Validating Ideas: Proof-of-Concept
I like to think of a Proof-of-Concept like a science experiment. Full disclosure: I only like to THINK of it that way… I’d probably be a terrible scientist. Every Proof-of-Concept (or POC for short) starts with a theory or concept (I’ll bet you didn’t see that coming…). The POC is our experiment to prove whether or not our idea really is feasible and that people are actually interested in it. That’s a big deal early in a project. Even the greatest ideas need to be tested against the real world and the sooner we do so the better.
In a lot of ways, our POC is less related to our final product and more about a decision-making process. We don’t need a fully viable product to prove a concept. In fact, we want the absolute bare minimum investment to let us know if we’re heading in the right direction at all. I’ve mentioned the power of feedback before; the POC is another great tool for gaining access to the feedback loop very early in a project.
So what do we want to put in a proof of concept? Every project is its own beast, and exactly how much you need to be confident in it can be completely different from one to the next. The key is in identifying those pieces in your project you aren’t absolutely certain about; assumptions you have made about your customers which may or may not prove to be true. For every assumption, look at the bare minimum you need to test that and have a measurable result.
Note: This is a tough one because there are a lot of REALLY important pieces of our project which may/should/must be excluded from this. It doesn’t mean they’re any less important to an MVP or a final product, but they don’t belong in the POC. We tend to look at what we’re trying to build, but the POC and the MVP are not the final product. What’s important to the final product may have no place in them.
You’ll notice I said “measurable”. This is why I like to relate the process to science. Scientists follow an exacting process to ensure valid and measurable results. A proof-of-concept is no different. You need a question you want an answer for. You need a plan for taking this to the right market and testing out your concept. You must have a definitive answer for your question, otherwise, you’re wasting time and money. No one wants to do that.
I’ve simplified the scientific method a lot here… please forgive me. For a POC, we must ask a question, this is our concept. “We believe people ______.” We then need to design a minimal test around that. What is the bare minimum you could do to find out whether real people who might be interested in your final product would “______”? Once you’ve designed your test, find your early adopters, friends, family, anyone who’s relevant and perform your test. Get their feedback, record it, look at the different angles and variables, record, wash, rinse, repeat.
The result of this should be thorough validation and/or lessons learned early in the project before you’ve built a lot of product no one wants. This will provide feedback, angles/options tested, suggestions for moving forward. Even if your POC completely validates your theories, you’re tapped into the feedback loop now and should already be responsive to your audience and adjusting your goals to suit.
A proof of concept is a way to test your idea or product without spending a huge amount of time and money building a full product, but it’s so much more. It’s an extremely powerful process that can help you build a better product and can save you a lot of money on the way there. Take it seriously. Don’t scrimp on it, don’t be afraid of it, and absolutely don’t underestimate the value it brings to the table.