What Is Proof of Concept? (Plus Definition and Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 October 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Product development usually requires a business to plan and test each stage carefully to ensure success. A proof of concept allows the company's product development team to determine whether a product is feasible before the company invests resources into its development. Understanding the concept and learning why it's important can help you determine how practical an idea is so that you can begin the next steps to developing the product. In this article, we discuss what a proof of concept is, why it's important to have one and how it may differ from a prototype.

What is a proof of concept?

A proof of concept, or proof of principle, is a process that explores the feasibility of an idea for a new product. Completing the proof of principle process typically provides important information to help determine if your idea can work before the company spends money, time and materials on developing it.

A proof of principle exercise is one of the simple forms of product testing during the development process. When performing a proof of principle evaluation, you evaluate the feasibility of the idea before developing details regarding the usability or features of the product. Companies can use the exercise to consider ideas such as business proposals, software programs and design ideas.

Related: What Is Ideation? Tips for a Successful Creative Process

Importance of this concept type

Performing a proof of principle exercise before you develop an idea can benefit the product's development since it allows you to conduct testing. Here are some advantages of a proof of principle evaluation for a new product:

Helps to mitigate risks

A major benefit of making a proof of principle evaluation before the product development phase is the ability to foresee and mitigate risks that may occur during the development process. It also allows the company to manage its resources efficiently. When you create a proof of principle for your idea, you can identify its practicality before the company dedicates any resources to developing and producing it. This can help you mitigate any possible risks while managing your resources effectively.

Predicts possible problems and solutions

A proof of principle evaluation for your product idea can help you anticipate any problems that may occur in product development and find potential solutions for them. During this process, you can also predict how your idea may perform or work in a real-life scenario. Using this prediction, you can then determine potential major problems with the product, allowing your team to brainstorm solutions for these issues before the product development phase begins.

Related: What Does a Product Developer Do? (Definitions and Examples)

Helps the company gain stakeholders and resources

A proof of principle evaluation is a good way to gain stakeholders for your product idea. Using this exercise, you can gather evidence that your idea is feasible and can succeed in the future. A comprehensive proof of principle evaluation might make your idea attractive when you present it to potential stakeholders and investors, encouraging them to contribute resources for developing and launching the product successfully.

Differences between a proof of concept and a prototype

A proof of principle and a prototype may sound similar, and project managers may often use these terms interchangeably, but there are some differences between these concepts, such as:

Feasibility vs. usability

A significant difference between a prototype and a proof of principle is their main goals. Generally, the purpose of a prototype is to identify how an end user may use a product and if it's worthwhile for the company to develop it. A proof of principle solely aims to determine if a product idea is feasible or not. It doesn't consider the end user's enjoyment and utilisation of the product.

Related: How to Create a Prototype in 6 Steps (Plus Benefits)

Amount of detail

A proof of principle and a prototype have different levels of detail. A proof of principle evaluation generally provides fewer details since it simply serves to show others the possibility of an idea and acts as a demonstration of a potential model. A prototype is a basic model of the end product a development team creates, which includes some basic product designs and features and demonstrates how the product may work or fit the market.

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Stage of the development plan

Another major difference between a proof of principle and a prototype is that they occur during different stages of the product development cycle. Usually, completing a proof of principle exercise is the first step in an idea's development as it explores the practicality and possibility of a new product. After this evaluation, the team may move on to creating a prototype or basic working model of the product during the next step. After completing a prototype, you can develop a minimum viable product (MVP), including more details and improvements to the idea, before finishing the final product.

Related: What Is an Idea Board? (With Definition, Uses and Steps)

Tips for creating a proof of principle

When you create a proof of principle evaluation, ensure that the development team communicates, collaborates and works with other departments effectively. Here are some tips you can consider when creating a proof of principle evaluation:

Note down the objectives for the proof of principle

Throughout this exercise, you can create objectives to identify what you want to learn about the product or test. These objectives can help to ensure that everyone in the product development team understands their role in testing the product idea as they complete the proof of principle evaluation. Ensure that your goals are clear and specific to relevant team members and that the team understands and agrees with them.

Defining the success criteria for the product is also important during this stage of the exercise. In establishing the success criteria, it's beneficial to meet with the clients or stakeholders and explain the process to them. Their agreement and satisfaction with your presentation usually contribute to the success of the proof of principle evaluation.

Develop a plan for the proof of principle

Before commencing your proof of principle exercise, it's essential to develop a detailed plan for how you want to conduct it. A common method is to list the steps of the plan and put it in writing or an email to allow every team member to follow the evaluation process throughout the exercise. You can also include the objectives of your proof of principle in this plan. Also, noting the duration of the evaluation and the effort you require for developing the project when you move ahead with the product idea is beneficial.

Evaluate the need for the product

Another tip to completing a successful proof of principle exercise is to evaluate the need for your product idea. Consider who the target audience for your product is and what problems they may have in real life that your product can solve. This can also help you identify whether your product is viable or not. This evaluation also includes determining the scope of the project so that you can obtain accurate results from the subsequent exercise.

Related: Product Launch Tips (With Key Steps)

Get feedback from your team

Gathering feedback from your team throughout the proof of principle process is also important. Ensure that everyone on the team gives you feedback about the proof of principle evaluation so that you can make the best estimation of whether your idea is feasible. This information can also give you time to make necessary changes to the evidence before presenting it to stakeholders outside the team.

Decide on the feasibility of the product

When you're working on your proof of principle exercise, make an informed decision on the feasibility of your product idea. The goal of compiling proof of principle evaluation is to determine how achievable a product idea is. The evaluation's outcome indicates the importance of deciding whether you want to move forward with your product idea after the exercise is complete.

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