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An ultimate guide for Proof of Concept in Software Development

Inspiring your team, brainstorming and forming an idea is both exciting and energizing. Envisioning the ideation of forming something different that solves problems seems wonderful but if that idea is not put through its pace properly, it may face the same problem that many others face i.e. False Value.

Millions of people or companies come up with new innovations every day but not everyone succeeds. The new projects of the companies, especially startups, fail because the ideas are poorly tested which results in false value. Businesses fail to analyze certain things – if the idea is practical or feasible, what resources would be required to build it and would the users or target audience want to use it?

These are the problems which are solved by Proof of Concept (PoC) approach. With Proof of Concept, budding entrepreneurs can determine if the idea is achievable or not.

Let us understand in detail, what Proof of Concept is, why it is important and what is the best way to approach it.

What is Proof of Concept (PoC)?

Let’s start with a basic Proof of Concept Definition in terms of Software development, because it is likely to mean something else than you think.

In simple terms, proof of concept is a general approach of testing the idea and determining whether it feasible, viable and can be built in the real world or not. Proof of Concept is to make sure if the idea will strike a chord in the market and win the customers or not.

Let’s say you have an idea that you think stands out and will help people in some way. PoC may not have a direct impact on the market but it will help you find out the functionalities of the idea and how it can be built at a reasonable cost, effectively, and with which technologies. It helps avoid possible technical problems and allows you to obtain feedback at the early stage of the development cycle.

Need for Proof of Concept?

Nearly everyone who comes up with an idea is convinced that it will work. But applying Proof of Concept approach will test the idea and ensure that it arrives at the best version. It will not only save you time and money but will also reduce any possible risks involved.

A proof of Concept is used in the early stage of the development cycle which validates the technical feasibility, identifies possible expectations of a platform and potential blocks. It also determines the scope and requirements of customizations in order to complete the project.

Proof of Concept also identifies performance issues while testing and validates the assumptions made in the ideation process. Along with all that, in the results, PoC also estimates the efforts.

Moreover, you need to persuade stakeholders that your idea is worth investing in. Whether it’s something from the scratch or adding some new features to the already existing software, Proof of Concept will direct you towards the right route.

Besides you, multiple other organizations are involved in creating a project that matters. The Proof of Concept helps bring them into your corner and fully convince them of the actual value and real-time effect of the idea.

When does the need for Proof of Concept arise?

  • When it is necessary to check if the idea changes values
  • When you have to ensure that the chose plan of workflow is right
  • When the limitations for solving a specific problem has to be determined
  • When you need to make sure the idea is technically possible
  • When it’s necessary to check if the solution matches the expectations of the target audience

Here are some of the questions, the answers to which will help you make out a necessary criteria list, to correctly interpret the results of the finished project:

  • Why are we doing this and what are we trying to achieve?
  • What are the measurable success criteria?
  • Is it achievable in the time frame allowed?
  • Is it achievable with the resources available?
  • What’s the real value we are hoping to achieve?
  • How will it be implemented into the workflow?
  • Is there something with which the concept can be compared?

Discovering Your Idea

Ideation is the first stage towards building something and putting it into practice. It is focused on identifying a solution which will solve a particular problem for the end-users. The idea should be something that helps the users and makes a change in the market.

 To help visualize the main aspects of the idea that you are trying to develop, these are the things you need to include and define on a Canvas:

1. Problem – After doing a market research, you would gather information regarding the problems your target users face while achieving their goals. A problem statement needs to be prepared with a clear insight, target user / market, which should not include features or solution.

2. User Needs – From Problem Statement, you can identify what the users require and adapt accordingly.

3. Solution – Describe a solution that you want to propose to solve that problem and attend their needs.

4. Features – Based on the solution, a list of features that it offers, needs to be added in a priority list. These features should be directly linked to the users’ needs.

5. Competitors – Prepare a list of your main competitors, both direct and indirect.

6. External Factors and other Operations – This includes IP (Intellectual Property), industry standards, targeted market, expected or assumed price, due date.

7. Requirement – Based on all the lists prepared above, a review of which resources would be required. This step can be fulfilled as you go along with the project.

After you have discovered the main idea of the project that you want to build, the idea needs to be analysed by someone with technical knowledge. It’s where the next step starts – Building the Idea – and the Proof of Concept has to be used.

Proof of Concept Process Flow

A Proof of Concept Process flow goes through several iterations – Design, Building and Testing the Product. Once the PoC is accurate and fully captures the functionalities that you intend to add and provides a minimum level of performance, the next step can be started i.e. Prototyping.

