Quick summary: Why building a proof-of-concept demo is an optimal first step for exploring any new technology while offering an unparalleled learning experience for engineering and business teams
Ever since ChatGPT burst onto the public scene in late 2022, generative AI has captured the imaginations of individuals and businesses alike. For businesses in particular, these intelligent technologies offer the potential to increase productivity, lower overall costs, accelerate go-to-market strategies, and improve employee satisfaction.
Organizations looking to tap into the power of generative AI can turn to a tried-and-true tactic for exploring any new technology: creating a proof-of-concept (POC) demo.
In this article, we’ll explore the reasons how developing a POC—and treating it as a product—delivers a host of benefits. We’ll also share the real-world experience of our own POC development team and the best practices we uncovered along the path from concept to demo.
Why develop a POC?
Even Facebook has moved away from its famous philosophy of “move fast and break things.” While it’s true that time is of the essence in exploring disruptive technologies to gain a competitive edge, jumping in too quickly could be a recipe for wasted time and resources, a damaged reputation, and possibly even regulatory violations.
Building a demo enables organizations to begin using the technology in a small-scale, low risk scenario as they validate the feasibility of an end product before devoting funds and resources to full development. They have the opportunity to put something tangible in front of their customers and listen to their inputs while they uncover challenges and roadblocks on a small scale.
The POC process also forces the team to define the scope of the product, reducing the risk of “scope creep” after development of the final application begins.
Building a demo enables organizations to begin using the technology in a small-scale, low risk scenario as they validate the feasibility of an end product before devoting funds and resources to full development.
The story of our own generative AI demo
Inspired by this emerging technology, we and some of our fellow “Logicians” took the initiative to come together as a team and work on building a demo based on generative AI technology. This year we’ve been excited to see the new features and capabilities that generative AI solution providers are offering, and we selected one of these to experiment with and use as the basis of our POC.
Here’s a brief summary of what we did:
- Came up with a problem to solve.
- Set goals, timelines, and an execution plan based on prioritized backlogs.
- Put together a team of enthusiasts.
- Built a first iteration of the app.
- Learned from our first prototype via testing and soliciting customer inputs.
- Established a backlog and worked from it.
- Structured the product.
- Grew the team by adding a product manager and an infrastructure engineer.
- Continued to adhere to an iterative approach for continuous improvement.
Establishing ongoing collaboration between engineering and business teams ensures that the POC achieves its technical and operational goals.
Best practices learned along the way
This project has given us a tremendous opportunity to learn together—not only about the practical ins and outs of the technology, but also about the approaches that can help make a generative AI application a success. Here are just a few of the best practices that have emerged in our POC journey:
Treat the demo as a product
We decided as a team to approach our demo just as we would a product we developed for a client. We started by acquiring customer input and incorporating it into our planning. For example, we learned early on that security was a primary concern and made that one of our highest priorities as we developed the demo. Our team worked within an Agile framework by executing against a backlog and establishing a highly iterative cycle of creating, learning, and adapting.
Maintain close collaboration between engineers and the business
Without the engineering team, the demo remains just an idea. Without input from the business, you could end up with a cool product that has no connection to a definitive business case. Establishing ongoing collaboration between engineering and business teams ensures that the POC achieves its technical and operational goals.
Have the right blend of skills and a right-sized team
We began with a very small team and grew gradually as new needs emerged. This approach enabled us to avoid the risk of over-committing resources at the outset and ensure that we had the skills we needed when we needed them.
Nurture a culture of collaboration and innovation
We’re fortunate to work for a company that values openness, personal initiative, and a collaborative spirit. Recently we presented our demo project at a company all-hands meeting, and one of our colleagues approached us with an offer to help. It turned out he had the exact skillset we needed to address a specific challenge we were dealing with, and he’s now part of the team.
Beyond the POC
Of course, the purpose of any demo is to pave the way for a finished product, but the POC process yields additional benefits beyond this goal. As we worked on our generative AI demo, additional use cases emerged that could feed into our work on other projects. We also had the opportunity to fine-tune the generative AI demo development process itself, which we can reiterate for future projects.
Additional uses for the POC demo of an application include:
- Securing additional resources: A working demo can help a team make a case for more funding or resources for further development of the application.
- Refinement and scaling: The POC can be refined, expanded, and scaled to evolve into a fully functional prototype or minimum viable product (MVP).
- Early adopter onboarding: Businesses can use a refined demo to onboard early adopters, gather user feedback, and make informed improvements.
Providing a glimpse at the future
Today’s business environment is marked by a nonstop flow of change, with new technologies and approaches constantly emerging. Developing proof-of-concept demos enables businesses to experiment with new tools in a small-scale, low-risk scenario and to address challenges before devoting resources to full development. They can move ahead to develop the final product with a high level of confidence, knowing what to expect and which pitfalls to look out for. Finally, the POC process becomes a product in itself that can support development of any number of products in the future. We are excited about the possibilities our team uncovered in our own demo development experience and look forward to exploring new learning opportunities in the months and years to come.
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Martin Sanchez is a Senior Developer in Logic20/20’s Digital Transformation practice.