before web or mobile app development begins.
You want to de-risk further investment
A proof of concept can help you to re-risk your project by providing you with a way to test your assumptions and see if your project is viable. This can help you to identify any potential problems with a low investment risk before you invest more time and resources into it.
You are raising seed funding
A proof of concept can help you raise seed funding by demonstrating to potential investors that your product or service is feasible and that there is a market for it. Additionally, a proof of concept can help you to secure funding by providing a tangible product or service that investors can see and touch.
Summary: A proof of concept may be the right fit if:
- You are in the early stages of development
- You want to determine basic feasibility
- You want to de-risk further investment
- You are raising seed funding
When to choose an MVP
In general, it is usually a good idea to build an MVP rather than a PoC when you have already validated basic feasibility, and you are ready to build a functional version of your product to test with real users in your target audience.
An MVP may be right for you if you fit into any of these scenarios:
You want to get real user feedback on your product
Building an MVP helps you to get real user feedback on your product because it allows you to test your product with a small group of users to get their feedback before you launch the product to the public. This feedback can be used to improve the product before a more broad launch, which can help to increase its chances of success.
You want to minimize development expenses
Building an MVP helps you to minimize development expenses because it allows you to validate your product idea with actual users before investing too much time and money into building a fully-fledged product. An MVP also allows you to get feedback from users early on in the development process, which can help you to make better product decisions moving forward.
You need to assess customer demand
Building an MVP can help you to assess customer demand by allowing you to gauge how much interest there is in your product or service. It can also help you to identify any potential problems that customers may have with your product or service.
You want to raise additional funding
Building an MVP can help to raise investments because it shows that the product is still valuable even with a limited number of features. This can convince potential investors that the product has potential and that their money would be well-spent on it.
Summary: MVP may be the right fit if:
- You want to get real user feedback on your product
- You want to minimize development expenses
- You need to assess customer demand
- You want to raise additional funding
Moving forward with further development
If you’re comparing a PoC vs MVP you likely haven’t actually built one yet, but after you do, it’s important to understand what to do next! Let’s break this down depending on if you went the route of a proof of concept or an MVP.
What to do after building a proof of concept
Arguably the most important step in proof of concept development is evaluating your results. This is where you determine if the proof of concept has successfully validated feasibility of the project at hand or not.
So did your proof of concept pass against your validation criteria? Did you get a green light to keep going during this discovery phase? Or did it help you see why you shouldn’t invest any more time into the project? These are the questions you should focus on at this stage.
PRO TIP: Depending on the scope of your PoC, at this stage you can validate:
- The ability of the software project to achieve the desired business outcomes. This includes assessing the impact of the project on the business, and determining whether the project will meet the business objectives.
- The costs associated with the software project. This includes assessing the financial feasibility of the project, and determining whether the project is affordable.
- The timeline for the software project. This includes assessing the project schedule, and determining whether the project can be delivered on time.
- The resources required for the software project. This includes assessing the human resources, equipment, and other resources required for the project.
- The risks associated with the software project. This includes assessing the risks associated with the project, and determining how these risks
If you’re ready to move forward with your project, start investigating what it would take to begin the formal software development process.
What to do after building an MVP
Once the minimum viable product has been built, you’re now in a place to release the product into the market. This is where a key feedback loop starts to fire up, as the feedback from users is a highly valuable source of information about where to target improvements for the final version of the product.
Product teams should ensure that they have many sources of information regarding the user's journey and that they are built into the product as early as possible. For example, whilst it is simple to email or phone up users of the system to ask them their qualitative opinions, it can be far more useful and efficient to build in automated surveys, suggestion boxes and analytics tracking to gain a greater quantitative insight into the bottlenecks or friction points in your system.
Early adopters or repeat customers are likely to have the most passionate views about your product and hence will be good sources of both positive and developmental feedback. If you engage these individuals not only will you gather valuable information, but you will convert these users into lifelong advocates by considering their views.
If you're wondering whether to focus on building a PoC or MVP for your product, it's important to understand the key differences between the two approaches and the pros and cons of each.
PoCs are typically less complex and time-consuming to develop than MVPs, but they will never provide a guarantee of long term product success. On the other hand, MVPs require much more intense software development, but they also result in a real, market-ready product. Ultimately, the right approach for your product will depend on your specific goals and needs.