What is proof of concept (POC)? Writing guide with examples

Obraz współautora – zespół AsanyTeam Asana
15 stycznia 2024
9 min czytania
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Summary

A proof of concept (POC) demonstrates the feasibility of a proposed product, method, or idea. You must prove why your idea will work in the real world, so stakeholders and investors feel comfortable moving forward with the project. In this piece, we’ll explain how to write a POC and why this presentation is a beneficial part of product development.

Before you spend time, money, and energy on a project, it makes sense to research whether your idea is worthwhile. When buying a car, you make sure the engine runs before handing over your money, right? If you take time to test ideas and decisions before committing to them, you’ll make better choices and have fewer regrets.

A proof of concept (POC) is the feasibility study you perform before committing to a project or idea. A POC can prove to clients or product teams why an idea makes sense in the real world. In this piece, we’ll explain how to write a POC and why this presentation is a beneficial part of both project and product development

What is a proof of concept (POC)?

A proof of concept (POC) demonstrates the feasibility of a proposed product, method, or idea. This is a way for you to prove that your idea will work in the real world, so stakeholders and investors feel comfortable moving forward with the project. Proving viability at an early stage in the project life cycle can put everyone at ease during project execution. 

[inline illustration] what is proof of concept (POC)? (infographic)

Various industries use proofs of concept in their development process because they mitigate project risk and give decision-makers valuable insight into the benefits of a project. But you won’t need a proof of concept for every project you work on because not every project starts with a new idea.

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When do you use a proof of concept?

A proof of concept is most valuable when you’re developing a new product, method, or theory that doesn’t have precedence in your industry. You may need a proof of concept when:

  • Creating a new project idea: If you’re developing a product or method that no one has done before, a proof of concept will serve as your pilot project. When you don’t have previous use cases for comparison, you’ll need to test your idea and ensure it makes sense in real life. 

  • Adding a new feature to a project: When you add a new feature to a project, the existing project becomes something new. If you invented the new feature you’re adding to the project, use a proof of concept to ensure the feature won’t negatively affect the project’s functionality.

You may not need a proof of concept to demonstrate feasibility if you’re not adding a new idea or feature to your project. Use market research to determine whether there’s precedence for the project you’re working on, and if there is, use data in place of a POC.

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How to write a proof of concept

A proof of concept is a pilot project. As you perform this project, you’ll outline the steps you take and your findings along the way. When you consolidate your research into one consumable document, you’ll increase your chances of securing funding or approval from your key stakeholders. 

[inline illustration] how to write a proof of concept (infographic)

Follow these five steps to perform and write a proof of concept. 

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1. Define your business idea

Defining your business idea may seem like an obvious part of the development process, but you must do more than just speak your idea into existence. In this initial step, you should:

  • Use research to identify your target audience’s pain points and show how your idea will address those points.

  • Explain how you’ll execute your idea.

  • Express what your idea will accomplish in the long term.

When you begin your proof of concept with a clearly defined idea, your stakeholders or investors can move through the rest of your presentation with ease.

2. Set your performance goals

Once you’ve defined your idea and how you plan to execute it, pinpoint how to monitor and measure your success. Use relevant success metrics to prove feasibility in your target market. 

For example, some metrics you may use to test feasibility in software development include return on investment and probability of risk. Set benchmarks for the ROI or safety level you must meet to achieve feasibility.

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3. Run your POC project

After you set your KPIs, it’s time to run your test project. This part of your proof of concept resembles a prototype because you’ll create a working model of your product or deliverable. 

Deliver this model to sample groups pulled from your target audience to determine whether the product meets their pain points. You won’t share this model with stakeholders or investors, so it doesn’t need to be polished like the final product. 

4. Track your metrics

As you test your working model, gather feedback from your sample group, including any reactions, comparisons, and detailed comments about pricing or other features. Record this information and track relevant data against your success metrics. 

Data will give you an idea of what your users think, but verbal and nonverbal communication can provide valuable insights that numbers alone can’t. Your sample group may openly discuss your project idea, and you can use their comments to address your project pain points. They may also express how they feel about your project idea through body language or tone of voice.

Record user feedback in your shared project management software so your team can refer to the feedback throughout the project life cycle. 

5. Present your results

You’ve now proven that your idea is feasible, but the final stage of your proof of concept involves convincing your stakeholders to buy into your idea. The best way to do that is to anchor your POC presentation on the pain points your project will solve and how this work will benefit your audience. When you present your proof of concept, emphasize how your idea will meet the needs of your audience instead of highlighting the features and deliverables you’ll be producing.

A proof of concept should explain the long-term value of your idea. When presenting your project, define the problem you plan to solve and outline specific pain points your idea addresses. The deliverables are how you’re going to solve those pain points, but think of them as tools to help you achieve your overall goals.

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Proof of concept examples

Exploring proof-of-concept examples is an important part of the POC process, especially for project managers and teams undertaking complex projects. The purpose of a proof-of-concept is to validate the feasibility of a proposed product idea, project plan, or other business goals

These proof-of-concept examples serve as an in-depth guide that offers insights into the success criteria for various initiatives. They help in understanding how theories and concepts are applied in real situations, which helps teams refine their strategies for a successful proof of concept.

Proof of concept in business development

One important area that POC can have a big impact on is business development. A startup, for example, may execute a small-scale project to gauge market demand and usability before fully launching a new service or product. 

  • Feedback and data collection: A small-scale launch allows a startup to gather direct feedback and data from early users. This information is invaluable for understanding customer preferences, needs, and expectations, providing concrete insights into what aspects of the product or service resonate with the market.

  • Demand estimation: The initial response to the small-scale project is a key indicator of overall market demand. If the early reception is positive, it suggests a larger market potential. Conversely, a lukewarm response might indicate a need to reassess and adjust the product or marketing strategy.

