(This essay first appeared on RamliJohn.com)
The minimum viable product or MVP is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the Lean Startup world. Some people think that the MVP is about building the first version of their product really, really fast. They lock their engineers in a room to do a 2-day non-stop coding sprint. After two days, voila, you have an MVP.
The MVP is not about building your product really, really fast
But, if you go back to the Lean Startup principles, you realize the following:
The MVP is NOT about the product.
That sounds contradictory. Some of you might ask, “how can the MVP not be about the ‘product’ when the word ‘product’ is in the phrase?”
If you look the definition of an MVP (you can find it here), you quickly realize:
The MVP is an experiment to help you and your team to gain validated learning.
The MVP is not about the product. Don’t think “product.” Think “experiment.” The key outcome of your experiment is measurable evidence and validated learning. Did what you expect to occur actually happen? If not, what did and how does that inform what we should do next?
If you looked at it another way, the MVP is just a vehicle for you and your team to validate or invalidate your risky assumptions. It helps you answer critical questions.
The MVP is just the means to the end. And the end goal of the MVP is validate learning.
Validate learning is THE unit of progress of the Lean Startup process. To effectively gain validate learnings, you and your team needs to do some pre-work before you build your MVP:
1. Ask what risky assumptions are you testing with the MVP you will build. Examples are:
- Will people come back to your app everyday?
- Will they become passionate evangelist?
- Will they see the value of our unique value proposition?
2. Pick a metric and set a goal to help you decide the success or failure of your experiment.
3. Craft a falsifiable hypothesis statement very similar to below:
We believe that
[building this feature]
[for this people]
will achieve [this outcome].
We will know we are successful when we see [this signal from the market].
Only when you have a falsifiable hypothesis statement can you start building a minimum viable product. They go hand-in-hand. Without it, you’re essentially blind to the outcomes of your efforts.
There’s a reason why some people such as Thomas Eisenmann in this Harvard Business Review article call the Lean Startup as Hypothesis-driven Development.
Without a hypothesis statement, you’re not building an MVP. You’re just building a product.
I was chatting with someone over Skype during one of the one-on-one mentorship calls I offer for free. The person was asking for advice about his MVP.
“What’s your hypothesis and the metric you’re using to measure your success?” I asked him
To my horror, I find out that he doesn’t have a hypothesis statement.
Don’t make the same mistake. Stop obsessing about your MVP. Rather than build, build, build, take some time to craft a falsifiable hypothesis statement.
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