Creating an idea for new software is a huge step for a startup, whether it’s a moment of inspiration or a breakthrough in a team brainstorming session. Ideation is inspiring and exciting, but it is only the first step.
Your idea needs to be put through the paces for you to end up with the product you expect. Missing out these vital steps of trial and change implementation means your product, though based on a sound idea, could end up as unworkable.
To avoid that, you need to see if it is practical, feasible and viable. And if it’s truly useful and interesting for the end-user. This is where a Proof of Concept (POC) comes in.
As a startup, particularly a SaaS startup, this is what it is all about. Honing the key aspects to your idea and fine-tuning it into a truly workable, outstanding and viable product is the base of your whole enterprise.
What is a Proof of Concept?
In software development, the definition of POC is: The process undertaken to determine whether a software idea can be built-in practical terms, what technology should be used and if your software is likely to be adopted by the end-users.
Why Do I need a Proof of Concept?
The key reason for a Proof of Concept is everyone who comes up with a new idea to improve their field, or fill a gap in the market, is always sure it will work. But the truth of the matter is that many will never be more than just an idea. Furthermore, as a startup, getting your software development right is not just important, it could be the make-break of your whole enterprise.
Your POC will both test your idea and make sure that your end product is the best and most practical version it can be. Thereby saving you time and money in the overall process. As a startup, you are probably in the process of looking for investors. And this is the type of solid facts and evidence needed to persuade investors or stakeholders that your idea is something to invest in.
Additionally, a POC should be used whether you are adding new features onto an existing software or building something completely new.
Prove the Need
Investing in new software development, only makes sense if the product is something people really need. As a result, if the product is directly addressing the pain points of your target audience, you will be on the right track.
The key is not to assume you know the needs and pain points of your target audience. You need to ask. Take a representative sample of people from your target audience and get the facts. Sometimes you will be surprised about what you hear, as well as what you don’t hear when getting these responses.
You don’t need to talk to hundreds of people at this point. But you do need enough to see what is being repeated. You want to be very clear on what pain points your target audience is experiencing.
Whether your target audience is a niche of an existing field or a completely new target market, make sure you get the implications of the pain points. This way you will start to see what is important to your end-user and you can create a priority list.
By the end, you will see the common recurring issues and have a priority list of needs and goals that your software should be solving for your end-user.
Map Pain Points to Solutions
Now that you know the intended audience’ pain points you need to brainstorm how to solve them. There are probably many ways to solve each issue. Your job is to evaluate the most effective and viable way of doing this.
Factors to take into consideration are existing competition, cost, technology, challenges and timeline. Doing this for each pain point should give you a clearer idea of what needs to be included in your final product.
Using that data, you can envision and crudely design how these will be implemented in your software. At this point, get feedback from some of your target audience. They should see how your envisioned product can solve their issues and you can walk away with valuable insight for your Proof of Concept.
Create and Test Your Proof of Concept
A POC is a first and preliminary model of your software from which the full product can be developed.
Your POC is the first foray into software development, where you get to see your solutions turned into a rudimentary product. You will now use this POC for testing and feedback.
Using the previous interviewees, record their use of the product and survey their response. You will hope that users find it intuitive, easy to use and helpful.
At the end of this, you should see what changes need to be made, if bugs have shown up, if the UI/UX design is correct and if all-important functions have been included.
Create a Minimum Viable Product
A minimum viable product (MVP) is a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers. And to provide feedback for future product development.
It follows on from a Proof of Concept in that it is not a rudimentary form of your product, but rather your product as you want it to look and feel, but with only its key features included. These will be the key solutions to primary pain points that you previously identified.
For a user, it should function just as your final product will. Now, you get to test beyond a small group of interviewees to a wider selection of your market audience. This is the opportunity for further feedback and will allow you to tell if your product with its current design and function resonates or not.
How Much Development Effort is Typically Required?
In our experience, the level of development required to create a Proof of Concept varies quite a lot. The following examples are derived from real-world cases at Ballard Chalmers:
- Refactoring the User Experience or User Interface (UX/UI) for an existing product did not need to prove the functionality, as that already existed. But validating the UX/UI journeys with actual users was needed. For this project, no developer time was needed, as this was completed by the UX/UI designer alone using journey prototypes in Axure (https://www.axure.com).
- Creating a POC for a product that allows small companies to provision and manage cloud services, such as virtual machines, file services and print services, through a web site using a simple to use drag and drop user interface. This POC was for use for live demos of the potential new product and so needed to be fully functional. However, it wasn’t going to be directly used by clients and didn’t need to be fully tested and made production-ready. Circa 20 developer days were needed to complete this POC.
- Creating a POC for a unique new and advanced system for helping manage legal cases. This system is complex. A lot of the functionality needed to be proved technically in advance of being presented to users. In addition, an early version of the system was to be deployed for validation by a real legal firm using real legal data. So, this POC needed a lot of development and testing, as it would almost be an MVP. This work has taken in excess of 3 months to develop, with multiple developers. This is an extreme case and most POCs take considerably less than this to develop.
Design a Roadmap
With all the previous steps fully completed you will have gathered a lot of information that allows you to create a roadmap for building your complete product.
Documenting everything that was learned, and all the feedback allows everyone to be on the same page for full development. This combined with a step-by-step outline for the rest of the development is your blueprint from proof of concept to fully functioning end software.
How Ballard Chalmers Can Help You With a Proof of Concept
Ballard Chalmers has a long track record of working with SaaS startups, such as Square Marble Technology and AppCan. Creating a Proof of Concept is a valuable part of our development outsourcing service. And we often undertake it as the first step in becoming the IT partner for Saas Startups. Please get in touch to find out how we can help you.
By Geoff Ballard, Chief Technical Officer at Ballard Chalmers
About the author
Geoff Ballard is Co-Founder of Ballard Chalmers and the company’s CTO, directing technical strategy, overseeing technical consultants, managing larger development projects and ensuring technical delivery quality standards. Geoff has been an SQL Server consultant since the very first beta release by Microsoft. And is a trainer and author in Microsoft technology, including courses delivered throughout the world.