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The MVP is dead, long live the MVE!

We talk a lot about MVPs (Minimum Viable Products) at Trade Me. I think that most of the time we are wrong — what we call MVPs aren’t MVPs at all.

What is an MVP, then?

The term MVP was popularised in 2009 by Steve Blank and Eric Reis, as part of the lean start-up movement. It’s defined as “that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” (If you are super keen, watch this 5-minute video).

An MVP doesn’t have to have any connection to the finished product. In fact, it doesn’t even need to involve code. As Steve Blank says: “You’re not building a product...you are trying to elicit responses from customers.”

So, what can we do improve our MVPs? Three things:

1. Document your assumptions

Minimum Viable Products are all about “maximising learning”, so it makes sense to start by identifying your assumptions. It can be helpful to phrase them as hypotheses: “We believe that _________.”

2. Decide what metric you need to validate your assumptions

How do we know that advertisers want to buy native ads? How do we know that agents want to promote themselves? How do we know that members want richer shipping options? It can be helpful to extend the hypothesis statement: “We believe that _________. We’ll know this is true when we see _________.”

3. Identify the Minimum Viable Experiment, ideally involving minimal or no code, that you could do to validate your assumptions

We need to deeply understand users via usage data, surveys, in-person visits and anything else that can help us fill in the blanks. We should be prototyping our ideas, and showing users mockups long before a line of code is written.

Paper-based usability testing is an effective, low-cost way of experimenting

Finally, if you remember one thing about MVPs, let it be this: Minimum Viable Products are all about “maximising learning.” And the most effective way of maximising learning, and our insurance against wasting effort on things that aren’t going to work, are well-run experiments. In fact, I think a lot of the confusion with the term MVP is the word ‘product’ and we’d be well served by changing the name to Minimum Viable Experiments instead. Calling them MVEs will more effectively remind us that we need to test and validate our ideas, and experiment often and well.

I’d love to hear what you think!

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Trent Mankelow

Trent Mankelow

Former Chief Product Officer at Trade Me

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