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PoC vs Prototype vs MVP: A Complex View at Differences, Advantages, and Use Cases

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Such terms as POC, prototyping and MVP are rather widespread today.

But what do they stand for? How to use them in your business? How can they influence the process of development? And why are they always compared?

In this article I bring up the matter of these three strategies. I want to clarify the purposes of their usage and main differences.

Proof Of Concept

What is a POC? POC is an acronym that stands for a proof of concept. It is a project implementation approach that helps to find out if the idea is feasible. A proof of concept in software development industry allows to confirm that the idea will function as designed. Startups may use POC as a financial viability aspect.

A proof of concept is not a simplified version of your product. It is a stand-alone project that only shows if your idea is possible to implement. 

This strategy is not about identifying the idea market demand. It doesn’t expose the most efficient production process. A POC project covers only the technical capabilities of a project. 

Each POC enables you to verify whether one of your tech assumptions, concepts, integrations etc. can be implemented. Thus, if you need to verify two technical aspects in different parts of your project, you will need two POCs.

A POC doesn’t presuppose a perfect development, because it isn’t likely to be reused. Its essential aspects are hard-coded data, mocked APIs, etc. You can neglect code quality, security and simplify the UI.

You should build up your POC project before prototyping and MVP development. A proof of concept methodology usually requires time and resources investment. But developing an unfeasible product always leads to much heavy expenses.

How Does a Proof of Concept Work

If you are uncertain about idea feasibility, concept proofing has two possible answers for you ⁠— yes or no. A negative reply won’t let you go on with a potentially inviable project. If your idea has a positive proof of concept, you can continue to build your project. 

Proof of concept process flow or results are not meant to be shown to your users. It is an internal approach to solve critical issues. But showing it to your potential investors, in turn, can become your benefit in raising a seed funding. Thus, you can show that you are a heavy hitter with a technically workable idea.

To know how a POC stage can improve your business, check the key features of the approach.

Main POC Features

A POC has several main features. They are:

  • Lets you know whether or not your idea is feasible
  • Allows you to explore the idea potential to be build
  • Enables you to see how a small fragment of your project can be implemented
  • Unveils main risks and bugs occuring at the early stage of development
  • Is a more time- and cost saving solution for feature validation than a full-blown project
  • Provides only two possible final answers ⁠— yes or no

Main Reasons to Use Proof of Concept

Usually companies that use POC want to find out whether their idea is feasible. An innovative idea always creates uncertainty and, thus, may require testing. The same applied to developing a solution similar to an existing one at low cost. The competitors idea could have been implemented with higher investment than you have. That is why, it is better to use a POC approach to check your idea viability.

A concept proofing is not a necessary part of a development process. Still, I recommend it in case you have technical points that need to be solved beforehand.

Prototyping

Once you get a positive results of the proof of the concept, you can start prototyping.

Prototyping definition in software engineering refers to the strategy that allows to see how the product will look like after developing.

If a POC is about technical part, a prototyping deals with UI/UX. It allows to visualize the way the end-user will interact with your product. A purpose of prototype is to make you understand the project workflows and define which features to include in it.

Prototype development process lies in designing a set of web or app screens to make up a model of your product. It exposes the errors in study and designing.

Prototyping is about developing an early model of a product that can be tested and reworked until the expected results are achieved. As well as a POC, prototyping has a short lifecycle.

How does a Prototyping Work? 

How to build a product prototype? A product owner defines all system requirements to create a preliminary simplified design. Then, the first prototype is developed and tested. Once the main errors and strong points are identified, the developer evaluates feedback. It is time to decide on what should be added and removed. 

Each new prototype leads to the developing of a new system. The following system development is iterated until its final version meets all the requirements and user satisfaction.

This approach is the most widespread. However, the process flow may be altered in accordance with the chosen prototyping type.

