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 proof of concept is meant to determine the feasibility of the idea or to verify that the idea will function as envisioned.
It is sometimes also known as proof of principle.
A proof of concept is not intended to explore market demand for the idea, nor is it intended to determine the best production process.
Rather, its focus is to test whether the idea is viable -- giving those involved in the proof-of-concept exercise the opportunity to explore the idea's potential to be developed or built.
In software development, for example, a proof of concept would show whether an idea is feasible from a technology standpoint. For startups, a proof of concept would demonstrate financial viability.
Developing a proof of concept generally requires some investment of time or other resources, such as supporting technologies or necessary physical components to complete. Going through this process, however, enables companies to determine an idea's viability before putting production-level resources behind an untested idea.
The value of proof of concept
Developing a proof of concept can help a product owner to identify potential technical and logistical issues that might interfere with success. It also provides the opportunity for an organization to solicit internal feedback about a promising product or service, while reducing unnecessary risk and exposure and providing the opportunity for stakeholders to assess design choices early in the development cycle.
The individual or team going through this process can then use a successful proof of concept to convince stakeholders, managers or investors that the idea is worth pursuing further.
Steps to write a proof of concept
Many industries, including the software, 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.
A proof-of-concept plan could address how the proposed product or service will support organizational goals, objectives or other business requirements, although that step is not the primary objective of the POC.
The proof-of-concept process should include:
- clearly defined criteria for success;
- documentation for how the proof of concept will be carried out;
- an evaluation component; and
- a proposal for how to move forward should the POC prove to be successful.
Developing such a plan is an important step in determining how an envisioned product or service will ultimately be delivered to users with the fewest number of flaws.
Proof of concept vs. prototype
Although the terms proof of concept and prototype are often used interchangeably, they are different processes meant to produce different results and serve different purposes.
Where a proof of concept is intended to determine whether an idea can be turned into a reality, a prototype is meant to turn that idea into a slimmed-down version of the end product that can be tested and evaluated for usability, functionality and design. A prototype is not expected to have all the features and functions of a market-ready product, nor is it expected to contain all the usability or aesthetics of a final product. It gives stakeholders, such as project managers and executives, as well as potential investors, a draft of what the final product might be.
A prototype also enables makers to 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. The MVP is an early version of the intended final product but is more fully developed than a prototype. The MVP can be used to test its marketability and usability with potential users or customers.