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How to create a proof of concept with 6 free templates

What is a proof of concept and how does it help an organization? We dive into the importance of writing a PoC and provide a list of free template examples to help get you started.

To execute on an idea or project, enterprises often develop a set of proofs, or tests, that lay out the criteria required to succeed. This is a critical step in the product development stage that helps project managers determine whether the product or business idea is achievable and worth pursuing.

What is a proof of concept?

proof of concept, also known as PoC or proof of principle, aims to demonstrate the feasibility of an idea for a project or potential product. It's an approach that is commonly used by organizations to evaluate practicability before moving forward with production. The target audience of a PoC is internal to the organization, and typically includes project managers, development teams, technical teams and other stakeholders.

Decision-makers in practically any industry can use a proof-of-concept template to assess the business value of a proposed idea or project, identify any issues that could ultimately lead to bottlenecks down the road, solicit feedback from colleagues and present the idea to stakeholders to prove why they should move forward with the idea.

The terms proof of concept and prototype are often used interchangeably but there is a difference between the two. Whereas proofs of concept demonstrate the idea of a product or concept, a prototype is a working model that can show the actual components such as the layout, design and functions.

That said, a PoC might include a rough prototype to show the idea or product's viability. Intended for internal audiences, a prototype used in a PoC is much more basic than a minimum viable product, or MVP, a product with just enough features and functionality for use by early adopters and potential customers.

Why create a PoC?

For project stakeholders, a proof of concept offers the opportunity to explore a concept's potential and identify gaps between the vision and deliverables.

Proof-of-concept templates are used across industries, from filmmaking to drug development to transportation, and the terms and conditions will differ from sector to sector.

For example, a proof-of-concept template for a technology startup would need to demonstrate financial viability. It doesn't, however, typically demonstrate market demand or determine the best means of production.

In application or software development, a proof of concept tests a prototype of the application being developed before it is delivered to the customer. The elements in the software proof of concept should help organizations clarify any technical requirements or logistical issues that would impede its development.

Chart explains the difference between the terms PoC and prototype.

How to write a proof of concept

A proof of concept entails the following six fundamental steps:

  1. Define the idea and what it is trying to achieve, including objectives, scope and necessary resources.
  2. Identify and organize the team involved in the decision-making and production development process as well as any stakeholders.
  3. Develop and measure the success criteria by creating specific use cases within the scope.
  4. Test the idea in an operational environment to examine its functionality, including the design, deployment plan and success criteria.
  5. Perform test cases with both positive and negative scenarios to examine idea's durability and document the results.
  6. Gather and evaluate test results with the team and stakeholders to compare outcomes and see if the idea met the defined success criteria.

Free proof-of-concept templates

We've compiled a list of free proof-of-concept templates and examples found online to help plan and execute forthcoming projects. Click on the link in the offering section to access the proof-of-concept documentation.

Source #1: Aha
Offering: Product development platform company Aha offers a PoC template with fields for explaining your goals, the problems you are trying to solve, your team, the concept itself -- by feature, effort and constraints -- criteria for success and action steps if the PoC is successful.

Source #2: Designli LLC
Offering: Software firm Designli describes how to write a PoC for software development projects in two steps: Prove the need and map pain points to solutions and get feedback. The guidance also includes three steps for what happens after the PoC is developed: Prototype your solution, test and create an MVP.

Source #3: Smartsheet
Offering: Smartsheet's "Proof of Concept Report" template provides fields for the various types of information required by a general-purpose PoC, including the names and roles of the PoC team; an outcomes status section for describing goals, their status and next actions; a scenario section for describing procedures, their results and lessons learned; a results analysis section; and a PoC recommendations section.

Source #4: Atlassian
Offering: Collaboration software company Atlassian's PoC process includes seven steps: Define your project idea; set your success criteria; list the resources you will need; determine your timeline; develop and test your prototype; review and refine; and present your PoC. The steps point you to other resources. Step 1, for example, links to a brainstorming template for generating ideas and a product launch template for defining the need and market for the product. Step 4 -- "Determine your timeline" -- points you to a template on developing a product roadmap.

Source #5: Mervyn George
Offering: In a LinkedIn post, tech advisor and author Mervyn George identifies six crucial components of a successful software development PoC: identifying champions; defining success; collaborating to align expectations; starting with 100%; clarifying next steps at the beginning; and gathering feedback, learning and evolving.

Source #6: The Ascent
Offering: The Ascent, a personal finance service by the Motley Fool, bills its offering as "your complete guide" to proof of concept. Scroll down to the section "How to write a proof of concept" for a layout of the basic steps followed by successful project teams before they present the idea to investors. They include demonstrating the need, ideating the solution, creating a prototype and testing it, getting feedback, and finally, presenting the concept for approval.

Gabriella Frick is a former CIO site editor at TechTarget.

Executive industry editor Linda Tucci updated this article with other examples of PoC templates.

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