  • Risk mitigation: Starting with a small-scale project significantly reduces the financial and operational risks. It prevents extensive investment in a product or service before confirming its viability in the market, ensuring that the startup doesn't commit substantial resources to an untested concept.

This phase is essential for improving the product development process and understanding the journey of potential consumers. It allows for necessary adjustments based on tangible customer feedback, setting the stage for greater success.

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Proof of concept in project management

A proof of concept is often used to evaluate the effectiveness of project management tools and methodologies. For instance, an editorial team may apply a new software or brainstorming technique to a smaller-scale project. This approach allows them to evaluate how well these new methods align with their needs and the project's demands. 

Here are three key aspects of how a team would experiment with and learn from a POC:

  • Monitoring and data collection: The team implements the new tool or method and monitors its performance, focusing on efficiency, user-friendliness, and impact on project outcomes. This monitoring helps in understanding how the new approach affects workflow and project delivery.

  • Feedback gathering: Team members provide feedback based on their hands-on experience with the new tool or methodology. This feedback helps the team understand how useful the experience is for users, showing them what works and what doesn't.

  • Analysis and adjustment: The team analyzes the collected data and feedback to identify strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement. Based on this analysis, adjustments are made to fine-tune the approach so that it meets the project requirements and the team's expectations.

Read: 5 project management phases to improve team workflow

Through these steps, the team not only tests the new methodology but also gains valuable insights about their preparedness for larger and more complex projects.

Proof of concept in product development

For development teams, a POC is a fundamental part of the product development process. For instance, a team may develop a prototype of a software application to test key features and the user experience. This prototype stage is pivotal for several reasons:

  • Collect user feedback: Gathering user feedback on the prototype provides insights into how real users interact with the product, what features they find valuable, and where improvements are needed.

  • Identify functional issues: As users interact with the prototype, they may encounter functional issues or bugs. Identifying these issues early in the development process allows the team to address them before they become more significant problems.

  • Usability verification: Testing the prototype helps in verifying its usability. This validation is key to ensuring that the product is intuitive, user-friendly, and meets the intended user needs.

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Proof of concept in marketing and sales

In marketing and sales, the proof-of-concept process is used to experiment with and refine new campaigns or strategies. This ideation process often involves implementing a new marketing strategy with a targeted audience segment. Key aspects of this approach include:

  • Execute trial campaign: Executing a trial campaign on a limited scale allows the marketing team to observe the strategy's impact in a controlled environment, reducing the risks associated with a full-scale rollout.

  • Analyze results: After the trial, the team analyzes the campaign's results to assess its effectiveness. This analysis includes metrics such as engagement rates, conversion rates, and overall audience response.

  • Refine strategies: Based on the analysis, the team can refine the marketing strategy. This refinement may involve tweaking the campaign's content, targeting methods, or overall approach to better resonate with the intended audience.

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These steps enable marketing and sales teams to fine-tune their strategies, ensuring more effective marketing efforts and improved engagement with potential customers when the campaign is launched on a larger scale.

Proof of concept vs. prototype vs. MVP

You may see terms like proof of concept, prototype, and minimum viable product (MVP) used interchangeably. All these items are related to product creation, but they have key differences worth noting.

[inline illustration] differences between POC, prototype, and MVP (infographic)

A proof of concept, a prototype, and a minimum viable product differ in the following ways:

  • Proof of concept: A proof of concept is a presentation that demonstrates feasibility. The time to create a proof of concept can vary from days to weeks, depending on the complexity of your project idea. You’ll present your proof of concept to developers or researchers to convince them your idea is worthwhile. You should use a proof of concept when testing an idea you’ve never created before. 

  • Prototype: A prototype demonstrates how to build your product and what it may look like once it’s complete. Because the prototype is the first structured project build, it can take weeks to get right. You’ll present your finished prototype to developers, stakeholders, or a limited set of end users. You can use a prototype to secure funding for your project.

  • Minimum viable product: A minimum viable product is the most polished version of your project. After delivering your prototype or proof of concept to a limited group of people, you’ll create an MVP that uses feedback to make changes. You’ll create the MVP for your end users, and it can take months to create. The goal of the MVP is to gain a competitive edge in the market.

The proof of concept tests your product or idea at an elementary level, while the prototype brings your idea to life so you can share it with others. The MVP is your prototype in its final stage before you deliver your product or idea to the masses.

Benefits of proof of concept

When evaluating the feasibility of your idea prior to starting real work, the proof-of-concept process is extremely valuable because it serves as a kind of preliminary trial or pilot project. This POC process is akin to creating a prototype or a minimum viable product in lean manufacturing.

POC plays a key role in the validation of project concepts and theories. Unlike other ideation stages, proof-of-concepts typically don't yield finished products or deliverables, as their primary focus is on determining the project's feasibility.

Incorporating a proof of concept in the early stages of your project development roadmap brings several key benefits:

1. It offers essential data to potential customers, investors, and decision-makers, helping them evaluate whether the project or product idea is viable and assess its potential value to the target audience.

2. By providing user feedback, it gives development teams vital insights about market demand, the needs of the target audience, and important issues that must be resolved.

3. It serves as the cornerstone of the product development process, providing the framework for the development of your prototype and minimum viable product.

Put your project idea to the test with a proof of concept

It’s exciting to have an idea that you think can make a difference, but the only way to know whether your idea can move from your mind to the hands of your audience is to test its practicality. A proof of concept is the first step in bringing your idea to life, and it can give stakeholders or investors a glimpse of the polished project to come. 

To create a POC that clearly communicates your project idea and convinces others that your idea is worth exploring, you’ll need an airtight project management plan. Use project management software to establish a team workflow in this early stage of project development so you can prevent duplicate work and increase overall efficiency.

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