Understanding Minimum Viable Product
Minimum Viable Product or MVP is the new cool kid phrase on the block which everyone is throwing around. So what does it mean and how can it effect your product. I’ll try to explain to you in simple terms what this means by giving you a short scenario you can play out in your head to better understand the full effect of MVP
Minimum Viable Product is a term used by Eric Reiss, who authored the book “The lean startup” which in turn has kickstarted a huge movement within the industry of User Experience called Lean UX. Another person worth noting is Steve Blank a serial entrepreneur from Silicon Valley. Both are worth a bit of research around.
What it is, what it isn’t
First things first we have to define what Minimum Viable Product is not, it’s not:
- A minimal product
- A cheap product
- A bad Product
- An ugly Product
It is a process of:
- Allowing the product team to quickly analyse their initial hypothesis by listening to consumer feedback
- It does allows you to quickly quell fears and confusion over a new product.
- It does allow you to answer questions you have about your potential market
- It can allow you to get to market quicker than your competitors that dont use MVP
The Knee Jerk
The knee jerk reaction to many new product visions is the want to fill the product with as many features as possible, but this takes time, resources and money. How do you know your product is going to work? How do you know that they’re going to pay for your product? Even the best user research can be misconstrued to redefine the market need for your dream product. Be honest with yourself – Your idea is the best idea ever! Thought so.
This is where MVP comes into play, lets take for example a fictional product idea for this we’re going to use a website that allows people to swap items without the need for money; Jenny wants a new pram for her daughter who is growing up fast, she doesn’t have the money to buy a brand new on but she does have a cot that she wants to sell.
We now have the vision, a digital swap shop. I get a meeting together with my developers, designers and stakeholders, there are many ideas flying around and everyone has their own ideas. In the past we would have gone ahead and put as many features into the product as we could, we would have estimated the build time and of we would go. The build time could take 9-12 months and with many software development projects this would run over and the costs would increase.
We launch the product and it flops, no-one is interested? The marketing plan never worked? We get some feedback from the customers which translates into a complete rebuild of the system, we got it wrong and we have just a lot of money, and worst of all while we have been painstakingly building our ‘great’ product another company has already gone to market and is fast eating up all of the potential customers and with it revenue.
Now, if we we’re to take a lean approach to product development then and use the MVP method this disaster could have been averted. Going back to the initial meeting with the team we would have defined what the Minimum Viable Product is that we could release that achieves the goal that is set out, a system that allows Jenny to swap and item with another user, this is all we would have built. This would have been put out into the market place within a couple of weeks and minimal cost and resources.
There could have been several results from releasing the MVP:
Number 1 is that no-one signed up to the service:
- Do people want this service? If not you haven’t wasted resources and cash
- Did you market it correctly? Have a look at your marketing plan, why didn’t it work? Are you marketing it at the correct demographic?
These are all things that you can correct early on within your product cycle at a much lower cost than if you got to the end of your build cycle 12 months down the line.
Number 2 is that people signed up to the service but they didn’t like it, so much in fact they contacted you to complain.
- This is GREAT! This means they have found your product so and they were looking for this type of product.
- They want your product to work so badly they have contacted you to fix it, listen to their feedback!
Number 3 and which is highly unlikely so don’t get too excited is that they love your product and they don’t complain at all.
This allows you to launch your product to the masses in stages and judge from consumer behaviour what works and what doesn’t, you can track each item that you add quickly and easily and if you get it wrong which you invariably will, you can remove that change just as quickly.
You have a shorter distance to fall if you get it wrong than if you plough all your money and resources into building the titanic of products. And remember to listen to your customers, they will help you to build your vision, just maybe not as you originally envisioned it!
So what does Minimum Viable Product allow you to do?
- Quick and less costly bursts of development
- Instant customer feedback
- Quick and real analytics
- Easy to fix problems
- A greater understanding of the smaller things through quicker A/B testing
- A better understanding of your product and your consumer.
All seems easy right? wrong. As Greg Laugero wrote “MVPs must make sense by creating meaning out of uncertainty and confusion.”
You must me able to understand and define what you are trying to learn from putting out a MVP, you must learn from your analytic data and customer feedback and most importantly you must understand why you are putting out a Minimum Viable Product.
This is only a small part of the whole process of working to lean principles, but it’s a good start work fast and make quick decisions labouring on a thought or waiting for feedback is a waste of time, you will only know if the idea is a good one or a bad one if you put it out there.
And remember Learn, Build, Measure.