What’s the Difference Between Proof of Concept, Prototype, and MVP?

What Is a Proof of Concept?

The term "proof of concept" (POC) is used throughout the engineering and development worlds. However, in the product development process, a simple way to think of a proof of concept is that it’s the first prototype of your initial idea you should ever make.

Goal of a POC

The proof of concept's goal is to determine at an early stage whether the idea is worth pursuing from conceptualization toward introducing the functional app to the market. Many investors or internal stakeholders are reluctant to invest until they see a proof of concept. In essence, you're trying to develop the internal knowledge needed. establish the workability of your proposal.

A proof of concept is an internal project with a low investment risk that often looks like a physical or digital prototype. A mobile app POC, for example, will have a screen but not be fully functional. However it appears, you should devote the least amount of time and money possible to creating the POC, since your only goal is to discover whether it’s worth developing further. While most POCs will be prototypes, not all prototypes are POCs. In other words, POCs are a subset of prototypes.

Uses of a POC

The primary uses of POCs include:

  • Confirming the feasibility of your idea
  • Confirming it in a cost-effective manner
  • Confirming the value of potential product
  • Confirming that the development method chosen is correct
  • Confirming that the potential product fits the needs of the potential users
  • Confirming limits in the potential product and examining how it will function.
  • GIves you a yes or no answer

Using a POC will allow you to determine whether you are considering the best set of technologies to be stacked together to build your potential application. It will also permit practical demonstrations to potential investors and validation of the product's functionality. Finally, a POC provides valuable feedback that goes into your building process.

What Is a Prototype?

A prototype takes the process from the theoretical POC to the practical building of a visible, tangible working model of your idea, however limited its function may be. In considering the proof of concept vs prototype, think of an interactive prototype as a tool for learning what will work and what won't, allowing you to refine features and build in new ideas. When you’re working to solve a problem, it’s seldom possible to see the perfect solution right away. Some parts of your idea will be clear on the first try, while others will be diffuse and difficult to conceive. Further, even some of the ideas you imagine as clear winners do not work as you expected once you work with them. This is why we say that prototyping is a tool for learning. Classic prototypes include website mockups and role-playing exercises with service scripts.

Prototype Process

The process begins with listing the basic requirements for the product you are developing. After that, your engineers can build a prototype with a few of the desirable features and a basic interface. This prototype is a simple minimum version of your idea but available for testing and demonstrating the potential for improvement. The designers can then take the feedback on the prototype to do the same thing again. You can also get feedback from potential product users to see if you are heading in the right direction or need to make changes to meet their established needs.

Uses of a Prototype

Prototypes work well for:

  • Testing product that features a lot of involvement with end-users
  • Identifying design and development errors and mistakes
  • Designing user-friendly computer-human interfaces and interactions
  • Proving the value of a potential product practically
  • Bringing a set of complex ideas together for testing

For example, in the case of the proof of concept prototype, the learning that you hope to gain is the answer to the question, “is it worth it to develop this concept further.” Prototypes allow you to test for errors in your product quickly and give you valuable feedback early in the design process. They are a cost-effective tool for identifying and validating your response to customer needs. Finally, they allow you to quickly check whether what you have built matches the specification to which you are building.

What Is an MVP?

The minimum viable product or MV is your most complete prototype. In producing the MVP, your development team is building the most complete version of your potential final product and will include all the core functionality of the specific technology. Your MVP can even serve as the base upon which you later build your final product with all the bells and whistles you desire. Moreover, because it is nearly a final product, it allows you to perform user testing of the technical capability of your group for making the product.

MVP Process

Like a proof of concept, you should consider the MVP as your latest prototype. The MVP permits you to find the middle way between the minimal design of a product and the maximum value you can get from your original idea. The MVP becomes, in essence, a functional product that you can market to target users. An MVP is no longer a tool primarily for learning but instead is a product primarily for determining product-market fit and meeting demand. If people can easily see and use your product, you have reached at least the MVP stage in your development path.

Uses of an MVP

An MVP can be used to:

  • Test a new version of an existing product
  • Create a product with well-defined specs
  • Gather in-depth immediate user feedback from
  • Make a product ready for release relatively quickly
  • Shows the most efficient directions for further development

Using an MVP fosters the development of a client base consisting of early adopters of the new program. It also offers the best practical proof of value to your stakeholders and gives you early testing opportunities. MVPs are also a very cost-effective method of gaining user intelligence and feedback.

