A minimum viable product (MVP) in most cases is a lean representation of your final product. MVPs are particularly useful when concepts are new to market and risks need to be minimized before forging 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 up front.
Aren’t MVPs, prototypes and concepts the same thing?
No, the MVP represents an advanced stage in the development cycle. It assumes that the preliminary stages of the development process have led to its present state. In fact, MVPs are potentially shippable products.
I like to think of concepts as ideas that have not materialized. When we give form to a concept, it becomes a prototype. There are varying degrees of prototypes and usually, the final versions turns move into MVP territory.
Speaking of concepts, Buffer started out with a landing page outlining the concept with simple ‘plans and pricing‘. The assumption was that if users found the concept worthwhile, they’d click through.
The final page would inform them that the concept was still under construction and that they would be notified when things were ready if they left their email address. The thing is, Buffer hadn’t even begun coding yet.
Most websites including Buffer’s blog consider that an MVP. In my opinion, it hasn’t satisfied all qualities of an MVP and hence remained a concept until it entered coding.
So, what qualifies as an MVP?
I believe that for an MVP to be considered as such, it needs to fulfill the following criteria.
QUALITIES OF A GOOD MVP
- Functional and Reliable
- Purposeful – leads users to an end
- Leaves the user satisfied
Another interpretation comes from UX designer Jussi Pasanen. He put together a very simple graphic to depict an MVP. It’s worth a read.
There is a big 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 pilots. This is because their MVPs often lack higher level attributes like intuitiveness or good user experience.
Tools to test concepts, prototypes or MVPs
Teams may test their products through wireframes, digital mock-ups, interactive prototypes and landing pages. For more information on these testing methods, 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 testing methods include hand sketches, customer interviews, crowd-funding, ad campaigns, working prototypes, the wizard of Oz MVP (the one used by Groupon described below) and the concierge MVP.
Validation in practice
The team accumulates knowledge through user behaviors, interactions, feedback 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. Though, to end-users the entire experience seemed automated.
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, is imperative.
MVP’s need to be tested with a well-defined audience who can offer the best insight into its ultimate viability.