What Is The Difference Between POC, Prototype and MVP in Product Development?
April 3, 2020
Product development has four main stages: Proof of Concept (POC), Prototype, Minimum Viable Product (MVP), and Full Product. Which stages a product should go through depends on the product’s sophistication. Proof of Concept, Prototype, and Minimum Viable Product are the consecutive stages of product development. However, depending on its level of sophistication a product might not need to go through all three of these stages. Each stage will help you understand your product-market fit.
Proof of Concept asks “is the idea feasible?”
The Prototype stage asks “how will this product function?”
The Minimal Viable Product stage asks “what are this product’s core functionalities and what is its value proposition”?
Before you begin with any of these stages you should understand who your target audience is and what you are trying to validate. In this article we will outline each stage of product development and explain how these stages typically flow together.
Proof of Concept (POC) in software development
The Proof of Concept (POC) stage involves checking to see if an idea is even possible. It is completed under laboratory conditions. In this stage we are checking if a proposed solution to a certain feature of the product can be done at all. In some cases, such as if the product is very simple, a single proof of concept might be enough for all of the needed features. Proof of concept is often necessary because there might be technical difficulties that could lead to project failure that are uncovered during POC. In this stage you want to expend minimal effort and resources to do just enough to prove that there won’t be any unsolvable problems for your project in later stages. The POC stage can save you a ton of time, money and energy down the road if done correctly.
Let’s look at an example. Proof of concept for a mission to the Moon might be to fire a rocket that can escape Earth’s gravitational force and fly on closer to the Moon. It might even be something less complicated, like to put people in scafanders and check if they work in an artificial environment that simulates low gravity.
POC for a betting system (assuming that user numbers will be in the millions) could be to check if the team could build a micro-service that could handle 1000 orders per second. Proof of Concept’s intention is to show that a product concept can be developed and will be functional. Depending on the project a POC can be something as simple as a survey to test out an idea, a Kickstarter campaign to see if an idea generates interest, or even a film on youtube to see if the idea is popular.
A POC for a new restaurant concept (like one that incorporates sustainable edible bugs for example) might be a pop-up restaurant to see if people will even try bugs in their food without being grossed out. The range of POC types is endless but your POC should be tailored to your project’s specific needs.
Prototype in software development
The Prototype stage is when you have a product that has some completed key aspects and others that are merely improvised. The purpose of this stage is to demonstrate how the product will work when it is finished. Josh Wexler, head of product at Yieldmo, said that “Prototypes are visions of the future — some way of being able to see and experience the future of an idea [where doing so in words would fall short].”
What “demonstration” entails could vary widely and is all dependent on the aspects of the product. For different products, demonstration itself could be very different. For example, if you have a highly technical product then you could sacrifice UI in order to show the product’s underlying mechanisms. If you have a business logic intense product you may want to sacrifice the backend and have the prototype be interactive visual wireframes. Creating a wireframe prototype can give a sense of what your product does. It should communicate your product’s intended experience and provide a feel for what it is like (albeit in low-fidelity).
Some prototypes are very stripped down. For example, if you’re a startup trying to be the next “tinder of -” then you might use a slide deck (or PowerPoint/keynote) to outline a user journey of the product. This is a great way of demonstrating product flow with a very simple (and inexpensive) tool. By using mockups you can create the intended user experience without having to spend on the technology right away.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) involves the minimum amount of work and the least functionality required to take the product to market. MVPs are completed to either check audience response or simply check your assumptions. They are often created in order to launch quickly and generate the user feedback needed to perfect the project. In other words, an MVP has just enough features to satisfy early customers. We covered the basic information on MVP development in our blogpost: Why and how you should build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
The Minimum Viable Product stage works like this: you produce a product to offer to customers (the MVP), then you observe their behaviour to see what people do with it and how they use it in real life. It is much more reliable to generate feedback from an MVP than by simply asking someone what they would do with a product they can't see or touch. MVPs allow you to test out your ideas with real users. They also allow you to get a good understanding of people's interest in the product without spending the time, effort and money to fully develop it.
A Minimum Viable Product also lets you find out early and quickly what is and is not appealing to users before investing in full development. You can cut or add features according to real user data. You also avoid wasting time and money on creating products or features that people don't actually use or want! Because an MVP is so basic, it allows you to release your product to the market as fast as possible.
As your product grows from an MVP into a Full Product it will attract more and more users. You will need to respond to the increasingly sophisticated user requirements that come with increased traffic. This stage is never finished as products have to constantly be updated to adapt to the changing world.
Typical product development flow
Now that you have accustomed yourself to the product development stages let's see how they all fit together. Here we will again use the moon mission example from the POC section above. Many POCs are created to test out ideas and their feasibility before proceeding to their implementation. For example, many engine designs were tested before one was chosen to be used for the space shuttle. Same with exterior coatings on the ship and lander designs. Even the astronaut's clothing and food went through POC testing. POCs give an idea of which ideas work best, and from those findings you can choose which to test out as a working prototype.
In order to build a prototype of a rocket, one would need to have an engine solution ready to be able to battle-test it. So once we have the best engine we can come up with we build a rocket prototype with it and see if it can go straight up as intended. The rocket does not need to include everything it should have when it is completed at this stage. For example, instead of an actual lender, we can just put in something to simulate the weight of it and we don’t need a full guidance system or even astronauts inside. The prototype will tell us if the rocket works as we expected it to in a controlled environment. Once we have a successful prototype that we have confidence in we can proceed to the next step, MVP creation, where we will complete the first fully working product with minimum required specifications. Next, the product undergoes a real-world test: our product clashes with reality and designated end-users. We pack the astronauts in and launch the rocket into space. If everything goes as planned we can start on the final phase of product development including enchantments, improvements, and fixes using feedback from actual use cases which give data on how the product is really used.
“Product-market fit” was a term coined originally by the legendary venture capitalist Marc Andreessen (and made popular by Sean Ellis). It means “being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market” and finding it can be a gold mine. The four stages of product development outlined in this article can help you find your product-market fit. These stages are Proof of Concept, Prototype, Minimum Viable Product and Full Product. In this article we outlined how the POC stage is about seeing if the product idea is feasible, that the prototype stage involves demonstrating how the final product will work, how the MVP stage is used to check user response, and finally how the full product stage is never over with revisions, tweaking and adapting to changes in the market.