Types of Prototype Models

Types of product prototypes to use when comparing prototype vs poc

There are four prototyping model types:

  • Rapid
    How rapid prototyping works? The developer build a prototype taking into account the preliminary requirements. Rapid prototype development is a quick solution, which is afterwards revised via the user feedback. Moreover, each prototype can be discarded and may not be a part of the final product.
  • Evolutionary
    It presupposes a continuous step-by-step prototype development. Each prototype is a sequel of a previous one, improved in accordance with user feedback.
  • Incremental
    The final project concept is divided into small parts. Each of them has its own prototype, which should be developed and tested. In the end, all of these prototypes are merged into the final product.
  • Extreme
    This model is used specifically in a web-development field. The developers build multiple web prototypes in an HTML format with a services layer. Once all of them are tested, they are integrated into the final product.

Main Features of Prototyping

What does prototype stand out for? Here are its main features:

  • Allows to get an early feedback on the product
  • Lets you identify the design and development mistakes
  • Is more time- and cost-saving solution compared to full-stage development
  • Provides users with a better understanding of the product workflow
  • Makes it easier to identify customer needs
  • Brings complex ideas in one comprehensive format
  • Can be used again in the next, more complex projects

Main Reasons to Use Prototypes

A prototype product development can become particularly useful. Especially in case some project requirements still lack in details. You can create mockup screens to see and feel how your product will look like. The main benefits of prototyping lie in an opportunity to interact with users and have their early feedback. An improved and revised prototype that corresponds to the user needs is the best way to start your MVP.

MVP

What does MVP mean? An MVP term stands for a minimum viable product. An MVP version has enough features to convey its idea to the early customers and solve their problem. 

Unlike POC or prototype, an MVP is a functional product that has a minimum set of features to satisfy the needs of its initial users. An MVP lets you find out how your customers would accept your product. What is the point in wasting money and resources on something they aren’t interested in or don’t need?

Your MVP should include only the features that make your solution valuable for the customers. And the only question an MVP raises is “Will users pay for my product?”

Unfortunately, unlike with a POC, the answer is usually not as plain as “yes” or “no”. An MVP gives a room for learning, enhancing and analyzing.

An MVP gives a clue how to develop a good enough product in a short space of time. It is not a full-scale product, but is a helpful approach to test your product in the market. 

On the one hand, you spend less money than if you were developing a final product. On the other hand, you get a feedback, understand the demand and can finally start defining your business model. No drawbacks, no blind spots.

An MVP stage once was used by such famous companies as Uber, AirBnb and DropBox. An MVP is not about making an inferior product. It is about allowing users to bite off your product and let them decide whether they want to swallow it.

Main Features of an MVP

The MVP developing approach has several features:

  • Makes a product ready for release in a relatively short time 
  • Lets you develop a product with a chosen set of features essential to cover users’ needs
  • Is a short form of your product, but gives ability to grow
  • Helps to prevent wastage of development costs, efforts and time
  • Unveils the most efficient direction for further development
  • Helps to verify product viability and assumptions
  • Reduces risks
  • Gives an understanding of product usability and market demand
  • Allows to get high retention rate with relatively small investments

Main Reasons to Use MVP

Entrepreneurs rarely like talking about failures, but, we witness them once in a while. The reasons for that may vary. But the fact is, if my product is bound to fail, I want to know it as soon as possible. And that is the first reason I always prefer to choose an MVP way.

An MVP is the fastest and most reliable way to give target audience a solution for its problem. 42% of projects with an innovative idea fail because of the long development time. It happens because they don’t launch an MVP and don’t get a potential client’s feedback. 

If people don’t like the solution, an MVP is a quickest way to know it and save resources. In case they are ready to pay for it, an MVP makes it possible to choose the right direction to extend.

MVP vs Prototyping vs POC: What to Choose

The difference among these three strategies has become clearer. But there is still a room for a user guide.

What We Have?

