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MVP vs. Prototype vs. PoC: Comparison Table with Definitions and Tips
A product’s success is significantly tied to the right market fit and thorough testing during the development stages.
PoC, Prototype, and MVP are recognized as three fundamental strategies to build a successful digital product by progressively refining and validating the product idea from concept to market-ready stage.
This article explains the testing process in digital product development using Proof of Concept (PoC), Prototype, and Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Through the following sections, you’ll learn about the differences between them.
This guide will give you the insight and tools you need to navigate the complicated landscape of digital product creation. We will make sure that each step you take is supported by validation and guided by informed choices.
In this article:
MVP, Prototype, and PoC within the product development cycle
Digital product development follows a structured cycle. It takes your idea from a simple concept to a market-ready product.
The digital product development process typically follows a sequence of phases: ideation, research, planning, development, testing, launch, and maintenance. A fundamental part of this cycle is the ideation phase, where the initial concepts of Proof of Concept, Prototype, and Minimum Viable Product are birthed.
Ideation is central to brainstorming and generating product ideas. It’s a stage where you, along with your team, explore potential solutions to identified problems or market needs. It is here that the initial thoughts around developing a PoC, Prototype, or MVP are formulated. These three elements serve as stepping stones in the validation and development of your digital product.
- Proof of Concept (PoC): Birthed in the ideation phase, a PoC is the initial step towards validating the feasibility of your idea. It helps in understanding whether the concept can be developed given the existing technology and within the desired constraints.
- Prototype: Following the PoC, the prototype is conceptualized. It is a more tangible representation of your product, showcasing the design, functionality, and user interface, although not fully functional.
- Minimum Viable Product (MVP): The MVP comes into the picture as a functional version of your product, albeit with only the core features. It’s developed to gather user feedback and understand the product’s performance in the real world before full-scale development.
Each of these elements – PoC, Prototype, and MVP – has its unique place further down the digital product development cycle. They are pivotal in testing, validating, and refining your product idea as you progress toward launch and maintenance.
PoC vs. Prototype vs. MVP: Comparison chart
Each of these stages – PoC, Prototype, and MVP – builds upon the other, forming a chronological progression in the product development process. A PoC helps in validating the technical feasibility, followed by a Prototype that shapes the product’s design, and finally, an MVP to test the product in the real market scenario with core functionalities.
To further illustrate the distinctions between the three, another good differentiation comes within the framework of scope, commitment, and audience:
- PoC: The scope of a PoC is quite narrow, focusing on testing a specific aspect or assumption of the product to verify its feasibility.
- Prototype: Prototypes have a broader scope compared to PoCs, providing a visual or interactive representation of the product to explore its design and functionality.
- MVP: The scope of an MVP is the broadest among the three, encompassing a functional version of the product with core features that can be tested in the market.
- PoC: Requires minimal commitment both in terms of time and resources as it’s aimed at testing a specific idea or technology.
- Prototype: Prototyping requires a moderate level of commitment as it involves creating a mock-up or interactive model of the product.
- MVP: MVP demands the highest level of commitment as it involves developing a functional version of the product with essential features.
- PoC: Primarily aimed at internal stakeholders to validate technical feasibility.
- Prototype: Targeted at both internal stakeholders and selected external individuals (like potential investors or focus groups) to gather feedback on design and user interface.
- MVP: Aimed at early adopters in the market to gather real-world feedback on the product’s functionality and performance.
Proof of Concept
A Proof of Concept is a critical phase in the product development cycle, primarily aimed at verifying the feasibility of your idea. It’s the initial step where you test the waters before diving into the development process.
Here’s an in-depth look at how a PoC operates, its best practices, and why it’s an indispensable part of product development.
# When to build a PoC
A PoC is typically employed in the early stages of the product development lifecycle before significant resources have been committed to product development. It’s about verifying that the theories and concepts applied to a project will result in a successful final product.
Here are some scenarios when a PoC is beneficial:
- Technical uncertainties: When there are technical uncertainties or unproven technologies involved.
- High-risk projects: For high-risk projects where the stakes are high, and the cost of failure is significant.
- Complex projects: In complex projects where the feasibility of certain features or functionalities is unclear.
# How Proof of Concept works
A PoC operates as a demonstration, often code-based, proving that a product idea can be successfully implemented. It’s essentially a small-scale demo of a product or a feature created to verify whether it’s technically feasible and will work as intended.
