A Minimum Viable Product is a tool, not a magic spell that will fix all of your business’s problems. It is not a cure all where all you need to do is murmur “M-V-P” three times and achieve your goals. An MVP is a process, and one that can go awry if you do not do it right. Eric Ries defined an MVP as “that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” MVPs are about getting to know your customers better so that you may build a better business. For more on what an MVP is, check out our ultimate guide to an MVP.
The focus of this post is to highlight the importance of an MVP in software development. Too often, software development is focused on developing a solution and too little attention is given to whether the problem being solved is important or valuable.
One of the worst things that can happen to a team is to build something that no one needs. It kills momentum, it destroys motivations, it eliminates team cohesiveness. MVP principles puts a premium on testing everything so that you can identify any and all issues early, allowing for you to pivot if necessary and to ensure that you build a product that people will use, and more importantly, pay for.
Everyone wants to build that perfect product that is in their heads; they do not want to “waste” time iterating. Why build something less than what you can build? The instinct to “do better” is often quantified as adding more features and “doing” more in regards to the product. People over-invest by developing their product instead of developing their knowledge.
Your job as an entrepreneur is not to build a specific product, but to develop a solution to a problem that your customers feel acutely and are willing to pay a good amount of money to resolve. Your deliverable is your customer’s relief, not some piece of software. Shifting your focus from your product to your customers is the first step to becoming an entrepreneur. At every step of development, you should be seeking customer insights and developing intuitions about what they need. This intuition, more than any technology or innovation, will be your unassailable competitive advantage.
An MVP is meant to help you make this shift, and in that way it’s name is misleading. By emphasising the “product” instead of the experience, many entrepreneurs believe that an MVP is just a minimal collection of features randomly tossed together in an effort to see if people respond. That is an incredibly inefficient approach. An MVP is an experiment, and it should be developed as such, with each small adjustment or iteration targeted towards addressing a specific, measurable question you have.
MVPs are used to focus your attention on a “series of hypotheses that you need to test.” For some, an MVP doesn’t even need to be a product — it can be anything that answers a question about a market you want to enter: Surveys, landing pages or a video can all be an MVP. Others define MVPs as the minimum product that allows you to deliver value to a customer, and in turn, get value back.
MVPs were developed as part of the Lean Startup Method, which is about building your business and understanding your customers through a repeating, scientific process. It is a repeating process of hypothesise, test, synthesise, and adjust based on how customers respond to specific features and applications. The Lean Startup Method works especially well with Agile Development.
Agile Development was devised to mitigate the risk of building a product that customers won’t buy through a incremental development. As with the Lean Startup Method, the focus is on iteration; the development and testing of small changes. By building in small chunks, businesses can avoid disastrous coding errors. Agile can also be applied to customer base development. By testing multiple iterations of your MVP with potential customers, you can easily learn what elements you are thinking about works for your customers and what elements don’t. This can help you avoid disastrous over-investment in unpopular products. For more on how the Lean Startup Method and Agile Development can be applicable to your business, click on this link.
So here is a quick reminder of how design and build an MVP, which can be found in more detail at this link:
There are a lot of different hypotheses to test and they can be grouped into several different areas. Each area may need to be tested at different points during the development cycle. Below is a list of each different category of hypotheses, in the order of when they should be tested to ensure minimal misplaced effort and investment.
While doing your iterative testing with your MVP, it is also important to differentiate the difference between a complex feature to build versus a feature that makes the system more complex. A complex feature to build is something that will be expensive to develop initially, but does not make navigating or iterating your system more complex. A feature that makes the system more complex might not be expensive to build initially, but makes future iterations slower and more expensive because all future adjustments would require additional steps. Decisions regarding which type of feature to test first will vary based on context and where you are in development. In a future post, we will discuss how to determine the priority and which feature to build. (subscribe to our email list to be notified)
There are lots of different ways to build an MVP, and there is no single best approach. Making the best choice for your MVP is a very contextual decision. Below are a few different approaches on building an MVP and how each can address a key area of your business development.
MVPs can be crucial when building your business, as it can help you develop a strong foundation for your success. However, MVPs only work when the focus is on what your customer needs and not on what you could potentially build. Iterating your MVP without receiving customer feedback is a waste of your time and resources, so be sure to budget in user outreach to your process. If the MVP process seems daunting, reach out to us. We have helped dozens of companies iterate to success, and we can help you too. Contact us today.
Originally published April 25, 2017, updated October 15, 2019
If the MVP process seems daunting, reach out to us. We have helped dozens of companies iterate to success, and we can help you too. Contact us today.