PoC vs Prototype vs MVP: What's the difference? How to choose?
A product's success is a combination of the right market fit and careful testing during product development.
One of the first steps in this journey is idea validation. It might seem minor, but validating an idea before jumping head-first into development can (and will) save you lots of trouble down the road.
The three most popular approaches to testing the assumptions behind your idea are building a proof of concept, a prototype, and a minimum viable product. Each comes with its own advantages and serves best in a particular case. If you’re wondering how they work and how they differ, here’s a rundown that will help you find the perfect fit.
What’s a Proof of Concept (PoC)?
A proof of concept is a feasibility study in project discovery phase before the development of a full-fledged product. It’s a small, internal, stand-alone project aimed at validating that a core feature or tech assumption can, in fact, be implemented and will function as envisioned.
How a proof of concept works
Proof of concept helps validate that the technical capabilities, tools, and resources you need to make your idea work are viable. Since it’s used for internal purposes, a PoC largely neglects UI, security, and development best practices. The code is rarely reused at later development stages, so it’s often hard-coded, has mock APIs and basic UI controls.
PoC best practices
For a proof of concept to be successful, it’s essential to understand which functionalities should be proven feasible and why. Here are several steps you can take to create an effective PoC.
- Set goals.
Defining the scope of your PoC, setting clear goals, and identifying which problems to tackle are key components for getting accurate and valuable results. Remember to keep the scope of the project tight and not to waste time or resources.
- Define measurable deliverables.
Set success metrics to use as benchmarks that you must meet to achieve feasibility.
- Run your PoC project.
A proof of concept isn’t a simplified version of a product. It usually examines just one feature or integration. So if you need to check the feasibility of several features, run several PoCs.
- Track your metrics.
Check your results against success metrics to see if your idea meets performance goals.
Once you finish the PoC stage, you’ll better understand your project's constraints and challenges. If your concept proves viable, you can move on to the prototype or MVP development phase. But if not, don’t worry. That’s the perfect time to adjust your idea or to pivot without significant risk.
Reasons to use a PoC
Developing a PoC is an excellent way to perform a dry-run of your concept at a low cost and in a limited timeframe (from a few days to a couple of weeks). The main reason to start with a PoC is to “bulletproof” your product vision and find the technical vision on how to bring it to life.
A proof of concept can also help you:
- Verify the selected development approach
- Check the feasibility of a complex technical solution
- Define your solution’s limitations
- Evaluate what resources you need
- Reduce the likelihood of failures during later development stages
You rarely show your proof of concept results to investors (that’s what a prototype is for). However, if the project entails some complex technical implementation, you may use a PoC to demonstrate that your idea won’t fail for technical reasons and is financially viable.
Speaking of prototypes...
What’s a Prototype?
A prototype is an early product sample meant to demonstrate your business concept before implementing it. It simplifies your product idea into an easily digestible format to reveal its value.
How prototyping works
Prototyping makes it easier to fill any gaps in your concept and your understanding and discovering all needs and specifications. It’s a time- and cost-saving solution that can help you adapt and improve your product concept based on user testing and feedback.
Prototyping is a good choice for showcasing your product’s design. It also helps give an appreciation of the complex algorithms and processes the system needs. Depending on your goal, a prototype can be:
- Functional. It imitates one or a couple of product functions.
- Display. It focuses on the look and feel of the product
Prototypes can come in the following forms:
- Paper-based (e.g., hand-drawn wireframes)
- Digital (e.g., UI mockups, interactive “clickable” versions)
- Miniature (e.g., IoT product sample)
The choice of form depends on your product and the features you want to test and demonstrate.
Types of prototype models
The prototyping approach comprises four major models:
- Rapid (close-ended) prototypes are built to test specific functions quickly, explore ideas, and get instant feedback. They’re sometimes called thrown-away prototypes because you don’t reuse them down the line.
- Evolutionary prototypes may be developed further until they form an actual scalable product. Thus, in this model, every prototype becomes a foundation for the next one until you complete the development of your product.