Unlike a prototype, which is a working model of the proposed product, a PoC is a theoretical demonstration focusing on the viability of a project, not on delivering a working model.
Here’s how a PoC generally unfolds:
- Idea generation: Identifying a specific aspect or feature you want to test.
- Feasibility assessment: Evaluating the technical and financial feasibility of the idea.
- Development of a small-scale demo: Creating a basic version or model to demonstrate the concept.
- Technical verification: Ensuring the concept works technically as envisioned.
- Stakeholder feedback: Gathering feedback from stakeholders to understand the potential and shortcomings.
- Evaluation and decision making: Assessing the results and deciding whether to proceed with further development.
# Best practices for designing a PoC
Implementing a PoC requires a structured approach to ensure that it serves its purpose of validating the feasibility of your idea. Here are some best practices:
- Define objectives: Establish clear objectives for the PoC to know what you aim to achieve.
- Specify scope: Have a defined scope to ensure that the PoC remains focused and manageable.
- Engage stakeholders: Engage key stakeholders early in the process to gather valuable insights and build support.
- Document findings: Document your findings meticulously to inform future steps in the development process.
# Examples of a PoC
Some real-world examples include using an explainer video to test the waters (Dropbox), validating an idea through customer interviews (Drip), and assessing demand with a landing page (Buffer).
Unlike a PoC, a prototype is a more advanced representation of the product, focusing not just on its feasibility but also on functionality and user interaction.
A prototype is a tangible or visual representation that gives stakeholders a better understanding of the product in terms of its design, functionality, and user interface.
The prototype acts as a bridge between the conceptual stage and the creation of a Minimum Viable Product. It’s where your product idea starts taking a physical or digital form, allowing you to test, refine, and validate your concept before investing further resources into development.
Here’s a delve into the anatomy of prototyping:
# When to build a Prototype
Prototyping is beneficial when you need a visual or interactive representation of your idea to:
- Validate design concepts.
- Collect feedback from stakeholders.
- Identify potential issues early in the development process.
- Secure funding or buy-in from stakeholders.
# Benefits of a prototype
During prototyping, design teams implement ideas into tangible forms, ranging from paper sketches to digital interactive models.
Prototyping is an effective method to validate ideas, test feasibility, secure buy-in, and create alignment. It’s about building a model of your product that can be interacted with, either by you or potential stakeholders. Unlike a PoC, which is more about theoretical validation, a prototype offers a tangible or visual representation of your idea.
Here are the main benefits of a prototype:
- Visual representation. Prototypes provide a visual representation of the product, allowing stakeholders to see and interact with a preliminary version of the product, which is crucial for securing buy-in and gathering valuable feedback.
- Functional mock-up. While not as developed as an MVP, a prototype serves as a functional mock-up of the product, showcasing the design, layout, and interactive elements, allowing for testing and validation of the concept.
- Feedback collection. Prototypes are instrumental in collecting feedback from stakeholders and potential users, providing invaluable insights that inform further development and refinement of the product.
- Cost and time efficiency. Prototyping is a cost-effective and time-efficient way to validate your product idea, identify potential issues, and make informed decisions before moving forward with development.
A common misconception is rushing towards a polished, feature-rich MVP without thoroughly vetting the core assumptions or honing the user experience, which often leads to resource-draining revisions down the line. Instead, we guide our clients through a carefully structured testing process. We make sure each step of PoC, Prototype, and MVP receives thorough attention, detecting and resolving issues early, aligning the product’s functionality with market demands, and improving the chances of market success. COO, ASPER BROTHERS Let's Talk
# Elements of prototype development
Each element of prototype development plays a significant role in validating the product idea, improving the design, enhancing the user experience, and paving the way for the development of an MVP.
The process generally involves the following steps:
- Core user journey mapping. At the onset of prototyping, mapping the core user journey is fundamental. This involves delineating the path a user will take through your product to achieve their goal. It helps in understanding the user’s perspective and ensuring that the product will meet their needs and expectations.
- User stories catalog. Creating a catalog of user stories is a pivotal step. It involves documenting different scenarios of how users will interact with your product, providing a clear vision of the user’s needs, behaviors, and the value the product will offer.
- Core user journey interactive prototype. An interactive prototype is developed based on the core user journey and user stories. It provides a clickable or interactive version of your product, enabling stakeholders and users to experience and interact with the core functionalities.
- Usability testing of the prototype. Usability testing is conducted on the prototype to gather feedback on the user experience, identify any usability issues, and ensure that the product is intuitive and easy to navigate.