A Proof of Concept Process Flow follows these steps:

  • Designing – You will need to make a rough sketch or drawing of the product you need to build, which will include the basic functional blocks. This will help once it’s time to create a PoC and Prototype.
  • Building PoC – This phase is critical for software development. It will help you analyze the ideation sketches and help understand if they are functional in actuality or not. 
  • Testing Functionality – Testing phase will determine whether your PoC meets the minimum performances requirements of not, to be accepted by the board members.
  • Evaluation – Once the testing is done, the results are to be evaluated to determine which functions or elements need to be redefined. When the evaluation is done, it’s time to repeat the process and test them again.

Building a POC (Proof of Concept)

While developing a Proof of Concept, a detailed study of user needs, preferences and expectations needs to be conducted. Creating Proof of Concept will help you make informed and rational decisions because it shows a clear picture of the software’s future, that you want to build.

Here’s a checklist for the Proof of Concept development :

1. Define your Target audience before writing a PoC

It is unlikely to create a solution that solves everyone’s problems. You need to take into account the needs and preferences of a specific group of users. This will define the target audience and PoC development will help you find the right customers and analyze their feedback.

Other than that, conducting a competitor analysis before writing a proof of concept is important. PoC creation will make the task of determining potential customers much simpler and will clarify the relevance of your idea in accordance to the target audience.

You need to pay close attention to how the competitors are performing. Analyze their ups and downs and how you can improve.

2. Pre – assessment of the selected solutions

After understanding how your product will solve the users’ problems, it’s time to consider other aspects.

Technical

To make the right choice of which platform, programming languages and tools to use for developing and testing the Proof of Concept. This stage will define the market analysis, system maintenance and other requirements.

Cost

Taking into account the available funds or investments and calculating the project’s budget.

Timelines

The more complex the solution, the more it will take to develop the software. Therefore, you can either expand the building time frame or consider optimizing the product’s functionalities. In the first case, the software will be built according to your original idea but in the second case, it will reach the market faster.Track your project development tools with GitHub or Jira.

Documentation

You need to keep a detailed track record of all the solutions, functions and elements to identify the glitches. With this, you can replicate the PoC at the time of full implementation of the product. Documenting everything will help evaluate the functional requirements and determine whether you are on the right track or need to make further readjustments in design.

3. Development

Now that you have all the information, it’s time to use it in building the POC, which will imitate the work of user interface. The basic requirements of PoC are Simplicity, Adaptivity, Interactivity and Content. By creating a prototype of Proof of Concept, you will be able to clearly spot the defects, address the shortcomings and find a solution, and you will have the basis of your final product which can be altered as you go along the process.

A wireframe is created in this development stage, which is basically a low fidelity representation of the product and shows content, structure and basic visualization of UI interaction. Wireframes are the backbone of the design.

Furthermore, a mockup is built which represents the functionalities in a static way to help people review the visual side of the product. Software developers will choose the right framework i.e. front and back-end development, to provide you with the wireframe and mockup which visually represents your idea. This mockup is later used for testing.

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4. Testing

You can test the POC on a small group of targeted users and analyze how the software can be enhanced. By this, you will have a solution for further development process. At this stage, you can easily make modifications as per the users’ feedback.

5. Collect market feedback

To improve or scale your product and fill a niche in the market, it is important to collect feedback. It will help you the pain points of the users and you will gain a clear understanding of how your product can solve their issues in a best way, which features are really wanted and which should be removed.

For this, different polls, surveys or interviews can be conducted but it is not obligatory to interview a huge group of people, 30-60 people is enough. You can also analyze the existing clients or users (if you have any)

The main goal of this stage is to know how you can tailor the product according to their needs and it can be achieved by encouraging users to participate in the survey.

Once the feedback is received and the user requirements are aligned with your solutions, the PoC is successful and the Product is ready for the next stage. 

Guidelines for a successful Proof of Concept

  •   Identify Specific Business Cases – When you identify the technology to be used, it is advisable to have some specific business cases and have the expected outcomes to which both the IT team and end-users agree. This will assist the PoC team to focus on the elements which are important. Furthermore, it will also allow vendors to verify the product’s functionalities, which will help in configuration.
  • Map Pain Points to Solutions & Get Feedback – This stage involves brainstorming sessions to solve each pain point which was identified earlier. There can be multiple solutions to each issue but you have to evaluate them and determine how each fit into the process according to your cost, competition, timeline and other technical challenges. After this, you will have a clean understanding of which solutions will be included in the final product.

