A minimum viable product (MVP) is a lean representation of your final product. It is the most simplified version of your hypothesis. MVPs are useful when concepts are new and risks need to be minimized before moving ahead.
The rationale behind the MVP is to gauge market potential and accumulate validated learnings before investing further in its development. You want to learn as much as possible, as early as possible with as little invested.
What qualifies as an MVP?
There is a gross misconception over what qualifies as a minimum viable product. People tend to stress so much on the ‘minimum’ that they end up disqualifying some high potential products by creating very disappointing experiences. Their MVPs often lack higher level attributes like reliability, intuitiveness or experience.
QUALITIES OF A GOOD MVP
- Functional and purposeful.
- Reliable and lead users to an end.
- Intuitive and easy to grasp.
- The final outcome should always leave the user satisfied.
Validated learning in practice
The team accumulates knowledge through user behaviors, interactions and analytics. Dropbox for instance, accumulated its knowledge and validation by posting an explainer video on Hacker News. They tapped the right audience receiving plenty of comments, feedback and sign-ups to indicate that the product had merit.
When Groupon first came to life, they posted deals on a WordPress site and manually emailed PDF coupon confirmations to subscribers. Everything was done manually through 3rd party resources. It was not a self-sustained product at the time. To end users the entire experience seemed automated.
MVP testing methods
There are many ways to test the MVP. In some cases the testing begins even before an MVP is built. For example, Buffer started out with a landing page outlining the concept with a simple ‘plans and pricing‘ button. The assumption was that if users found the concept worthwhile, they’d click the button. The next page would inform them that the concept was still under construction and that they would be notified when things were ready by leaving their email address. Later pricing plans were tested. The thing is, Buffer hadn’t even begun development yet.
Teams may test their MVP through wireframes, digital mock-ups and interactive prototypes. For more information on testing these MVPs, read – Wireframes – A Simple UX Testing Tool and Mockups And Interactive Prototypes. They offer some helpful tips as well as links to software applications that offer design assistance.
Other methods to test the MVP include hand sketches, customer interviews, crowd-funding, ad campaigns, working prototypes, the wizard of Oz MVP (the one used by Groupon above) and the concierge MVP.
The MVP can be a moving target
The minimum viable product is different in different industries. In software development where the ‘MVP’ concept is more at home, a simple landing page may suffice. In perhaps the cooking appliances industry, a team developing a new innovative cooking method may have to create a working prototype.
The prototype does not have to be aesthetically appealing or complete with all settings and accessories. But, it should at least be capable of demonstrating the core performance of the device. How else will users be convinced and how else will you gain valuable feedback?
You need feedback before setting up molds, production lines, material sources, supply-chain, packaging, advertising, etc. Are you prepared to place the cart before the horse?
Of course, it must be said that companies building version 2.0, 3.0, 4.0…etc. of their product, already have substantial learnings and experience behind them. They may choose to skip this step.
The biggest constraint to the MVP is the budget. This is where absolute prudence and lateral thinking must come into play. Picking the best modes of presenting the MVP along with the most relevant ingredients that qualify it, is imperative.
MVP’s need to be tested with a well-defined audience who can offer the best insight into its viability. While MVPs may entice customers on the basis of perceptions, the biggest hurdle still awaits. The final product needs to meet or exceed ‘expectations’.