Proof of concept in project management


In project management, a proof of concept (POC) is an evidence-based project that is presented to the client as assurance that the proposed project or product will operate as intended upon completion.

Proof of concept in project management

What is proof of concept?

You will often use proof of concept when pitching your projects to potential investors or clients. They are also useful in determining how difficult it is to ascertain the scope, budget, or schedule of a project. 

Drafting a proof of concept is often the deciding factor when deciding whether a project is worth implementing or canceling. 

The proof of concept will be the strongest argument you can make for yourself and your team before returning to your job site and pushing toward the finish line.

The proof of concept can be as complex as a green screen mockup of an expensive website photo or a short film. It can also be as simple as a slideshow presenting your product research in the form of an authoritative argument. 

Specifically, a proof-of-concept is an evidence-based project undertaken to demonstrate the feasibility of a proposal with the intent of taking said proposal into the final stages of development. 

Project managers use proof of concept after long periods of thought and planning. The relatively low scope and budget of the proof of concept does not reflect the amount of time you should spend researching and planning in advance.

Proof of concept vs demo

At first glance, proof of concept and demo seem like the same things. However, the two are not interchangeable. 

Project managers will use demos to give shape to the oldest iterations of an idea. The demo is used to the widest extent possible. The demo is your chance to get the green light and the budget you need to realize a project at its most ambitious. 

You should not reach for a demo in the middle or late stages of a project, it will be used more in the early stages of development.

Compare this to a proof of concept. Evidence-based proof of concept. This is where you will employ market research findings and focus group feedback.

The proof of concept may also include some compromise between the initial vision of the project and what is actually possible. This proposed solution is called Minimum Viable Product (MVP). And reflect the result of the project with MPV.

Minimum applicable product

Sometimes, you may need to sacrifice the final scope of your project when providing a proof of concept. You may discover bumps in the road that your demo wasn't able to show on its own.

The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) contains aspects of both demonstration and proof of concept. 

Minimum Viable Product is a more realistic representation of your ideal end product that takes into account the current project schedule and the resources currently available.

It may also be that halfway through a lengthy task, a project manager will discover that a full-featured version of the product is out of reach within their current budget or time frame.

 The MVP will take this realization into account, and in collaboration with your team, you will conceptualize a version of your final product with minimal required features and presentation.

A demo of the POS system might include inventory search functionality and one-click in-app restocking features, for example. 

However, the MVP of said point of sale application will simply include the ability to process transactions and document sales. You shouldn't start thinking about minimum viable products until your product owners are ready with the demo and your roadmap is well established. 

You must use MVP as the North Star for your project. You may not have to produce a physical model of your minimum viable product, but it's always a good idea to work with your team to define what an MVP looks like before you roll up your sleeves to get to work.

How to develop a proof of concept

  1. Define your end product range
    • If you have already developed a demo before getting to this stage of planning your project, you and your team will already have a finished product in mind. If not, now is the time to define the project scope and schedule.
  2. Collect data relevant to your final product
    • If you are creating a product that will eventually be brought to market, focus groups and market research will support your project. If you're after an expensive shot of an ad, the right expenses and budget will be your data points. Whatever it takes to make your case as robust as possible should be considered in the data collection phase.
  3.  Decide what form your proof of concept will take
    • Your proof of concept doesn't always need to take the form of a scaled down version of your final product. In many cases, an evidence-based presentation of your project plan with a good timeline is enough to prove the concept. In other cases, you may want to shoot a simple iteration of your aspiring Super Bowl venue. If you work in the world of technology, detailing the infrastructure your team builds and demonstrating that the technology will work is the path you should take.
  4. Get ready to go to work
    • A proof of concept will never be as labor intensive as your final project, but don't forget that developing it still requires time and research. Put development time into your project plan, work with your team the same way you work with them during the final sprint, and be proud of the POC you develop.

Remember why you developed your proof of concept. This is a process for improving your production plan and determining the feasibility of your project. Proof of concept is an exercise in understanding your own limitations and taking control of your domain. 

This process requires that you and your team are honest about your time and available resources. Let the proof of concept guide you to the most effective path to the finish line, and use it as a stepping stone toward finishing your product as soon as possible.


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