24 – 04 – 22
Prove your idea. Start with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
A minimum viable product (MVP) is a relatively simple concept. You have an idea, so you build the minimum version to test its validity. Once proven – or not – you can iterate or pivot the concept until you’re ready for the next phase: creating a minimum marketable product (MMP).
What is an MVP?
In truth an MVP is less a product than it is a process. You’re testing a hypothesis or an idea. You’re shipping a product with minimum investment to either prove viability or substantiate further investment and scaling.
The MVP process is one of observing customer behaviours, gathering data, and gauging the likelihood of success; i.e. whether it’s feasible to progress to the MMP stage.
The production of MVPs and MMPs isn’t limited to bringing entirely new products to the marketplace. These processes are useful in any scenario that demands proof or a rationale before making a substantial, long-term investment of money, time or effort. An MVP, for example, could be used to improve a current product, or it could be the first step in a larger initiative, product, project, investment, strategic direction or way of operating.
MVPs have inherent flexibility, reducing risk and increasing the probability of success. It provides an opportunity to shore up your probability of success.
When done well this process will help you to identify your assumptions, especially those that are high risk, and compel you to undertake experiments to test those assumptions. You’ll then apply the learnings from the experiment to pivot or refine your MVP.
The case for MVPs
Today we have the ability to access and generate virtually any data set, user insights or behavioural information we can imagine – and this means we can make better decisions.
The process of creating an MVP gives you the concrete evidence you need to push forward with your idea or hypothesis. The case for MVPs centres on your ability to generate insights through testing and validation.
- Gauge uptake and test demand
- Test technology and functionality
- Test an approach
- Test perceptions, attitudes and beliefs
- Test behavioural changes
- Test with a specific group or segment
- Test profitability
- Test usability/UX/CX
- Test within different stages of a lifecycle
- Test teaching and learning outcomes
- Test functionality and technical aspects
No hypothesis or projection compares to real-world testing and feedback. An MVP grants you the ability to put something tangible in people’s hands, to see how they react to it and interact with it.
Not every idea is MVP-worthy
Not all ‘good’ ideas are MVP candidates. You should work to take the business case as far as you can before you begin the MVP process. Who knows what new considerations, ideas or issues might build the case, validate the hypothesis, or perhaps render it null and void.
To get a sense of whether an idea is worth pursuing, try the following:
- Engage your peers, collate (ad-hoc) input, engage internal stakeholders, run ‘pub tests’, survey audiences, users and customers.
- Assess any relevant and available data – internal or external, public or private – that may give you deeper insights to help validate or disprove your idea.
- to garner a broader, more holistic view of the influences that might affect the idea.
- Develop a mind map and conduct brainstorming sessions and workshops to tease out ideas. Think and ideate both linearly and laterally.
- Sketch out some initial user journeys. Develop flow charts, user stories and use cases.
Undertake SWOT analysis, run projections and financial modelling.
- Be aware of confirmation bias.
If after all this you can still call your idea ‘good’, with a solid business case that’s worth proving, you’re ready to start planning your MVP.
An MVP is not an MMP
An important point, and one that bears repeating: the purpose of an MVP is not to create a product that is ready to take to market.
The focus is simply on proving your hypothesis.
Let’s say your organisation is thinking about introducing a new service line for which you believe there is a demand. Your hypothesis might be:
“Within the existing client base of the organisation, the introduction of the new service will have X% uptake by X% of customers.”
The MVP is designed to prove this statement. The MMP, meanwhile, is what the product/service will look like when it’s ready to take to market.
Products can be introduced to the market at the MVP stage, but this is usually in a limited way, such as to small, targeted segments of your current customer base, in order to test and validate.
The focus is on making the absolute minimum investment in order to prove the concept is going to work and is worthwhile investing in and scaling. You’ll be offering users and testers quite the rough cut diamond, so it’s wise to limit the release until you’ve created your MMP.
There’s no such thing as perfect
Don’t aim to create a perfect product with your MVP.
The idea is to develop a proof of concept, even if it’s a long way from perfect and lacks features which you know will make it a better product. More important is the feedback you receive on the core of your offering – you don’t want users distracted by shiny additions.
The focus should always be on the problem you’re solving and the need you’re addressing. Often the final iteration of your MVP won’t look anything like you initially thought it would.
While it’s important to have a vision of what you hope to create, it should be flexible and adaptable. You should be ready to pivot and iterate once you have insights and feedback from the market.
When MVPs fail
When a PhD student spends four years of study testing a hypothesis, only to disprove it, they might feel as though they’ve failed. But as any scientist will tell you, the opposite is true – they’ve contributed to the collective knowledge of humanity, and others now know that X is untrue.
You should apply the same mindset to your MVP. Disproving your idea is good in that you will no longer wonder whether you’re missing out on that opportunity. There are however other, less acceptable ways in which MVPs can fail; ways that are less about the original idea than they are about the process that was undertaken.
Some common ways MVPs can go wrong, or can fail to prove or disprove your idea, include:
- A lack of market research or a weak business case: There’s little or no supporting data to prove the merit of your idea.
- You stray from the minimum (‘feature creep’): It’s tempting to add features and functionality to the MVP, but it’s important to limit the MVP to a core idea and purpose.
- It’s not a good MVP: Point 2 needs to be balanced by the fact that an MVP still must adhere to the standards of good product design and development, even if it’s super basic.
- A lack of urgency: Allowing MVP development to drag out undermines its whole purpose. It’s better to get something into the market quickly and continuously iterate or pivot.
- A lack of launch to market plan: Be clear as to how you’ll launch your new product, service, idea or project into the market.
- A lack of testing and validation: An MVP is useless without real-world user feedback to validate the idea. Research, user testing and feedback should be designed to be as thorough, accurate and insightful as possible.
Find the sweet spot
To sum up, a minimum viable product should be exactly what it says on the tin.
You should bring together all your thoughts on the idea, including what the end result might look like, and everything that you already know in terms of relevant data and research.
You should then trim away all the fat until you’re left with the minimum thing that will allow you to make a call on the next step. Only add features or complexity when you believe they will deliver important insight relating to the original goal or purpose (not when they will simply make the product better – that can wait until you develop your MMP.)
The hard bit is deciding exactly what that minimum is. It’s a decision that demands context, level-headedness, and the ability to focus on the problem you’re solving over the experience you’re delivering.
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