The What, Why and How of MVPs
The minimum viable product (MVP) is the is a core element of the product development approach we use at Boldare. However, there can be confusion about just what an MVP is and what it is for. Here, we lay out the Boldare take on MVPs and how we use them to achieve maximum results for our clients.
Here at Boldare we’re agile, we use Scrum, and we love the lean startup approach, using it to develop world-beating and innovative products and software.
Is it because agile, scrum and lean are such fashionable concepts these days? After all, there are plenty of organizations following such methods blindly (try googling “lean startup religion”!) without thought of how (or whether) they should be applied to their specific business situation.
No, at Boldare, we use these methods simply because they can be incredibly effective for the kind of work we do: digital product design & development and digital transformation. We say, “can be” because like any method or model, whether lean startup is effective depends entirely on applying the principles intelligently to the specific context of your project and that depends on understanding lean startup concepts, their potential benefits, and how they work in real life. One concept that is talked about a lot but often causes confusion is the minimum viable product, or MVP.
What is a Minimum Viable Product?
From a lean startup perspective, testing the whole product is often too expensive in terms of time and effort. Hence, an MVP is a product which has just enough features to gather validated learning about the product and its necessary further development. It’s functional but it is not a full version of the product.
The minimum viable product is arguably the central concept of the lean startup approach. You’ve spotted a problem. Even better, you think you have a solution; a desirable and profitable one. But how do you know whether it will fly with your target market?
You could ask them but the responses will be mostly theoretical and subject to change in practice; besides, as we all know, not everyone takes such ‘surveys’ seriously. No, far better to create a version of your solution and test it. The beauty of the MVP is that it demonstrates the core aspects of your proposed solution for testing with users, allowing you to observe their actual behavior and responses.
Put another way, MVP is:
A minimum viable product (MVP) is a development technique in which a new product or website is developed with sufficient features to satisfy early adopters. The final, complete set of features is only designed and developed after considering feedback from the product’s initial users.
In essence, you build an MVP and test one or two functions (maybe it’s just the landing page from a website, or the online purchase process for a retail outlet).
The resulting feedback influences the further development of that feature, and also guides the project as a whole (after all, if everyone hates the landing page, there’s no point in designing the rest of the site until you’ve fixed the problems with the MVP!)
However, perhaps equally important is what a minimum viable product is not.
- An MVP is not just a product with a few features missing.
- An MVP is not an early release (though it may lead to one).
An MVP is an experiment – a means of testing a potential part of your solution.
The reality is that you don’t know what your final product will look like. From the beginning, working on your identified problem, your planning and development are based on assumptions – what users want, what’s missing from the market, etc. – and a development process that does not test those assumptions is likely to fail.
Why minimum viable products are useful
A development process that includes an MVP can be highly efficient. Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup” defines an MVP as, “…a version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” In other words, you get the maximum return from a minimum investment.
An MVP gets your solution (the essential parts of it) in front of users and enables you to find out if you’re on the right track to solving your identified problem. Apart from the design and project benefits, an MVP can be extremely motivational. The project team has something tangible to show for its efforts. One MVP tends to lead to the next, giving the project direction and momentum.
The purpose of an MVP is to:
- Test a product hypothesis with minimal resources.
- Get the product in front of users as early as possible.
- Maximize the information learned.
- Reduce wasted development hours.
- Avoid building a product that users don’t want.
You’re also testing your audience (are they right for your product?) and beginning to build a potential community of users and advocates which offers long-term benefits.
What are the benefits of creating a minimum viable product
As already mentioned, user responses to your MVP will tell whether your development process is heading in the right direction or not. What’s more, an MVP can result in an improved understanding of:
- The identified problem – is it addressed/solved by what you’ve developed so far?
- Your target audience – are they right for the product? (Sometimes, disappointing feedback may be an indicator that you’re pitching to the wrong people and not that your product is the wrong solution.)
- Likely profitability – an enthusiastic response to the MVP can indicate sufficient interest in where the product is heading, including potential sales.