    Once the list of main solutions is done, it can be used to get feedback from users and stakeholders. Their reactions and inputs will provide valuable insights.
  • Set your Performance Goals – Once you have solved the pain points and identified key elements in regards to the cost, you will be able to set your goals i.e. Return on Investment (ROI) and Key Performance Indicator (KPI), for improvements which will lead to move revenues.
  • Track your Metrics – Once the PoC is complete, the KPIs that have been achieved for the PoC, can be compared to the current KPIs that you’re getting from existing systems. Then you and your team can take charge of ROI measurement formulas and avoid any misrepresentation that might have previously been built into the ROI formula, favorable to the solution.
  • Get Ready to Prototype – Build a prototype of the product which includes the UI/UX set and other features that are finalized. This prototype will be presented to the stakeholders and the users who were interviewed before to gain insights.
    The feedback regarding the interface and functionalities will help further improve the product working.
  • Set your Investment levels – When PoC is successful and management is on board, the project is ready to implement production and determine a budget. To make sure the product is correctly built, a MVP (minimum value product) is built, which helps you discover the finest execution of PoC that can lead to a successful product.
  • Create a Roadmap – Once all the information has been collected and the budget has been approved, it will be easy to create a roadmap. A roadmap is basically a blueprint which consists of all the steps for making the product. It includes an organizational chart of supervised work, list of all the stages of the work that needs to be completed and information of assigned tasks to the members.

Proof of Concept Example

Let’s take a look at these proof of concept study cases –

1. You want to create a fully functional voice-based product i.e. a personal voice assistant, like Amazon Echo, which uses IoT (Internet of Things) and Artificial Intelligence to provide information as per users’ voice commands. The device will allow users to get news and media updates, make to-do lists, set-up meetings etc.

After the ideation is done, you need to create a concrete Proof of Concept to determine how the idea will work and be executed. The proof of Concept will include all the functionalities, elements of the device and how Natural Language Processing (NLP) will work to send commands through speech. This voice command module can either be built by your own team or enabled by a third-party service provider.

After the coding is done and tested, by capturing audio samples using the microphone of a smartphone to generate voice segments for commands, PoC can be tested on the potential buyers or users to let them know that the idea is feasible and how the product is fully functional.

2. You want to develop an app that home delivers food to students at night. There are already many apps like this. In this case, Proof of Concept will help you improve your app and make it stand out. In this, POC focuses on determining best technologies to develop a well-optimized application. It will also help build a roadmap.

POC vs. MVP vs. Prototype: What’s the difference?

Even though Proof of Concept and Prototype are used interchangeably, both are different processes meant for different purposes. The both produce different results. Whereas, MVP comes after a successful PoC development process.

Proof of Concept vs. Prototype

Proof of Concept is used to determine whether the idea can be brought to reality and be developed or not. On the other hand, a prototype is created to turn that idea into a skimmed-down version of the final product, which is later tested. A prototype does not include all the features of a market-ready product, but it shows the design, navigation, layouts etc. of the product and shows how to best develop the product.

A Proof of Concept shows that the idea is viable and functional and a Prototype is a draft of the final product, which works as a selling point.

Minimum Value Product (MVP)

Meanwhile, MVP (Minimum Value Product), comes after Proof of Concept is successful. It is the early version of what the final product might be and is more developed than a prototype. MVP is used to identify pain points, determine the functionality, test the usability and marketability of the potential users. With the use of MVP, you can allocate time and budget that can best satisfy the objectives.

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Conclusion

Proof of Concept is the most important stage in software development and it cannot be neglected if you are developing a complex, lengthy and costly project.

Note that documentation is the key. You should document every detail and step for your proof of concept projects. This documentation will include everything i.e. installation, configuration, outputs of all the tests performed, feedbacks and final findings.

Documentation will help make all the other members clearly understand the Proof of concept steps and make it easier for the team to replicate the same project, when needed.

Regardless of the POC strategy chosen and results obtained, there will be benefits of this approach.

·       It will help you get proof that your idea is worth implementing and help avoid spending a lot of money on something that is not viable.

·       You get to have tangible proof to present to the stakeholders and prove that your idea is worthwhile.

Countless successful projects in POC developments are what made us, aTeamTexas, to build this guide. What we focus on is to ensure that the product, even though minimal in functionalities and features, is well designed and performs seamlessly. This POC must solve the problem that is intended to be solved with the final product.


With the help of the right software development partner like aTeamTexas, we ensure that your idea gets translated into a market redefining product. Talk to our expert today!

To know more about aTeam-Texas offerings, drop a mail to abhinand@ateam-texas.com

WRITTEN BY
Technical Consultant at aTeamTexas | Marrying Ideas & Technology to scale business | helping SME's and start-up's define Digital Transformation strategies.

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