There is no need to decide on the strategy right now. Let’s take a break for a moment and think about what we’ve got by now. Here are the main points you need to know for sure before starting to choose a strategy:

  • Your target audience
  • The advantage of your solution
  • Your validation criteria
  • The part of the product development that needs verification
  • Your purpose
  • An estimated budget, timing and resources
  • Your vision of target output as for product readiness and functionality

If there is an unsolved issue in this list, take your time to clarify it.

Comparison: MVP vs Prototype vs Proof of Concept

Three considered strategies have not only different purposes, but different parameters. Here is a clear illustration:

SPECIFICATION POC PROTOTYPING MVP
Answers the Question Is my idea technically feasible? How will my product look like and be used? Will my product be viable?
User Interaction and Target Audience Is meant to be used internally Shows the user how the product will look like. The target audiences are usually the stakeholders Gives a user an opportunity to test a product. The target audience is a pre-selected group of potential customers
Risk Evaluation Reduces a risk of a technical problem during development Reduces a risk of user dissatisfaction with the product workflow Reduces risks of losing more time and resources on development
Main Purpose To identify a technical feasibility of the idea To visualize a product and show it to stakeholders To provide a short-form functional version of the product that can be launched on the market
Technical Resources Investment Needs some investment Needs a minimum investment of technical resources Needs relatively high technical resources investment
Cost-Effectiveness Allows to get an internal funding with a small budget Needs a minimum budget Needs an estimated budget and allows to find an investor
Salability Is not meant to bring revenue Is not meant to bring revenue Can bring revenue via the early customers’ purchases
Further Use Can be used for an MVP development If it includes UI design, can be used in development Can be extended to the full version of the product

MVP vs Prototype vs POC: Make Your Choice

MVP, prototyping and POC are the strategies that can be applied in sequence. But a product owner may not want to use them all or experience lack in resources. That is why, I’ve made a list of preconditions that will help you to choose.

PRECONDITION RECOMMENDED STRATEGY
I want to show users a functional product with built-in features. MVP
I am limited in money and time to show my project to the stakeholders or end-user. PROTOTYPING
I want to have a polished product that works without errors to launch it on the market. MVP
I want to launch a product and get profit instantly. MVP
I want to visualize my project and know how it would work even if there may be errors. PROTOTYPING
I need to know if potential clients accept my product and ready to enhance it. MVP
I want to understand and feel, how my product works before developing it. PROTOTYPING
I don’t want to invest much resources, but have an ability to get high retention rate. MVP
I am not sure if my idea is technically workable. POC
I am limited in technical resources, but want to know how my product will work. PROTOTYPING
I need to have a seed-stage funding at an early stage. POC / PROTOTYPING
I have a small project that needs both funding and approval of technical feasibility. POC
I need to explore the technologies used in my project. POC
I want to attract investors. POC / PROTOTYPING / MVP or all of them together
I have to make sure the features or whole project will run smoothly before development. POC

The One But Not the Same

As you can see, the POC, prototyping and MVP strategies can be used solemnly and together. They have different purposes and are applied at different stages of development. Thus, they are not interchangeable.

PoC vs prototype vs MVP: the graphic with detailed description on which stage of product lifecycle acceptable the use of each tool

Proof of Concept vs Prototype vs MVP

Of these three, only an MVP is a functional product. But it doesn’t mean that two other strategies doesn’t influence an MVP or full-stack development.

If you have an idea, especially an innovative one, a POC is there to help you in finding out whether you can technically implement it. Without a POC, the development of a product is like taking a wild guess and win.

Prototyping is more about having not only a vision, but an ability to feel your product. If you have enough resources, you can build up a UI design during the prototyping process. Later you can use it in development.

You can use these strategies stage-by-stage, right after your idea validation. Otherwise, you can implement in your development, proceeding from your purposes.

Discovery Phase of the Project

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Posted by

Max Babych

Max Babych

I am CEO of SpdLoad

I launched SpdLoad almost 7 years ago and now it has 20+ successful products in SaaS and Marketplace industry and several own products. I am an expert in Marketing, Lean Methodology and Customer Development approach.

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