Why Product Development Needs to Change With the Times
Agile MVPs and UxD MLPs
Product development: it’s not what it used to be. The way we create, develop and deliver products has changed significantly over a relatively short period of time. Nowadays, our customers need shorter, faster and more iterative deliveries to validate their ideas, receive and implement feedback rapidly to add value for their end-users. Moreover, technology and markets have also evolved due to people’s increasing digital literacy, empowered by the rise of the smartphone. Smartphone apps are omnipresent in every aspect of people’s lives: at the touch of a screen, people can shop, access their bank accounts, such as banking, ATM’s, shopping and whatsoever, which means that people, and consequently users are far harder to please than they used to be.
In an age of high digital literacy, usability is paramount. Users expect to be able to master new applications instantly: gone are the days when people had the time to devour instruction manuals or user guides. People expect that interfaces respond naturally to a broadly accepted mental model so that they can easily carry out a specific task and achieve a desired outcome.
Users do not just want their needs to be met; they want to be delighted. The product shouldn’t just meet their needs, but encourage a positive emotional response.
Applying agility to product development
Agility plays a prime role, shortening feedback loops while simultaneously delivering value to users through human-centred design. Companies have started to adopt Agile principles, values, methods and practices in everything they do. Within this, a leading practice is the minimum viable product (MVP), in which products or features are launched quickly and straightforwardly both to offer value to users and gather early feedback so as to evolve the product with real-world feedback.
We have observed different perspectives and definitions of what MVPs are. Depending on who you speak to, the term MVP has slightly different definitions, in terms of scope, priority, usability, technology and what value is, effectively to users and business. And herein lies the problem.
The first problem relates to the MVP’s scope and priorities. Often when launching a new product, the business will try to cram everything into the first release, including what they predict the product will need for the next 5–10 years!
Secondly, there is a clash essentially between developers' and designers’ perspectives of MVPs. Developers tend to consider MVPs as rough prototypes, inputting less effort in everything; and the designers, trying to harmonize usability standards and best practices while struggling to prevent the art of “Frankenstein-ing”.
MVPs concept oversees the users’ dimension, removing important aspects of the user experience, such as pleasure and simplicity of use. An MVP focused on technology and business dimensions will not connect to users’ emotions, and these products or features will lack user and market adoption. Accordingly to Forrester Research’s report, “Rich Internet Application Errors to Avoid,” 70% of projects are unsuccessful because they lack user acceptancy.
Big ideas are nothing without good UxD consideration and execution. The bare minimum is rarely the right solution for users’ needs.
The bare necessities…
In his book ‘Lovability’, Brian de Haaff argues that there should be a way to provide value from the beginning, rather than simply providing in an MVP a product that delivers the bare minimum to the users without any consideration for their emotional connection to the product in question.
To overcome this issue and to respond more effectively to user expectations, we’ve started to talk about MLPs, or minimum lovable products. The main objective of these is to earn users’ love by deeply understanding their problems and providing real solutions right from the very first release.
In product development, it’s important to take adequate time to conduct proper research to identify and fulfil user needs and their wants satisfactorily. It can be a pleasing and simple design aesthetic, a seamless and innovative user onboarding process, or even an integration with other tools that will help them to gain time when carrying out routine tasks. Earning users’ love is vital for early product success as it’ll offer a distinct edge over competitors and help make the product memorable.
How to manage an MLP
Users are now more tech-savvy than ever, and it’s crucial to adjust products to meet their needs in a delightful and memorable way. Many companies are still unaware of these market tendencies and are losing time and money developing systems and features with a lack of market adoption, that don’t totally respond to users’ needs.
There is a need to balance the intersection of each product dimension: business, technology, and people. Focusing on users helps build the right product to satisfy needs and expectations while maintaining engineering quality and delivery effectiveness.
Frequently, there is a tendency to overlook this approach to cut costs. Project and primarily business development teams should be able to influence customer requirements through an established user-centred design process that protects our business and clients.
In practice, implementing an MLP is very similar to MVP; you just need to change the focus directly on the end-users.
- Focus on the why — validate business assumptions to try to understand what users really value in order to build something with a purpose.
- Align business stakeholders — share outcomes and objectives with everyone so all stakeholders are on the same page regarding MLP expectations.
- Stay lean and agile — always remember that M in MLP stands for the minimum (exactly the same in MVP). While you’re focusing on delighting users, remember the goal is still to be agile.
- Customer feedback — find out what the users feel when using it. Seek qualitative feedback and take decisions with this in mind to address user experience gaps quickly.
- Test, iterate and repeat — this is not the final version of the product!
Building up user value through MLP
The best strategy to deliver users’ value, delightfully, is to prioritise the end-user experience and not on technology or business needs alone. Instead of creating an MVP with many awful functionalities, prioritise and choose the ones that give immediate value to the end-user. Working with a small set of features is easy to build a memorable experience since we will be able to incorporate and balance all the dimensions of product development.
As per the cake analogy below, instead of baking a big raw chocolate cake, you only need to bake a slice (10x smaller) but to a better standard. You are considering a layer of business functionality, a layer of technology, another layer of usability, and a smattering of emotional design. When developing an MLP, you don’t need to bake the whole cake at once!
The MLP time-to-market should be no longer than the MVP; the only thing that changes is that the MLP positions the end-user experience as a focal point.
The time and effort of developing a series of functionalities identified by the business are the same when we limit less important features and develop features that trigger positive emotional responses instead. This way, the product release will be loved by end-users, making their lives safer and their tasks easier and faster.
Companies may not always see the advantages of this approach; they are worried about being able to fix all business issues simultaneously in the quickest way possible. They forget that, if the product they have built is not safe, easy to use, or not responding to end-users’ needs, this will cost them later down the line. They will lose credibility, confidence and money due to the amount of time their workers spend on developing and releasing the MVP and, consequently, they will lose their competitive market advantage.
The bottom line on ‘loveability’
MLPs are one level above MVPs: the product must be no longer just be viable but also loveable. This means the functionality of a product must do more than solve problems. It also has to offer a great user experience, impress and delight users emotionally.
Embracing the MLP method is a long-term strategy, and the initial version is just one steppingstone towards building the ideal product. Well-loved products are built based on qualitative, real-life user feedback.
When delivering projects, a sea-change in company mindsets is needed to align with evolving market demands, with the emphasis placed far more on designing user experiences rather than developing simply to narrow client requirements. We should go by vertical slices instead of horizontal slices (functional-first and emotional-last). This means that each release of a product includes elements of every level — it is functional, reliable, usable and lovable.
Get in touch
Pedro Duarte, Head of User Experience Design at Critical Software
Designing for critical systems