Proof of Concept: Definition & Best Practices

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You wouldn’t build a bridge if it couldn’t hold any weight. Projects can’t move forward without evidence to support that resources expended will function properly and drive a return.

How you prove a project has legs to stand on is what’s called Proof Of Concept (POC). It sounds like a simple idea—an investment will not be funded unless it can offer a return—but it is very important. If you can’t prove a project can work then there isn’t one to begin with.

So, what is a proof of concept? It sounds a bit like a prototype, but that’s not what it is. We’ll get to proof of concept vs. prototype in a moment, but first things first.

What Is a Proof of Concept?

An effective proof of concept proves the goal of a proposed project is viable, and will be successful. The value of a POC is it can help a project manager identify gaps in processes that might interfere with success.

That’s not all a proof of concept does. A POC elicits feedback from everyone involved in a project, including those who might not have otherwise contributed, thereby mitigating unforeseen risk.

The proof of concept is so valuable because it’s a test project to evaluate before work begins on an actual project. A POC verifies that concepts and theories applied to a project will have a real-world application. POCs do not produce deliverables, as the core issue being considered is the feasibility of the project.

POC by Industry

Depending on the industry, proof of concept may be different. For example, in software development it speaks to processes with different objects and participant roles. In this context, it is about finding solutions to technical problems. In business, startups are using a POC to determine if a product is financially viable. There’s a lot of research and review that takes place.

Proof of Concept vs. Prototype

Proof of concept might sound like a prototype, but there are differences, and each has its own function. The POC is a sort of small test prior to the project to test the idea. It exists solely to show that a product concept is both functional and can be developed.

Creating prototypes is another important exercise. Creation of prototypes is done to help visualize how a product will function. It’s a working model of the end product. It shows design, navigation, layout, etc. Therefore, a proof of concept shows that a product can be made, and the prototype shows how it’s made.

That doesn’t mean these two concepts are mutually exclusive. They share some common ground. That’s because a proof of concept shares knowledge with the team, allows them to investigate emerging technologies and, of course, shows the client that the concept works. Once the POC has proven the project is viable, often a prototype of some sort is developed as a selling point for the client.

Now the project manager and team can get client feedback, while further testing and evaluating the project, to make improvements. This all provides more data that helps to estimate time, cost and resources needed for the project. That doesn’t mean a proof of concept is perfect, but it does show a project is functional.

Tips for Making a Proof of Concept

As noted above, a proof of concept is a project, and like any project it must be clearly defined. That means breaking down the process into these four steps in order to better manage it.

1. Duration & Effort

When you’re working on a POC it’s a project, but it’s not the final project. Completing work will be on a limited timeline. Usually that timeline is no more than two weeks. Also, you’re going to want to have a team assembled to do the job, but it doesn’t have to be a massive use of resources. Usually, two people are fine.

A project management software, like ProjectManager.com, can help facilitate the POC process. When you’re talking about duration and effort, you mean a schedule and tasks. These things are more efficient with the use of our award-winning online Gantt charts. Gantt charts can collect proof of concept tasks and lay them out on a timeline, with dependencies linked and durations easily edited.

Gant chart with tasks filled in

In ProjectManager.com, tasks can be viewed individually or collectively, so each person knows what they’re responsible for and can see what others are doing, so everyone is on the same page. If there are questions, they can be added as comments on the task level, and documents, whether files or images, can be also added to the task. This keeps all documentation together and easily accessible.

task lists for project collaboration
ProjectManager.com lets teams collaborate on the task level—Click here to try it free!

2. Scope of Project

Defining the project scope for your proof of concept is key to getting accurate results. Even if the POC is proved viable, that proof is worthless if the scope is not correct. Time and effort is wasted if the scope is off. Therefore, you’ll want to keep the scope of the POC to one focus. That is, finding a resolution to one problem. If scope expands to look at too many things, you won’t get any of them done.

3. Pick Your Resources

Who you choose to execute the proof of concept is as important as the process. You want to make sure they have the right skills to do a thorough job. Depending on the what the project is, you might want to have a mentor, or someone with prior experience to act as a manager and a resource for any questions.

4. Choose Your Criteria

To have accurate feasibility measurements, you first must have a set of project metrics that have been decided upon. Metrics that collect the project’s most pertinent information, and determine its success or failure. You can start this process by interviewing the client, as it is their satisfaction which will determine whether the project is a success. But keep these questions targeted. Project goals should inform what you ask the client.

Reporting on a POC with ProjectManager.com

These are the basic parameters that make up a successful proof of concept. Results must be disseminated. If the communication is muddled, no matter how viable the project, no one will know.

There’s a lot of data collected and that means many numbers to crunch. ProjectManager.com can help. All three of our views instantly reflect these status updates. These status updates turn into colorful charts and graphs on our real-time dashboards that note progress, task status, workload and more.

Project managers can keep the proof of concept on track, and when it’s time to present their results, filter the graphs and charts to show just the data the client needs. These graphs and charts are easy to share or print out. And because they can be filtered, if a question comes up, the answer is just a click away.

real-time dashboard makes project reporting easy

Proof of concept is the project before the project. Having access to the right tools can help get the job done right, regardless of scale.  ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software that has the most accurate data to keep your POC on track and then the full-fledged project progressing as planned, too. Scheduling with online Gantt charts, visualizing workflow on kanban boards and a real-time dashboard are just a few of our features. See them all and how they can help you lead your project to a successful end by taking this free 30-day trial today.

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