We can all agree with the saying “practice makes perfect,” whether it is learning your ABC’s at a very young age and turning your ‘jello-minto-p’ into ‘l – m – n – o – p’; or the young athlete practicing your free throws, backhands, bunts or putts for hours and hours in preparation to be the best in the heat of competition. Corrections and modifications bring us closer to achieving our goals and help us recognize failures. Similarly, a proof of concept (PoC) is a step in the process to achieving your business goal. Companies utilize this process for various reasons, such as gaining a competitive advantage or creating a better customer experience.
In my career I have found enterprise companies struggle in executing this step-by-step process. I have been tasked with managing and running PoCs for companies many times over and have gained key insights into how to achieve the stated goal.
What is a Proof of Concept
Wikipedia defines Proof of Concept “PoC” as the realization of a certain method or idea to demonstrate its feasibility, or a demonstration in principle, whose purpose is to verify that some concept or theory has the potential of being used. A proof of concept is usually small and may or may not be complete.
It is important not to blur the lines of PoC, demonstration (demo) and minimal viable product (MVP). A MVP is the minimal execution of a product that is released to customers. A demo or demonstration is just that, an example of a working process. No more, no less. A PoC is one step in the trial and error process that validates or invalidates a process for a given task.
A PoC troubled from the start
This year one of my clients, a globally renowned brand, referred BlueFletch to an internal team to help them with a project. The project entailed helping them run a few PoCs. I was excited because the work was right in our wheelhouse. Below is brief dramatization of our one and only conversation.
- CLIENT: Based on the requirements I sent over for the Green team, we are looking to obtain a better process capturing and reporting on important information. My goal is to define a process for running small, week long PoCs for internal teams for a strictly defined budget. Is this possible and how you would technically solve for this?
- BlueFletch: I have reviewed the requirements as well. Has the Green team shared with you their top priority for this project? Have they defined any metrics that would help us prioritize the features defined in the requirements to obtain a better process?
- CLIENT: BlueFletch, what is really important is understanding how I can define a repeatable process for running internal PoCs.
- BlueFletch: Ok. So what does success mean to you?
- CLIENT: Can we achieve my goal or not?
- BlueFletch: I’m unclear of the goal. We can definitely work on a process for a week, but when you deliver the output of the PoC to the Green team how do you know if you were successful or not?
- CLIENT: Because it will be delivered.
- BlueFletch: What if we do not finish the process in a week?
- CLIENT: Then we will give you more time. My goal is to deliver what we scoped in the requirements to the Green team.
- BlueFletch: That is not a PoC. That is an MVP.
- CLIENT: That is the process I am trying to execute here.
- BlueFletch: (face palm)
The client wanted us to deliver an MVP for a PoC price and time frame. Even if the scope of the effort was large enough, the fact we could not agree on success from the start is a red flag that is commonly overlooked.