- Prototype iterations. Based on the feedback and insights gained from usability testing, iterations are made to the prototype to refine the design, improve the user experience, and ensure that the product is well-aligned with the user’s needs and business goals.
# Types of Prototype models
Various types of prototype models cater to different needs, goals, and stages of development. Here are some of the commonly used prototypes:
- Working model prototype: A fully functional prototype that operates like the final product, used to validate the design, test the product’s functionality, and ensure it meets all the required specifications.
- Visual prototypes: These prototypes are created to look like the final product, showing a sense of how the product will look, feel, and function in the real world.
- Horizontal prototypes: Used mostly in software design to help engineers understand the human interface of a project. They show menus, windows, and screens on a computer to test how users interact with the product.
- Throwaway / Rapid prototyping: Quick prototypes developed to visualize an aspect of the product, which are discarded once they serve their purpose.
# Examples of Prototypes
Most industry titans started with basic prototypes that hardly resembled their final products. For instance, Facebook began its journey as FaceMash, a rudimentary “hot or not” game, which later morphed into “TheFacebook,” laying the foundation for today’s social media giant, Facebook.
Similarly, YouTube’s prototype phase envisioned it as an online dating service, a far cry from the ubiquitous video-sharing platform it is today. It’s intriguing how YouTube transitioned from a dating platform to a user-friendly video upload platform, demonstrating a significant pivot based on user engagement and market demand.
Google, too, had humble beginnings as BackRub, a project that operated on Stanford’s servers. It was the unique PageRank algorithm that set the stage for what would eventually become the most-used search engine globally.
Amazon’s narrative also resonates with this theme: starting as an online bookstore, its prototype featured a basic search engine and a simple review section. Over time, iterative enhancements and a broader vision propelled it into becoming the colossal e-commerce platform we know today.
Minimum Viable Product
A Minimum Viable Product is the simplest form of your product that is presentable to the market.
Unlike a Proof of Concept or Prototype, an MVP is a functional and market-ready version of your product, albeit stripped down to its most essential features.
In this section, we will delve into the main characteristics of an MVP, the reasons behind its utilization, and furnish you with an example to illustrate its pivotal role in product development.
# When to build an MVP
Selecting an MVP as your development approach is often driven by the following factors:
- Validation: MVPs are excellent tools for validating your product assumptions in a real-market scenario.
- Feedback collection: Launching an MVP allows for early feedback collection from actual users, informing further development.
- Cost and time efficiency: With an MVP, you can test the waters without a significant investment of time and resources.
- Attracting investors: MVPs can serve as tangible proof of concept to potential investors showcasing the viability and potential of your product.
# Transitioning from Prototype to MVP
The transition from prototype to MVP is a meticulous process. Understanding and executing it well is pivotal for the successful progression of the product from a conceptual stage to a market-ready MVP.
Here’s a breakdown of this transition phase:
- Developmental shift: The transition marks a shift from a model focused on visual and interactive aspects to a product ready for market validation. The MVP is the first version of the actual product idea, albeit with limited features, while the prototype is typically a draft of the proof of concept and is often discarded after testing.
- Iterative refinement: The prototype undergoes several iterations based on feedback to refine the design and functionality. The transition to MVP happens when there’s a high level of confidence in the product design following these iterations.
- Technical collaboration: At this stage, collaboration with the right technical professionals is crucial to fine-tune the MVP strategy and ensure a smooth transition from prototype to MVP. This might involve bringing in-house technical expertise or partnering with development agencies.
- Development-ready prototype: A high-quality, development-ready prototype that has addressed usability issues and bugs will make the transition to MVP much easier. It’s vital that the prototype is prepared to a standard that allows for a seamless progression to the MVP stage.
# Main characteristics of an MVP
The MVP is a strategically developed version of your product designed to validate your business model and gather invaluable insights from your target audience. It’s characterized by its simplicity, functionality, and its capacity for rapid deployment in the market.
Here are the main traits that define an MVP:
- Core features. Despite being a stripped-down version, an MVP encapsulates the core features essential for solving the problem it’s designed for. An MVP encapsulates the core features that solve the problem it’s designed for, without any additional frills
- Market readiness. An MVP is market-ready, designed to attract early adopters and collect real-world feedback. Unlike a prototype, an MVP is ready for market exposure, designed to attract early adopters and collect real-world feedback
- Learning oriented. The primary goal of an MVP is to facilitate learning about customer preferences and the market environment. MVPs are geared towards facilitating learning about customer preferences and the market environment3.
