Planning a Minimum Viable Product: a Step-By-Step Guide

The ultimate MVP cheat sheet

Lean Startup author Eric Ries gives a commonly accepted minimum viable product (MVP) definition, describing “a version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learnings about customers with the least effort.” In mobile app development, your MVP includes the feature or features necessary to solve a core problem for a set of users and thrive in the market.

A central tenet of lean methodology, MVP development follows a build-measure-learn process; the goal is to provide an immediate benefit while minimizing development costs and using data to add user value over time. The lean startup MVP method helps you to release a product that can be continually improved as you validate (or invalidate) assumptions, learn what users actually want, and build future iterations of your app that better serve your customers.

This step-by-step guide will provide all the steps you need to plan your minimum viable product and start development.

TL;DR: Planning Your Minimum Viable Product

1. Identify and Understand The Business Needs

a) Determine the long-term goal of the product and write it down

b) Answer the question “Why are we doing this project?”

c) Identify the success criteria that will indicate whether or not the product is successful

2. Find The Opportunities

a) Map out the user journey(s)

Identify the users (actors)

Identify the story ending (end goal)

Identify all actions the user must take to meet that end goal

b) Create a “pain and gain” map for each action

Write down the action the user completes when using the product

Write down the pain points for each action

Write down the gains for each action

c) Summarize the pains and gains into opportunity statements

Use “How might we” statements or a similar method to summarize the pains and gains you have identified

3. Decide What Features To Build

a) Use opportunity statements to finalize your features

b) Provide a breakdown of the features to include in the product roadmap

c) Use a prioritization matrix (or similar method) to prioritize features

The Long Version: Building Your MVP Development Framework

We have grouped the planning process of a minimum viable product into three simple yet valuable steps, the short versions of which are listed above. We will now provide a step-by-step process with more detail and context so you can easily apply this framework to your project. This process is part of the agile MVP development framework we use at Clearbridge Mobile for our mobile app development projects.

Every step mentioned should be part of product definition for any project, however following these steps will help you identify and prioritize features in a manner that allows you to confidently outline what you need in order to get your minimum viable product to market.

1. Identify and Understand The Business Needs

At the very beginning, you should have identified a need as to why the product should exist. This could be an organizational need or a customer need that addresses a current gap.

a) Determine the long-term goal and write it down. Answer this simple question: Why are we doing this project? A coffee shop chain, for example, may have the long-term goal of reducing time-to-checkout by 30%.

b) Identify success criteria. Next, identify the criteria that will determine whether or not the product will be successful. This will likely — and probably should — consist of more than one metric. Our coffee chain, for example, might define success by reaching that 30% time-to-checkout reduction, having 100,000 active monthly users, and reaching $1 million in monthly transactions via their app.

2. Find The Opportunities

In the first stage of planning your minimum viable product, you should have already identified market gaps or identified a problem that needs to be solved, whether for your company or for consumers. The next stage of MVP development consists of finding the opportunities to solve these problems and add value via your app.

a) Map out the user journey(s). The user journey is most easily divided into three parts: the user, user actions, and story endings.

i. Identify the user(s). These are the people who will be using your product. It’s possible that you will have more than one category of user. For example, if you have a service appointment booking app, you may have both the appointment scheduler (customer), and the service technician.

ii. Identify the story endings. For each user, there will be a story ending, which is the end goal of the user.

iii. Identify the jobs (actions). The jobs are the actions that the user or users need to take in order to reach the story ending and achieve the goal.

We suggest creating a chart to map out the user journeys. Below is an example of how this might look for a Pet Adoption Agency app.

When planning your minimum viable product, you will likely want to look at which user has the most jobs and focus on that user (this will allow you to stay true to the lean startup MVP methodology — adding the most value quickly, with the least amount of effort). In the majority of cases this will make the most sense; however, there may be higher priorities that need to be addressed, so you may need to focus on a different user.

b) Create a Pain and Gain map for each action. The pain and gain map allows you to identify all user pain points and the gains the user achieves when each is addressed. This exercise lets you determine where you have the greatest potential to add value. You are then able to focus your minimum viable product on these areas while adding the less impactful ones to the product roadmap for future releases.

i) Write down the actions the user needs to complete. List the actions that you identified when mapping out the user journeys.

ii) Write down the pain points for each action. The pain points are brief summaries of the problems or inconveniences that users have when trying to complete that action.

iii) Write down the gain for each action. The gain is what value is achieved when that pain is addressed.

List and count the number of pains and gains for each action, for each user. Ideally, when it makes sense, you should assign a value using a point system to help quantify the importance or impact of the gain. We recommend organizing the pain and gain map into a chart. If we revisit our Pet Adoption Agency example, here is what a pain and gain row in our chart might look like for the Pet Adopter user.

c) Summarize the pains and gains into opportunity statements. There are a number of ways to summarize pains and gains. One is to use opportunity statements that follow a “How Might We” format. For example, “How might we make it easier for users to book appointments?” This helps you translate the pains and gains you identified in the previous step into feature sentences (more on this below).

3. Decide What Features to Build

In this stage, you will be able to discern what features to include in your minimum viable product, as well as the features to include on the product roadmap that are a lower priority.

a) Use opportunity statements to finalize your features. Using your opportunity statements from the previous step, finalize what features you want to build out. At this stage in the MVP development process, you will want to create feature sentences. For our Pet Adopters that are applying to adopt animals, for example, the opportunity statement “How might we expedite the application process?” could become “Reduce application processing time by 10%.”

b) Provide a breakdown of the features to include in the product roadmap. List the user and the specific opportunity statements, and provide a breakdown of the features to include in the product roadmap.

c) Use a prioritization matrix (or similar method) to prioritize features. This step helps you identify where you can make the most impact on your product in relation to the urgency of the feature. Using a prioritization matrix, you can make the final decision on what absolutely needs to be included in your minimum viable product, and what features can be included in later releases. Below is our recommended format for your MVP prioritization matrix.

Your MVP Development Framework is Set!

At this point, you should have a strong foundation to get started with developing your minimum viable product. You have identified and understand your business or customer needs; you have found the opportunities to address the pain points, and you have decided what features to build and their priority. Agile MVP development allows you to focus on these features for the initial build, collect data and learnings, and iterate and improve based on your learnings. Now, you can focus on getting your MVP to market.

If you are searching for a mobile app development partner to help build your MVP, contact Clearbridge Mobile today.