- Incremental prototyping involves splitting the final product into stages with small, individually developed prototypes. Eventually, you can merge them into a single product.
- Extreme prototyping is used in web development. It focuses on product deliveries rather than discovering all possible needs and specifications, thereby maximizing productivity.
Now that you know how prototyping works and its major forms and models, let’s see where you can best apply it.
Reasons to use prototypes
One of the main reasons companies create prototypes is to collect early feedback from real users and stakeholders before starting large-scale development. Prototyping is also widely used for:
- Finding and fixing gaps in the product flow
- Identifying customer needs
- Securing funding by showing how your product will look or work
- getting customer feedback without actual development
Read also: Project Discovery Phase in Software Development (Step-by-Step Guide).
A user-tested and polished prototype can serve as a good base for further product development. But before you embark on full-scale development, there’s still one more approach to discuss.
What’s a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?
A minimum viable product is a releasable version of your product that contains enough core features to attract early adopters. Early adopters’ interaction with an MVP lets you get to know your target audience better and gauge their acceptance of your product, their expectations, and what they like and don’t like about it. With this approach, you build your product incrementally, gather feedback, and prove your assumptions right or wrong.
An MVP is a core element of Eric Ries’s “Lean” methodology. Its main point is to start small and fast instead of spending months building and polishing your idea before you know how it’ll be received.
All you need to do is work out the key elements, develop an application, push it to market, and start learning.
Each subsequent release helps you learn more about your users so you can respond to their needs and pain points by further refining your solution. Depending on the feedback they provide, moving forward could mean doubling down on core features, pivoting, or starting over with a new product. You repeat all these steps again and again until your MVP becomes a full-fledged product.
Main characteristics of an MVP
Small in scale, fast, and affordable — that is how you often hear an MVP described. But it’s much more than that. A good MVP helps you validate the market need without building a comprehensive product.
Here are the features that best characterize MVP development:
- Thrifty production. A minimum viable product is an economical version of the final product. It helps you quickly launch the product and start learning without spending too much time and money polishing it up. It’s an ideal option for startups, which don’t usually have much working capital and want to secure investments.
- Core feature set. An MVP aims to showcase the essence of your product, though in some cases, one core feature might not allow you to adequately communicate the product idea. But no need to go to extremes. Developing too many features too early may come back to haunt you. For example, it may distract users from the main concept and prevent you from receiving reliable customer feedback.
- Value. A good MVP should address your early adopters’ pain points and bring them value and insight into the final product.
- Narrow target audience. If you try to reach a broad audience too early, there’s a high chance you’ll fail to satisfy everyone’s needs. But focusing on a specific niche and perfecting your target user persona gradually can help you solve a specific problem better and faster than competitors might solve it.
With MVP development, you don’t waste time on anything beyond the core of your concept. You build all other features over time as you evaluate early feedback about users’ needs and preferences.
You may also like: The MVP Approach: A Guide to Minimum Viable Product Development for Startups.
Reasons to use an MVP
Developing new products is always risky. CB Insights found that one in three startups (more precisely, 35%) fail since they don’t satisfy a market need. Starting from an MVP tests the waters first to reduce the risk of failure. You save time and money and find out whether to proceed, adapt, or go back to the drawing board.
Other reasons to build an MVP include:
- Starting your business with minimal resources
- Securing venture capital or crowdsourced funds
- Avoiding major product rejections
- Building customer relationships
- Creating better final products
An MVP is the right choice to check that a product idea is worth further development and spot issues that can hinder its profitability.
Now that you’re familiar with all three approaches to idea verification, we’ll try to focus solely on what differentiates them. It’s actually pretty simple.
PoC vs. Prototype vs. MVP: What’s the difference?
A proof of concept, prototype, and MVP are different stages in product development. A PoC and a prototype are used at the pre-product stage and require minimal-to-medium investment.