- Cost-effectiveness. By focusing only on essential features, an MVP aims to minimize development costs while maximizing the learning and feedback gathered. By focusing on the essential features, MVPs aim to minimize development costs while maximizing the learning and feedback gathered.
# Elements of MVP development
Each element of MVP development is aimed at ensuring that the product is well-positioned to validate the business model, gather valuable user insights, and pave the way for further development and optimization.
- Functional prototyping. Prior to developing an MVP, functional prototyping is undertaken to create a working model of the product to validate the design, functionality, and user experience.
- Mini development sprint. Development of an MVP often involves mini development sprints, which are short, focused development cycles aimed at building and testing the core functionalities quickly.
- Maxi development sprint. Following the mini sprints, maxi development sprints are carried out to further refine the product, address any issues identified, and prepare the MVP for market testing.
- Frontend assets development. The MVP includes all necessary frontend development assets, ensuring that the product is not only functional but also visually appealing and user-friendly.
- High-fidelity UX/UI Design. A good MVP is characterized by a high-fidelity UX/UI design that provides a near-final look and feel of the product, enabling stakeholders and users to interact with its core functionalities in a realistic environment.
- User behavior analytics & engagement/conversion optimization. An MVP is built with analytics tools to monitor user behavior, engagement levels, and conversion rates. This data is crucial for optimizing the product and making informed decisions for further development.
# Example of an MVP
A classic example of an MVP is the initial version of Dropbox. The Dropbox MVP was a simple video demonstrating the core functionality of the product. This video MVP attracted a significant amount of interest and email sign-ups, proving there was a demand for the solution Dropbox was proposing.
In the case of Airbnb, the product idea was conceived when the founders were struggling to pay rent, and they decided to turn their living room into a bed & breakfast service. Initially, they created a website aiming to offer bed and breakfasts as a service. They struggled to find users initially but found success by targeting Craigslist audiences, offering homeowners a choice to automatically post to the Craigslist portal. Through this strategy, Airbnb began converting multiple customers.
5 steps to choosing between MVP, Prototype, and PoC
In digital product development, choosing the correct approach between a Proof of Concept, Prototype, or Minimum Viable Product is pivotal. Your decision could significantly influence the time, cost, and success of your project.
Here’s a guide to help you navigate through this critical choice:
#1 Understand your goals
Firstly, it’s crucial to understand the purpose behind your project:
- Validation: Are you looking to validate the technical feasibility of your idea?
- Visualization: Do you need to visualize your product and show it to stakeholders?
- Monetization: Is your primary goal to monetize your product quickly?
#2 Analyze your resources
Evaluating the resources at your disposal is equally vital:
- Funding: Do you have the necessary funds to build a full-fledged product or are you in need of seed-stage funding?
- Time: Do you have the luxury of time or are you racing against the clock?
- Technical expertise: Do you have the technical expertise required to build your product?
#3 Gauge the market
Understanding the market dynamics and the level of readiness of the market for your product is indispensable:
- Market demand: Is there a proven demand for your product in the market?
- Competitive landscape: What does the competitive landscape look like?
#4 Assess the risks and rewards
Always remember that every stage of development carries its own set of risks and potential rewards. It’s imperative to assess the risks involved in your project and the rewards you anticipate to gain. This will further guide you in choosing the most suitable approach for your startup.
#5 Make your choice
Based on the above considerations, here’s a simplified guide to help you make an informed decision:
Go for PoC if:
- You need seed-stage funding.
- You need to check whether the technical aspects of the idea work.
- You want to share information within your team.
Go for Prototype if:
- You need to visualize your product and show it to stakeholders and potential investors.
- You have limited resources.
Go for MVP if:
- You have to monetize your product quickly.
- You have to show a working app to future customers.
Each of these approaches caters to different needs. They are not different forms of your product but refer to different stages in product development.
Of course, the most reasonable sequence to follow is PoC → Prototype → MVP, as they correspond to the evolving stages of validating, visualizing, and monetizing your product respectively.
As we move into a digital future with limitless potential, the methods for testing and verifying through PoC, Prototype, and MVP will continue to develop, adapting to the ever-changing technology and market trends.
The path from ideation to product launch will reveal new testing and validation opportunities, pushing us toward more advanced frameworks and tools. However, as we approach these digital advancements, the practice of thorough testing through PoC, Prototype, and MVP frameworks will be an unwavering companion.
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