Pilot vs. Proof of Concept: What’s the difference?

Written by Tiara Jones
February 28, 2023
pilot vs proof of concept

While developing a new product or service idea, you may have heard the terms Proof of Concept (POC) and Pilot testing. These two testing methods have distinct characteristics, benefits, and drawbacks that should be considered when planning your product development cycle.

Keep reading as I help you explore what exactly Proof of Concept testing is, how it differs from Pilot testing, and why POCs can be an effective tool for entrepreneurs to test out new business ideas quickly and efficiently.

What Is a Pilot?

A pilot test allows you to assess the feasibility and usability of a product in real-world conditions—typically before investing heavily in development and marketing.

The goal is to identify potential problems, issues, or factors that could impact the success of your product or service launch. Identifying any weak spots early on can address the inefficiencies and avoid costly mistakes.

For example, suppose an entrepreneur has developed a mobile app for online food ordering and delivery. Once the app’s core features and functions are working as intended, they may want to conduct a pilot test with their target audience (in this case, restaurant owners and customers who are likely looking for food delivery services) before their initial launch to a broader audience.

What Is a Proof of Concept?

POCs offer an effective way to assess the potential of new business ideas without unnecessary risks. By testing concepts in theory, businesses can see whether or not their ideas may be feasible solutions and in demand before getting too far into development. 

Let’s say an entrepreneur was considering launching a new service for virtual tours. Before investing in developing such a product, they would likely want to build a POC to test their idea by first:

  • Breaking down the problem the idea will address.
  • Identifying the people who can benefit from the idea and researching their characteristics.
  • Brainstorming and understanding how the idea can be used in a real-life scenario.
  • Researching important features and resources required to begin developing the service.

Remember that POCs can help you work through the initial questions you may have and provides the opportunity to explore different workflows, types of technology, platforms, and features to see if users find it easy to use and whether or not it’s something that customers would be willing to buy.

To summarize, pilots are small-scale tests that focus on usability (user feedback from real-world conditions), while Proofs of Concepts aim to understand the feasibility, i.e., proof that an idea can work in theory before beginning the development process.

pilot vs proof of concept
IDEA Blueprint Mini-Course

In our IDEA Blueprint Mini-Course (use code: startcollective), we walk you through the process of creating a proof-of-concept for your business idea. The course provides additional examples and steps to assess all the ideas you saved in your notes!

Pilot vs. Proof of Concept: Which Is Best for You?

When deciding which testing method is best for your business needs, the answer depends on your stage in the product development cycle.

Pilot testing will be the most appropriate option if you’re looking for direct feedback from a small group of real-world users before investing heavily in developing a product. This method will allow you to assess how customers use and feel about your product and identify any potential issues before making a full launch. When you think about a pilot, consider the soft launch at a restaurant. The restaurant owners have tested their menus and recipes and trained their staff, but before they open for reservations, they invite a small group for their soft opening or pilot to ensure everything runs smoothly. 

On the other hand, if you want to test out an idea or concept quickly and efficiently without committing too much time or money, Proof of Concept testing is a great choice and highly recommended.

What Is a Minimum Viable Product?

A Minimum Valuable Product, also known as an MVP, is the early version of your product or service that includes the minimum amount of features needed to show off your concept and get user reactions. It’s like a stepping stone toward creating an innovative product or service, allowing you to test ideas quickly with minimal effort.

In terms of pilots and Proofs of Concepts, an MVP provides a bridge between testing out an idea in theory and launching a full-featured product or service. By testing an MVP first, entrepreneurs can assess customer demand and identify potential issues before moving forward with the product development cycle. This approach can be beneficial in helping to ensure the success of your business investments.

Think of it this way, the MVP is one of the first versions of your product or service that allows your customer to get from point a to point b without any additional bells or whistles. Using our previous example with the mobile app, the core function is to allow the user to order food, pay for the food and enter an address for delivery. At a minimum, the app should be able to do those three things. Other features, such as the ability to save your favorite restaurants or search for reviews, are all “nice to haves” that can be added after you confirm that your user can go from having nothing to eat to having a full meal delivered to their door.    

Developing an MVP, is a great way to mitigate challenges associated with product development while giving invaluable insights into how customers react to it.

Product Testing for Product Development

Pilots and Proof of Concept testing can help ensure a product’s success at various stages in the product development cycle to save you time and money.

During the Discovery stage, Proof of Concept are used to prove that an idea works in theory. In the Design and Development phase, an MVP can be used to conduct a pilot to assess how customers interact with the product. 

Finally, during the Launch phase, businesses can use the feedback from pilots and Proof of Concept to assess the customer user experience and reduce known risks before a full launch. When launching a new product or service, the benefits of testing new business ideas beforehand can’t be overstated and are essential throughout the product development lifecycle. There are various levels and types of tests that you will use in your build-measure-learn feedback loop, but they will help entrepreneurs in all industries make more informed decisions about launching a product or service.

Business Coaching and Resources

We offer 1:1 business coaching and advising for new business owners and courses to help you plan your pilot or develop your idea from the ground up. We understand the feeling of having a long list of tasks with no direction and limited resources. I’m blessed to say we didn’t have to go through it all alone, and we are here to help, so you don’t have to either. We would love to work with you and create a manageable development plan that will prioritize your workload and save time and money while bringing your vision to life! Start today with a 1:1 advisory call!

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Meet the Writer:

Tiara Jones is a business advisor for new online entrepreneurs looking to bring their business ideas to life. As a former systems engineer for a strategic investor, she’s had the opportunity to work with over 50 startups helping them develop and test products and build a strategy around their product roadmap for their target audience.

The StartCollective was created to be an accessible digital library of resources to help creatives start, build, and follow through with their ideas.


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