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MVP – what is it and why is it crucial for your business?

MVP
Business | Design | Development - 6th January 2020
By Marek Hasa

Minimum viable product. The MVP. If you’re part of the busy world of digital products, websites, mobile apps, and web applications, I’m sure you know all too well what we’re talking about. But let’s make sure we’re all on the same page.

If you’re in too much of a rush, we prepared a super-quick summary of the…

Minimum viable product (MVP) in 5 bullet points:

  • Understanding the MVP and the process of defining it will save you not only time and energy but also the commodity lacked by startups the most – cash.
  • The MVP allows you to enter the market faster and smarter. By doing so, you will avoid wasting resources on the development of something that wouldn’t work in the real world anyway.
  • The MVP is both minimal and viable. Although the name itself gives this away, for most entrepreneurs, it’s incredibly challenging to leave some of their great ideas in the backlog and focus on the least amount of functionality needed to provide enough value for the target group. Not less, not more.
  • Defining the most essential batch of your final product’s functionality is not an easy task. Definitely not one that should be done based solely on guesses and assumptions. If you want to hit the sweet MVP spot straightaway, you have to do your homework well – conduct user research, create personas, and write down user journeys before you start with prioritization.
  • Don’t be too keen on keeping your MVP as it has been launched. Contrarily, you should see it as a cheap (in terms of both human and financial resources) way to get as many learnings as possible from your customers. Even after your MVP is already out in the world, continue following the Lean development process, deploy small iterations, and apply the new learnings again and again and again.

Okay, this should be enough for you to discuss an MVP with your colleagues during a lunch break. But we also have the longer version for those who wish to truly grasp the concept of a minimum viable product and its incredible potential for their businesses!

Our guide to the MVP covers:

  1. Why an MVP? – Why should you care? What is its purpose?
  2. What’s an MVP? – What does the abbreviation stand for? Why is it so important to define it carefully and with some data and insights at hand?
  3. Key MVP elements – What makes an MVP truly minimal and viable? What is the checklist to go through when defining it?
  4. MVP is not… – What are the main misconceptions about the MVP? How does it differ from a prototype or a Proof of Concept?
  5. How to define your MVP in 6 steps? – What are the key questions you must answer before defining your MVP? And how to get the MVP definition process right?
  6. MVP and the Lean cycle – How does the concept of MVP fit the Lean Startup approach? How are the principles outlined in this guide applicable throughout your product’s roadmap?

1. Why an MVP?

Entrepreneurs and managers who haven’t been involved in digital product development yet might find everyone’s obsession with the MVP a little strange.

What does this omnipresent term mean? And more importantly – why do we need to come back to it refresh its meaning regularly?

Mobile app development is a very demanding process in terms of your time and resources if you aim to create a quality product on a professional level.

For most businesses, it is an investment that requires smart planning. You need to think of the return on investment, as well as the specific way the future app will fit into your broader business plans.

At the same time, the digital business is a very competitive world where every day and penny counts. The speed at which you’re able to move towards launch is crucial, the same goes for feedback from real users and customers.

And that’s where we get to the MVP – minimum viable product. Taming this concept and using it efficiently as your tool will essentially get you on the right track much faster and at substantially lower costs.

2. What’s an MVP?

An MVP is the simplest version of a product that already brings some clearly defined value and benefits to the user, and can be tested and pushed forward to production. It contains compact functionality and quality design. It is reliable and easy to use.

Defining your MVP is all about finding the right balance between cheap and great. (source)

An MVP can take many shapes and forms. Mobile app development starts with creating a product concept and prototype – and we can already generate the first version of our product in this phase.

MVP is not just about functionality, the key is combining it with usability, design, and reliability.

Why is it so important for us to define our MVP properly? We don’t want to waste time and resources on a months-long development phase without any tangible results!

Every successful mobile app development needs to be structured into steps as small as possible – this allows the team to generate a usable product very fast and understand what went well and what could be improved. And then jump right back into the development process.

If you were to take one single learning from this guide, it should be this one:

The minimum viable product is that version of a new product a team uses to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.

Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup

Before you enter the development phase, make sure your MVP is perfectly defined – you will avoid delays in the launch, as well as wasted time and money.

We will cover the key principles and steps of the MVP definition process in a short bit. Nonetheless, getting a professional helping hand is always a smart choice. Our team at Pixelfield is used to working with both startups and large companies and can help not only with development but also with product concepts, design, and analytics. We will help you define your MVP in the most meaningful way for your business plans and with regard to your product type.

3. Key MVP elements:

Before you learn the ropes of the challenging task of defining an MVP, let’s take a look at a four-point checklist every good MVP should have before it rolls out into the world, to the smartphones and browsers of real users.

An MVP must include these key elements in production quality:

  • Functionality
  • Design
  • Reliability
  • Usability

Functionality

is a bundle of features that are all intertwined and can be used to reach a goal within the product and provide specific value.

Design

needs to meet the commercial quality standards so that the feedback of your target users is not biased by amateurish execution.

Reliability

means that your MVP must be thoroughly tested and fully functional. Similar to a sloppy design, poor reliability will seriously decrease the validity of the insights generated from the MVP’s launch.

Usability

translates into the ability of users to complete target actions and gain specific benefits from using the product. Make sure this ability is preserved even after numerous final product features being left behind for the MVP stage.

4. MVP is not…

An MVP is not merely a fraction of the product’s functionality that isn’t ready for commercial use.

The picture below clearly illustrates the right approach towards defining an MVP. Your desired final product is a car. The utility we wish to offer to our customers is a means of transportation from A to B.

MVP definition
When defining your MVP, you should carefully consider if it’s usable and if it provides users with the desired value.

If we wish to provide this utility with as little expenses as possible, our MVP could be a skateboard – even though it’s still very far from the final product. Contrarily, a tire or a wheel frame cannot be our MVP because they don’t fulfill the usability requirement.

An MVP is also neither a prototype nor a Proof of Concept. Those are similarly important yet separate steps you should go through during mobile app development.

How is an MVP different from a Proof of Concept?

Proof of Concept (PoC) is all about testing the need for your product – the problem you identified and the ability of your product to solve this problem for your target group.

The PoC comes much earlier in a product’s development cycle than the MVP. (source)

Conducting a PoC should be one of the first steps on your digital product development journey. It can be as simple as a one-page website with essential product info and a subscribe form for potential customers.

Validating your hypotheses even before you progress into the MVP design phase is crucial for your long-term success.

We build and launch an MVP – the market-ready version of the actual digital product – only when the product concept has already been proven.

How is an MVP different from a prototype?

Another common mistake is to consider an MVP a synonym for a prototype.

Product designers use prototypes to validate products’ feasibility. A prototype demonstrates that the product at hand can actually be implemented.

A simple yet very accurate illustration of a product’s evolution from a prototype to an MVP and the final product. (source)

In the digital product development process, prototyping usually follows after PoC. It serves to produce something more specific and tangible for the user testing phase.

5. How to define your MVP in 6 steps?

The complexity of your MVP’s definition may greatly vary across different sectors and product types. But here are 6 main steps everyone defining an MVP should take to ensure successful market entry.

Step 1: Get your business & product objectives straight

Start with creating an overview of your business objectives. Start with the general ones and link them to the sub-goals the planned product should help you achieve.

Then zoom in on the product and ask yourself two fundamental questions:

  1. Where do you create the largest value for your users?
  2. How can you deliver this value in the simplest form possible?

Avoid defining an MVP as a fraction of your product’s final functionality that doesn’t bring any value to users. Your MVP shouldn’t be a semi-product or just one of the many steps to your end product.

Focus on the core of your business, not the form. Your MVP might very well take a different form than your final product. For instance, if you’re building a dating app, your MVP could be just arranging a few dates for your single friends and acquaintances.

Step 2: Carefully consider your budget

Although this sounds very intuitive, we know very well how easy it is to get carried away when you truly believe in a new digital product.

Consult your business partners and investors about the financial resources that might be sacrificed in case the MVP doesn’t succeed in the real world without endangering the rest of your activities.

