The term Minimum Viable Product, or MVP, is one of those en vogue phrases in business, and it is often used to signify to others that your company is working on a new product. However, a MVP is not a thing; it’s a process meant to ensure that you build a product that best addresses the needs of your customers. MVP is a process that few understand and even fewer do right. If you want to take your business to the next level by adopting a new product, understanding MVPs and executing the process correctly will greatly improve your chances.


History of MVPs

The term MVP originated from Eric Ries’ landmark entrepreneurial how-to, “The Lean Startup.” Ries stated, “The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” The idea of the MVP was meant to address a specific problem in product development, which was over-investment.

When someone imagines a new product, he or she generally sees a finished product with all possible bells and whistles added. More importantly, this individual sees the perfect product for him or herself, which may or may not be the perfect product for other people. Many businesses invest a lot of money to develop this perfect, optimized product only to discover that its market is small and unprofitable. In a recent post mortem of 101 failed startups, 59 percent failed because either there was no market need for the product or the product was poorly designed. MVP’s are used to fight those issues.

How MVPs Are Used in Development

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.
Regardless of how you define it, an MVP’s key elements are speed and iteration. The process is:
  • Prediction: Make a prediction that will identify a need or want in the market that people will pay to resolve. Identify what success versus failing short would be like for measurable results beyond just profits or revenues.
  • Design: Prepare a design that will solve that need or want, and make sure it can be built relatively quickly and cheaply.
  • Test: Put that design out into the field, and see how the market reacts. Release the product so you can best test your prediction; if you’re making a product for one market niche, make sure you target that niche when conducting your test.
  • Review and revise: Review the data from the test phase, and make new predictions. Maybe failure was due to a specific element, but your customers liked everything else? Maybe you can achieve more success if you add an element or take one away?


How to Build the Best MVP to maximize results

Building an MVP is about balance between different needs. You don’t want to over-invest resources and build something people do not want, but you don’t want to under-invest and make a product that does not test your predictions. If you are too slow in developing your MVP, you won’t build the rapid iteration cycle necessary for MVPs to be effective. If you go too quickly, you again run into the risk you’ll build something that doesn’t answer your questions.
The best way to find that balance is to speak with your customers early and often. These conversations should point you toward the elements that most need your attention. By maintaining strong communication with your clients and rapidly iterating prototypes that are well-designed to test market predictions, you can quickly build a profitable product.


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Originally published April 25, 2017, updated April 9, 2018