What is a proof of concept (POC)?
A proof of concept (POC) is an exercise in which work is focused on determining whether an idea can be turned into a reality. A POC's goal is not to seek market demand for the concept or choose the best way to produce it. Rather than focusing on building or developing the idea, it tests whether it's viable. In addition, it enables those involved in the proof-of-concept exercise to explore its financial potential.
A POC typically requires time or other resources, such as supporting technologies or necessary physical components. Going through this process, however, enables companies to determine an idea's practicality before putting production-level resources behind an untested hypothesis.
It's sometimes also known as a proof of principle.
The value of a proof of concept
Many industries, including the hardware, drug discovery, manufacturing, science and engineering sectors, use the proof-of-concept process to pursue ideas before approving them for further testing and, eventually, full-scale production.
Developing a POC can help a product owner identify potential technical and logistical issues that might interfere with success. An organization can also solicit internal feedback about a high-quality product or service, while minimizing unnecessary risk.
As a result, stakeholders can assess design choices early in the development process. The individual or team going through the process can then use a successful POC to convince stakeholders, managers or investors that the idea is worth pursuing.
In software development, for example, a proof of concept would show whether an idea is feasible from a technology standpoint. For startups, a POC would demonstrate financial viability.
Steps to write a proof of concept
A proof-of-concept plan could address how the proposed product or service will support organizational goals, financial objectives or other business requirements. However, that step is not the direct result of the POC.
The proof-of-concept process should include the following:
- clearly defined criteria for success;
- documentation describing the proof-of-concept process;
- an evaluation component; and
- a proposal for how to move forward should the POC prove successful.
A well-crafted POC is crucial to ensuring the best possible execution of a product or service.
Proof of concept vs. prototype
Although the terms proof of concept and prototype are used interchangeably, they are processes meant to produce different results and serve different purposes.
The purpose of a proof of concept is to help decide whether the idea is feasible and to ensure it will work as intended.
In contrast, the purpose of a prototype is to test the usability, functionality and design of a working model. There is no expectation that prototypes will have the same features, functions, usability or aesthetics as a finished product. Instead, it gives stakeholders, such as project managers, executives and potential investors, a draft of the final product. A prototype lets makers determine how best to develop the product when it moves into full production for a final, market-ready item.
Similarly, a minimum viable product (MVP) comes after a successful proof of concept. MVPs are early versions of the final product but are more refined than prototypes. Potential clients and users can test and provide feedback on the MVP's marketability and usability.