The Minimum Viable Product, explained.

What an MVP really is and how you can benefit from it

The term MVP was coined and defined by Frank Robinson and popularized by Steve Blank and Eric Ries. A popular definition is the following:

“… the minimum viable product (MVP) is a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers, and to provide feedback for future development…”

If you analyze this definition, you will see three major components there:

1. An MVP provides ‘Just enough features’

Assuming you have a product backlog — a list of all the features you want to build in your product — you have to decide the order to build them and when to release your product. The idea is to prioritize the features and release a smaller instance of my product, faster. But what would be the criteria for the prioritization? And how many of the top prioritized features are enough to deliver value to your early customers?

The criteria for ranking your features should be [a] value for the users and [b] feasibility: you need to identify the best subset of features in your complete product backlog, the subset which is expected to deliver the most value for your users; and which is also feasible for your team to build, launch and operate.

To identify the ‘red line’ — that is, after which feature to release your MVP — you need to think both as a user and also as an entrepreneur: apply business and product sense to find the minimum set of those top-ranked features which solves the problem for your customers. This is your MVP — and this justifies the Minimum in the MVP.

2. An MVP ‘satisfies early customers’

This first instance of your product must be good enough to solve the problem for your customers — they should get value out of it from day one. Your MVP must be usable and effective so users engage with it and potentially pay for it.

Your early customers should be so happy with your product to act as promoters — to recommend it to others and publicly share their satisfaction (if not excitement).

3. An MVP ‘enables feedback for future development’

As a product manager, it is critical to deeply understand what your users want and potentially reflect it to your product strategy. You need the right mechanisms and processes to capture the level of user engagement and measure how users interact with your product — across platforms, channels and markets.

Telemetry systems and the right reporting and analysis tools can cover these analytical needs — along with specialized product performance dashboards, which present KPIs in the right context to enable quick comparisons and decisions.

In many cases, it is a great idea to collect additional qualitative feedback — for example by organizing focus groups to evaluate the UX of your MVP; or by hosting user interviews, analysing unstructured feedback, etc. Qualitative data will help you understand how you are delivering value to the users and what can be improved.

You could also consider using customer satisfaction mechanisms such as the NPS — Net Promoter Score — as a way to capture user satisfaction in a standardized way.

All the above, define a product performance measurement framework, with the insights required to make better, informed decisions and explore further investment areas.

Misconceptions about MVPs

Although the notion of the MVP is a fairly simple idea, it is not always used in the right way: For instance, the term MVP is frequently used to denote a quick implementation, a draft, a prototype or something ‘to start with’.

In contrast to both ‘Proof of Concept’ and Prototype, the MVP has increased production readiness — as it is exposed to real users/customers.

An MVP is the first instance of a real product; it’s the beginning of the life-cycle of your real product; the basis for future iterations.

Characteristics of a good MVP

Good MVPs are focused, with the user at the center of their designs; they reflect validated user needs and they solve real problems; they provide great, seamless mechanisms to measure user engagement and capture user feedback — to quantify the overall product performance.

Symptoms of poorly defined (or built) MVPs

Poor MVPs are usually over-complicated and they are not really — ‘minimum’; 
They are over-engineered or not engineered at all :) In most of the cases, they don’t really reflect the real user needs, and therefore, they are disconnected from the market. Poor user experiences could also destroy a well-defined MVP.

How the MVP approach benefits your business

Think of the notion of the MVP as part of a method or a framework to help you define and build a better product — move towards a great product faster and cheaper. As you are adapting and using the Minimum Viable Product approach, you will benefit at many levels — directly and indirectly. You will be able to:

1. Think BIG about your product

Having a solid product vision is very important. The ‘agile way’ in product development empowers you to think big — to create backlogs describing a ‘complete product’ even with expensive and ‘crazy’ features — they can all be captured there in your product backlog and wait for the right conditions and timing in order to be considered for implementation. My recommendation is to capture everything, prioritize wisely.

2. Build your product with less

The MVP definition process, will enable you to build your product with less: the MVP is about identifying the must-have features, which will keep your early customers engaged and happy; this way you will build a smaller first-instance of your product which will still serve the core of its purpose: to solve the primary problem for the users.

It will also help you minimize your development and operational costs, by de-prioritizing the less important features for future iterations. A properly defined and built MVP will save you money.

3. Connect with your customers

The ability to capture user feedback early enough (and frequently), is probably a success factor on its own. Your MVP should provide streams of feedback in a number of ways — both directly and indirectly.

For instance, a properly built MVP should capture all user interactions and append the data into a historical user interaction database (be aware of GDPR and related regulatory constraints here). Proper reporting and data analysis could help you discover really interesting patterns about your users and how they interact with your product. The chances are, that these insights will challenge your initial product assumptions — or even indicate different paths and opportunities to pivot.

You can also collect and use qualitative feedback — by leveraging embedded forms or online questionnaires or focus groups and user interviews. These could provide additional signals or insights and perspectives you might have never thought of.

4. Go to market faster

As your MVP is about building a smaller instance of your product, you will have the opportunity to go to market faster; also, following the same agile pattern, you will be able to release features frequently and retain your flexibility to pivot — according to user feedback and signals from the market.

5. Consider pivots, earlier

As you are more connected to your users, you can use insights and product performance data, to adjust your priorities and your product roadmap. Or, you may discover those signals indicating a potential pivot — that is, a major shift in your product strategy or in the way you solve the problem for your users.

Thoughts, suggestions or questions are welcome!