What’s A MVP, Exactly?
A minimum viable product (MVP) is a lean representation of a final releasable product version. A MVP is particularly useful when a concept is new to market and the company is operating under a blanket of uncertainty.
The purpose behind the MVP is to gauge market potential and accumulate validated learnings before investing significantly in its development.
MVPs Are Not Prototypes Or Concepts
A 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.
I like to think of concepts as ideas that have not materialized yet. When we give form to a concept, it becomes a prototype. There are varying degrees of prototypes with the advanced versions falling into MVP territory.
Speaking of concepts, Buffer started out with a landing page outlining its offering with a choice of plans and pricing. The assumption being that if users found the concept worthwhile, they’d click through. The number of click-throughs would indicate the level of interest.
The final page would inform them that the product was still under construction and that users would be notified when it was ready. All they had to do was leave their email addresses which Buffer utilized when it finally went live. The funny thing is, Buffer hadn’t even begun coding yet. The reaction to Buffer’s proposal was proof that the concept was buildworthy.
Some websites including Buffer’s blog consider that Buffer’s proposition was an MVP. In my opinion, it didn’t satisfy all the qualities of an MVP and hence remained a concept. Dropbox, as you will soon see further in this article did pretty much the same thing.
But, What Qualifies As A Minimum Viable Product?
I believe that for a MVP to be considered as such, it must satisfy a certain degree of each of the following, with leeway for being release-worthy.
QUALITIES OF A GOOD MVP
- Functional and Reliable
- Purposeful – leads users to an end
- Intuitive – discoverability & understability
- Contextual in design
- Leaves the user satisfied
- Potentially releasable
Another interpretation comes from UX designer Jussi Pasanen. It’s worth reading his take on the subject too. He put together a very simple graphic to depict a MVP (shown below)
So Where’s The Disconnect?
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, context, user-experience or emotional design.
If you haven’t reached those higher level attributes, you are probably still prototyping or testing your concept.
Also, the term ‘viable’ is of vital importance. The offering must be workable and feasible. Somehow, many people seem to overlook this.
The lines get more blurry when you factor in the Wizard Of Oz MVP or the Concierge MVP. The fact that the term “MVP” is associated with them signals that the product is pretty far down the development line.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. Consider FotT or Food On The Table, a startup that creates meal plans and grocery lists based on food you and your family enjoy, then links you to local grocery stores to find the best deals on ingredients.
Obviously, they meant to offer the service digitally, but to validate their idea the founders used a concierge MVP approach. They would personally meet customers and perform the intended system tasks themselves.
How could this possibly be considered a MVP? How is it viable? It is not even scalable. It is far removed from the intended modus operandi. In fact, they began with a single customer. Hence the term ‘MVP’ is misleading. What the founders were doing was obtaining proof of concept.
Concepts Versus A Minimum Viable Product
Similar to Buffer mentioned earlier, Dropbox 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.
Groupon employed the Wizard Of Oz MVP. However, in their case the modus operandi was close to the original concept, at least from the customer’s point of view. Was it scalable? No, at least beyond a certain point.
However, it satisfied to some degree, the qualities of a MVP listed above. All Groupon had to do was automate their current behind the scenes human activities as conceptualized, improve UX/UI and continue to grow their user base. A lot further down than in the case Food On The Table.
Tools To Test Concepts, Prototypes And MVPs
Teams may test their concepts through customer interviews, crowd-funding, landing pages, sign-up forms, explainer videos, forums or ad campaigns.
They may test prototypes through hand sketches, wireframes, mock-ups, interactive prototypes. For more information on these testing methods, refer to – Wireframes – A Simple UX Testing Tool and Mockups And Interactive Prototypes. These articles offer some helpful tips and links to software applications that provide design assistance.
Other testing methods include the wizard of Oz MVP and the concierge MVP as described above.
However it is important to know how far down the line the product is to being released. How much learning has been accumulated and fed back into the system, improving with each iteration. That helps decide the what tools need to be used.
Picking the best modes of representing the MVP and incorporating critical quality ingredients, is imperative.
Of course, MVP testing must only begin after lower fidelity prototypes have been deployed and tested.
More importantly, the term must not be used loosely. It must describe an advanced state of the product that has accumulated significant learnings already. It should represent the final stages before investing significantly more to scale the project.