We are living in the age of startups and every one of them is trying to solve some issue or the other. Individuals believe that they know what the problem is and who is facing this problem. The “What” becomes the baseline motivation for the effort and “Who” becomes the target customer. Now to solve the customer’s problem startups or individuals come up with an excellent service or product. Most of the times the final product is built in many increments. The first version of the product is built to understand the customer’s reactions and is called the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The term was coined by Frank Robinson in 2001, but popularized by Eric Ries and Steve Blank. MVP is one of the grossly misunderstood and overused words in product development. In this article we will see how MVP changes from a very powerful concept to a very Utopian concept as we move from startups to large organizations.
MVP empirically tests whether the hypotheses underlying the business case is valid or not. Once MVP is built and launched to prospective customers, startups draw conclusions from the customer’s feedbacks and get to understand what delighted them and what they wouldn’t like to use. MVP is the implicit learning tool that validates the business model. It clarifies whether the user’s unmet needs are met or not. One of the best examples in this case is that of Spotify. The assumption that Spotify wanted to test is that people wanted to stream online music without any delay in buffering and legally allowed by the big record labels. Below is one of the earliest sketches that described their UI vision.
The developers rapidly created a prototype (Figure 2) using whatever songs they had on their laptops. The raw version basically had one page and was not polished enough to be launched in the market. To test the hypotheses, Spotify employees started testing the product themselves and even asked their family members and friends to check it out. So the first prototype was just a light working model to validate the hypotheses.
Another fascinating story is that of Airbnb. Struggling to pay their rent, Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky rented out three airbeds in their living-room floor and also cooked their guests breakfast. They had created a website called airbedandbreakfast.com six days before the guests had come for a design conference in San Francisco. Their assumption was that travellers would love a service that offered short term rent at reasonable price. Their MVP (Figure 3) was a simple web page listing all the places available with some photos of those places.
It can be unequivocally said that a startup embraces the MVP to find its customer and their unmet needs. That provides them their bread & butter.
The whole narrative changes when we think of MVP from a large organization’s perspective. Such organizations have big brand standards, large customer base and existing product lines. They are lured to implement agile too with the hope of beating the competition. The sole point that keeps them interested in Agile is the buzzword “Faster Delivery”. While the startups really lean towards Being Agile, most of the large organization start their pilot projects concentrating on DOING Agile. They tend to miss the whole point of embracing Agile. MVP for such large organizations turn out to be Minimum Viable Enhancements (MVE) to the existing products required to delight the existing customers and bring in new ones. They end up trying to do agile where MVP doesn’t matter.
Another scenario that also exists is the fact that large organizations specially banks always think of Minimum Marketable Product (MMP) as the only output that is of any tangible value to customers. Brand consciousness leads them to create a product that solves the customer’s problem, is of very high quality and has an intrinsic market value. There comes the biggest difference between a startup and an established organization. A startup has nothing to lose and only tries to prove a point while the large organization has its reputation at stake if it comes out with a half-baked product (MVP). That is a valid concern.
It seems that MVP might not be feasible all the time for all the organizations . There are many more things to factor in while building a product in an agile environment. Existing bank customers who are not always the early adopters in the market, expect a high quality product from the bank. Any aberration leads to a dissatisfaction for those bank customers. The executives or the management are generally aware of that fact. Startups target either the early adopters or a group of customers who have some unmet needs and would be happy to give a feedback because they do not expect a lot from a startup. Rand Fishkin, co-founder of Moz, says, “MVPs kinda suck.” He believes that companies should only release EVPs: Exceptional Viable Product, which has more intrinsic value than the MVP.
So now that we have seen the whole commotion about MVP, EVP and MVE’s, the question still remains.
Problem: How to build products in large organizations where its not just about a hypotheses but about rebuilding an existing product sugar coated with an hypotheses which the business believes will make life easier for the existing customers and attract new customers too?
One thing to be kept in mind is that Brand reputation matters while launching a product. No sports person would want a mediocre shoe from Nike even though it might be a MVP for a new technology that enhances their performance.
The stakeholders believe in the following:
Exceptional Viable Product = Minimum Viable Enhancement
Solution : Build it and release it among the early evangelists who are existing customers and have the same problem that the company intends to solve. However they would not be testing the final product. They would be doing two things: acknowledging the existing features and providing feedback for the new features (The Hypotheses). The feedback should be a good measurement of the success of the original hypotheses.
It is imperative to understand that a big bang launch of a product is the perfect recipe for failure in today’s market place. Unlike startups, MVP is a concept that is easier said than done when implemented in large organizations. There have been a lot of articles debunking the concept of MVP in large organizations yet there seems to be no standardized methodology to handle the confusion. It seems that for now all organizations have to find their own fit.