With MVP development, you enter a product stage with core functionalities and features to see how the market receives your idea. Building an MVP requires more time and money than creating a PoC or prototype.
To demonstrate the difference between the three approaches, we’ve prepared a table that compares proof of concept vs. prototype vs. MVP:
A PoC addresses the question of idea feasibility, tests the technical aspects, and reduces risk in further software development. In most cases, it’s an internal project and isn’t the best option for showcasing your idea to investors. If you want to demonstrate how your product will look or function without developing it, a prototype is your best option.
A prototype lacks the business logic of your product but demonstrates its UI/UX or particular functionality. It can be shipped to a focus group for initial feedback and lets you discover perceptions of the general concept and find gaps in the flow. It’s also a perfect option to gain investor traction and secure funding for further product development.
A minimum viable product is a functional product with primary features that best demonstrate your business concept. It’s not a full-fledged product yet, but you can use it to collect user analytics and add or refine features in subsequent iterations.
Both PoC and MVP involve development and call for solid technical expertise,
while building a prototype may simply require good designer skills.
Developing an MVP is a general recommendation for all startups while building a PoC and prototype are optional. For instance, if a project doesn’t require feasibility testing, you don’t need to make a PoC. Creating prototypes is almost always beneficial for a startup, but in some cases, like for very small projects, it may be excessive.
How to Pick the Best Approach for Your Startup?
Proof of concept, prototyping, and MVP development aren’t interchangeable approaches. As we mentioned, each is applied at a different stage of the product development lifecycle and is appropriate under certain conditions.
But which approach should you start with? Here are quick tips to help you choose the right one.
Start with a PoC when:
- You want to create a unique, revolutionary product
- You need to verify if the idea is technically possible
- You need to decide which technology is more suitable for your product
- You want to share technical knowledge within the team
Start with a prototype when:
- You want to visualize the flow
- You need to secure seed-stage funding
- You want to get preliminary feedback from focus groups
- You have a tight deadline to showcase your idea
Start with an MVP when:
- You want early users to help you assess market reception
- You need to start quickly at a reasonable development cost
- You want to monetize your idea rapidly
- You want to mitigate the risk of failure
Proceeding gradually through all three concepts isn’t a must, but it can help reduce risk and polish your product before it enters the market.
Learn which one MVP, PoC or Prototype did we use for this project:
Proof of concept, prototype, and an MVP all serve the same overall aim — to validate your idea. But each does it from a different angle. Choosing the right approach at the outset can help you increase the likelihood that your business will succeed and that you’ll use your resources wisely. In a nutshell:
- You need a PoC to validate the technical capabilities that will realize your idea.
- You need a prototype to showcase your concept with minimum cost and time.
- You need an MVP to check your product's market reception.
If you want to pursue several goals and have a limited time or budget, choosing the right approach may be challenging. But don't worry. As an experienced partner, TechMagic has your back and will help you choose the best fit for your project.
What is a PoC?
A proof of concept is a small, internal, stand-alone project aimed at validating the feasibility of an idea before diving deep into developing a full-fledged product.
Is a prototype the same as an MVP?
No, it’s not. A prototype is an early product sample to demonstrate a small part of your idea before it’s fully developed. An MVP is the first version of your product containing core features and released to a limited audience.
Does a PoC come before an MVP?
A proof of concept usually comes first to prove the feasibility of an idea during project discovery phase. It’s a small, internal project which is rarely reused. If a PoC proves successful, it may be followed by creating a prototype or a minimum viable product.
How long should it take to develop a PoC?
Developing a PoC usually takes from a few days to a couple of weeks. Since it’s only used for internal purposes, a PoC largely neglects the UI and security and may include hard-coded data, mocked APIs, and basic controls.
What should you choose: a PoC, a prototype, or an MVP?
Proof of concept, prototyping, and MVP development are different approaches applied at a pre-product or a product stage of software development. Each of them is appropriate under particular conditions. Your choice should depend on your product stage, purpose, and plans.