- Future development – test results act as a signpost for the next stage of the design project, and testing MVPs can quickly create a budding user community and establish a feedback loop for the product’s future iterations.
Potential minimum viable product pitfalls
However, like any other methodology, the MVP route includes a pitfall or two that must be avoided or, at the least, learned from.
- Lack of viability - Firstly, a key element of the MVP is the ‘V’ – it must have business viability: a genuine solution that people are willing to use (as for how many people, that depends – how many do you need for the development process to be worthwhile?)
- Lack of sufficient detail - Within the project team itself, there’s a risk that the focus settles on the ‘M’ aspect, if the MVP is too –minimum- then there may be an adverse impact on quality. If it doesn’t give a true indication of where the final product might be headed, the feedback won’t enable an accurate assessment of whether users will adopt the product.
- Lack of user understanding - Finally, testing a minimum viable product assumes that your test users (your potential early adopters) can grasp the intended purpose of the product and provide the necessary feedback. If they cannot then you probably haven’t explained the context clearly enough. This pitfall is why the lean startup approach is so well-suited to software and technology development: you’re usually dealing with a very tangible and easily understood MVP, and test users tend to be technically-minded and therefore better able to follow your intentions.
The Boldare MVP process
Boldare’s specialty is design and development that is sharply focused on the business needs of our clients and the MVP is essential in ensuring that our results are always more than fit for purpose.
We use the Scrum methodology with its clear project roles (developers, designers, product owner, scrum master) and short sprints (1-2 weeks) to work rapidly and productively, often creating a series of MVPs as part of a development path spiralling upward in a series of continuously improving iterations that test each potential element of the final product.
A generalized summary of the minimum viable product process at Boldare is as follows:
- Product basis – the product vision workshop kick-starts the process of exploring and validating the product concept, building a strong and shared understanding of the product vision.
- General UI/UX – a user interface (UI) concept is developed (possibly using a clickable wireframe prototype), which then acts as a guideline for the product’s graphic design; options for the graphics are often tested with the client at an early stage using mood boards to present a choice of styles.
- Wireframing – wireframes are developed to explore different UI ideas and the basic structure of the product architecture is laid out.
- UI/UX design – based on the mood boards and wireframing, two sample homepage designs are produced as clickable prototypes for the client to choose from.
- MVP building – Based on feedback and learning so far, we build a product with just enough features to gather validated learning about the product and its further development.
A key aspect of our process is always the consultancy approach we bring to each client. By beginning each and every collaboration with a 1-2 day product workshop that brings the client and the development team together, we ensure that we really understand the client’s needs in depth. This enables us to lay out a custom development strategy for the client, including MVP releases for testing.
What’s more, at Boldare we believe our role includes knowledge transfer. During the course of a project, we share our knowledge, processes and techniques with the client, viewing the project as part of the client’s greater digital transformation journey. This gives the client the option of conducting future development in-house, enabling sustainable growth.
Minimum viable products in practice – Ralloo, a case study
Ralloo was a startup in the process of developing a crowdfunding platform, initially targeting the UK market, with a plan to expand internationally later.
In this case, the MVP was essentially a preview of the final product. It had the on-screen look and feel of a working website but in fact had just two functions available: the process to start a crowdfunding campaign, and a page of existing (fictional for MVP purposes) categories and campaigns. In other words, the MVP included the central features of the final app for testing.
The aim was to validate the appeal of the final product, and to give the client something they could use as a demonstration when seeking venture capital.
MVP - the Boldare’s perspective
In the Boldare approach to design and development, the MVP is the core-value-proposition-wrapped-up-in-essential-features-only version of the product. The MVP process is one of experimentation, testing features and ideas to discover their impact in the real world, and how well they fit with the client’s business needs and goals.
The benefits of using this kind of practical exploration include a deeper understanding of the product concept, and a higher quality final result. By keeping the MVP at the core of our development process, product ideas and features may radically change during the course of the project but the output will be exactly what is needed.
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