What Are the Key Differences Between a POC, Prototype, and MVP?

POCs, prototypes, and MVPs are all early versions of a product made for similar purposes. They each test the viability and appeal your potential product might bring to the market and the target users. Despite their matching goals, however, they each take a different approach to reaching that goal, and, thus, each is better for specific needs. Let's look at some of these differences.

POC Characteristics

A proof of concept shows whether you can develop a potential application, while a prototype shows you how to develop it. The MVP essentially indicates what it will look like if you do develop it. It is used primarily to determine the feasibility of an idea at a low cost.

A POC is an internal product meant to determine feasibility. It reduces the risks of technical problems arising during development and can be done with internal funding on a small budget. It can also serve as the basis for developing your MVP later in the process.

Characteristics of Prototypes

A prototype is best used when you have an idea but you remain uncertain about how it will look and work. Insights from the cost-effective prototype allow you to see how the end-user will interact with the current version of your idea. A mobile app prototype shows your target audience, for instance, how the product will look and work. It allows you to understand the project workflow and decide which potential feature to keep and which to discard. The process consists of designing web or app screens and making a model of your product which can be studied and redesigned until you achieve your desired results. When complete, your potential stakeholders can see a working model that will reduce their potential dissatisfaction with the product workflow later.

MPV Characteristics

Your MVP ultimately tests viability. It gives potential users an opportunity to test a virtually fully-developed product. If the results are negative, you can stop devoting resources to the development; if they are good, you have guidance on how to continue. An MVP provides a mini functional version of your potential product that you can reveal to the market. The primary disadvantage of the MVP is the relatively high cost in development resources. On the other hand, its well-developed status can make finding an investor easier.

Essential Differences

In the end, a POC gives you the theoretical grounding for your idea, while a prototype tests the minimum required features of that idea in a way that can be tested and shown to target users. Finally, the MVP implements and builds the features and concepts demonstrated through the POC and prototype.

Test Key Business Concepts Early

The POC, prototype, and MVP all allow the designer to test key concepts early in development. A POC, for example, with a small initial investment, allows focus on particular parts of a potential app, which, if they are essential to the app and prove unworkable, can provide significant savings in time, money, and development resources. The prototyping process allows you to see, early on, whether the idea that worked in the POC works now in a more fully developed application that users actually want. Finally, the MVP brings the entire package together to the market for final testing before further layout of resources. In the end, the MVP allows you to test your concept early by getting to market without engaging in full-blown production. Offering the core features through your MVP allows you to test key ideas, gather information from users, and still keep costs down.

Strengthen Business Cases Through Testing

Testing with POCs, MVPs, and prototypes allows you to demonstrate to those with the development resources the potential of your product. They represent practical evidence of your design potential and allow for a business justification of funding your project.

Benefits of the Iterative Process in Developing Products

The small scale of POCs, prototypes, and even MVPs permits repeated testing of your design ideas without the commitment of tremendous corporate development resources. You are building on a small scale and keeping your costs low.

How Cost Efficiency Is Key in Product Development

Cost-efficiency is essential to the design process in product or app development. By keeping development costs low, your company becomes more profitable, which gives it more resources to devote to design and development. As your business grows, it will need to show investors and stakeholders that it uses its dollars wisely and well by adding just enough features, reducing waste, and preventing over-engineering. Cost-efficiency lets you discover market demand without devoting excessive development resources to a product that may turn out to fail in the market. In other words, it permits inexpensive market research through the use of POCs, prototypes, and MVPs.

Which Method Is Best?

When you are deciding whether to use a POC, prototype ,or MVP, you need to consider:

  • Who are you aiming the method at
  • Who are you aiming the product at
  • What are you validating
  • What kind of user feedback are you hoping for

The answers to these questions, when combined with a deeper understanding of the uses of a POC, prototype, or MVP, will tell you which method is best for this particular stage of this particular product. By using the right method at the right time, you can find the right product market fit and attract investors for your hopefully successful apps.

In the final analysis, the answer to proof of concept vs prototype depends on your specific needs, where you are in the app development process, and who your target audience is. Careful consideration of these issues will tell you which is better for your particular development situation.


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