Silicon Valley entrepreneur, author and pioneer of the Lean Startup movement, Eric Ries, defines a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) as “the version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort”.
In product development, a MVP is seen as a product with just enough features to gather learning which can then support the product’s ongoing development.
It has become a popular approach for its ability to reduce product build cost & associated risk. This is because it allows you to test assumptions early on and in an iterative way.
Imagine for example you spent the last 2 years building what you thought was going to be the next big thing. During these 2 years various assumptions would have been made about your customers and how they will be using your product. Now, come launch day, nobody’s buying. But why? It almost always comes down to incorrect assumptions which end up becoming a true product killer.
With an MVP you’re able to get something to market much quicker which in turn allows you to start testing and learning before further money is invested. It is important, however, to understand that a MVP is not just a product with fewer features. It’s whatever you can present to customers to convey your idea while also testing a predetermined set of feature or usage assumptions.
The basic process comes down to 3 steps: build, measure and learn. These 3 steps are then repeated again and again, each time with a clearer understanding of what changes or additions will bring you closer to that final product which will truly fulfil your customer needs.
When organisations are presented with the MVP approach for the first time, two questions usually crop up:
1. Isn’t a MVP the same as a prototype?
While both are used to test viability of a product, they’re used at different stages of a product lifecycle and also aimed at different audiences.
A prototype is a model which is typically presented to a small group of people to prove viability of a planned product. It’s usually a throw away piece of work not intended for deployment to customers.
A MVP on the other hand is the first version of a product that’s fit for release.
2. Can’t you also test a product idea using focus groups and market research?
While these methods still have their place for collecting customer data, they don’t quite match up to a MVP’s ability to get real insights from customers actually using your product.
Of course, a MVP approach is not the only approach to product development, and your company may prefer to go a more traditional route. All we’re saying is that we’ve seen how it has assisted businesses in achieving a higher product hit rate with less money spent.
The key is to ask yourself: What are the core functions that we need to build in order to prove this solution? If you go into product design with this hat on, you’ll save a lot of time and money by not focusing on non-essential items that can be added and tested at a later stage.
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