Building an MVP shouldn’t be a dangerous burden, rather a fast and cheap path towards invaluable feedback from real customers.

If you operate with a very limited budget, don’t worry, a good MVP can be super simple. And if you have a lot to spend, consider investing a part of that sum elsewhere, or saving it for later iterations when you have more validated insights in your pocket.

Another delicious “donut” MVP illustration… Even if you have the cash to develop one of your visions for the final product straightaway, always start with a simple MVP to get real world feedback as soon and cheap as possible. (source)

Step 3: Invest in user research

We can’t stress this one out enough – always do your research homework to the best of your abilities, capacities, and financial power!

There’s nothing more valuable when working on an MVP for a startup than target group insights, quality market intelligence, and real user data.

We especially advise you to:

  • Create quality user personas that encapsulate validated insights about the target group’s problems, needs, and wants.
  • Conduct proper desk research and focus on your competitive analysis to map out all the candidate solutions to the problem you identified that might be chosen by the target group instead of your product.

Step 4: Define success metrics for the MVP

Don’t forget that we’re not developing the final product now. As much as you may believe in the MVP’s potential to succeed on the market, keep in mind that this is still merely one step on your journey towards the perfect product that will completely blow your customers’ minds.

Consider your business objectives again, consult your product roadmap, and set out measurable and realistic success metrics for the MVP.

“You’re selling the vision and delivering the minimum feature set to visionaries, not everyone.”

Steve Blank, Silicon Valley entrepreneur & Stanford professor

The goals are product-specific, of course, but generally speaking, this phase should be largely traction– and feedback-oriented.

It’s only fair to expect customer interest, product/brand awareness, or user insights from the MVP. But it’s quite certain the MVP itself won’t make you a millionaire.

Step 5: Prioritize features to deliver core value

This is the most technical and potentially also the most challenging step of the MVP definition process.

Start by mapping out all user journeys of the final product to list every feature identified as useful for the target group during user research.

Prioritize these features with your business objectives and all your user data & insights in mind. Our “step-by-step prioritization for startups” guide will definitely come in handy!

Most features in a typical app are nice-to-haves and rarely used. If you manage to identify the absolutely essential functionality, the MVP development might indeed be very fast and cheap. (source)

Use the prioritized features list as the key material to choose the functionality for the MVP. But make sure to double-check if the set of MVP features truly delivers the core value of your product without any unnecessary add-ons that might be left in the backlog for later stages.

Step 6: Write an actionable development plan

Use the selected MVP functionality to prepare the documentation for your app development team. Be very specific when briefing the designers and developers of your MVP – make sure to share all the key user insights with them and allow the team to truly understand the core value the MVP must deliver.

Don’t forget about the launch and data collection. How will you measure and evaluate the MVP’s success? Get all of this straight even before the first line of code is written.

6. MVP and the Lean cycle

By now, you’ve already learnt what an MVP is, why it can create so much value for your business, and how to properly define it before jumping into development.

But there’s one more important learning to be passed on to you:

Make sure you apply the MVP’s principles in all the following stages of your product too.

The paragraphs above clearly outline the idea of an MVP. Define what you want to create for people, start with the simplest form of this, gather feedback, and proceed with the next phase.

Let’s follow up on the dating app example: hosting a few events for single people will equip you with invaluable insights – how the target group seeks partners, what their expectations are, and what would be the next tool they would find useful for their efforts.

This feedback will help you build another version of your product. You will reach another iteration and further development. And this process should be continually repeated as part of the Lean Startup’s build-measure-learn cycle.

MVP loop lean cycle
MVP and Lean Startup. Source: Greenice.net

Even if you’re already in later stages of your product’s life cycle, the Lean principles, beautifully imprinted in the MVP definition, are still applicable.

Try to proceed step by step, adding functionality in small iterations rapidly and at low costs rather than spending months and months of development without any feedback from real customers.

Are you planning on creating an MVP? Take a look at our “development for startups” services. We can also help you with defining your MVP or with UX/UI design.

Written by
Marek Hasa
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