What Puts the ‘Minimum’ in a Minimum Viable Product?

You’re likely familiar with the concept of a minimum viable product. But what do you need to include to make sure your MVP will tell you everything you need to know?

Written by Nick Babich
Published on Oct. 06, 2021
What Puts the ‘Minimum’ in a Minimum Viable Product?
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All great products start with a great idea. Investing time and money in the right idea can boost your business, but doing the same in the wrong one can easily lead you to bankruptcy. Over the years, many companies have released products only to discover too late that users don't need or want it.

To avoid catastrophic misjudgments, you need to ensure that the product you’re going to build will resonate with your target audience. But how can you know that the assumption behind your product or business idea will be viable and profitable? The answer is simple — create an MVP.

4 Best Practices in Building an MVP

  1. Conduct market research beforehand.
  2. Set priorities for product design.
  3. Minimize the cost of testing.
  4. Iterate fast.

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What Is an MVP?

An MVP (minimum viable product) is a version of a product that contains only the most essential features and is used to validate assumptions about the product's requirements. Sometimes an MVP is referred to as a “draft” version of a future product. Crucially, though, “draft” doesn’t mean a half-baked product with tons of bugs. Although your MVP has limited functionality, the features should be well-executed so that it fulfills your customer’s needs.

 

How the MVP Works

When you have an idea about your product, you can share it with your users and ask them, “Does this idea sound good? Will you use this product?” 

Usually, they’ll tell you that they will. At the same time, though, people often don’t know what they want from a product until the concept is introduced to them in a more concrete way. An MVP allows a product team to fill this gap and validate product hypotheses.

The process of creating an MVP always starts with a product vision. The team forms a hypothesis about a future product, creates an MVP based on this hypothesis (either a prototype or fully-fledged product), and validates it by testing the MVP with the target audience. The testing allows you to collect the maximum amount of validated information about your users. A product team gathers feedback from the user interactions, analyzes it and then makes appropriate changes in design. 

 

4 Best Practices for MVP Development

While working on an MVP during product development, you should follow a few guidelines to maximize your chance for success.

1. Conduct market research beforehand

Even before creating an MVP, your team needs to conduct solid market research to ensure that the business idea fulfills the target users’ needs. You need to find answers to the following questions:

  • Who are your users?

  • What problem (or problems) do they face?

  • How do they solve these problems right now?

  • How do you want to solve the problem(s) using your product? 

  • Are users willing to pay for your solution or not?

The last question is essential because no business can survive without revenue. 

You can follow a few practical tips for the research phase. First, create user personas. A user persona is a fictional representation of your typical customers and is an excellent tool that will help you evaluate every major product design decision. It defines users’ backgrounds, specific needs, and the environment in which they will likely use a product, including devices they use.

Next, fill out a business model canvas (BMC) to ensure that your product makes sense from the start. The BMC allows a team to create a comprehensive overview of both its business niche and the target audience. An MVP built on this foundation has a better chance of becoming a full-fledged product since it makes the team consider both user and business needs right from the very beginning of the design process. 

Be sure to conduct competitor analysis. Once you have a solid understanding of your own business model, it’s time to search for alternative solutions available in the market. Try to understand which features your competitors offer and how their customers react to them by reading publicly available user feedback. Use this information when planning your own feature set. 

Keep pace with changing market needs. Don’t think about the market as something set in stone. Companies release new products on a daily basis, and customer needs can change quickly. The product you design should be relevant to your users when you release it to the market, which is why you need to plan for tomorrow and not just today. 

2. Set priorities for product design

When it comes to creating a new product, you need to break the larger product down into a list of individual features. After that, you need to review these features and identify the most valuable ones. Pick the features that you think will provide the most value for your users.

Determining this is easy when you lay out the features in the EVO (Essential, Valuable, Optional) matrix. For example, below is a matrix for an e-commerce website. 

mvp-best-practices

This approach will help you avoid feature creep, which happens when a product team invests too much energy and time into creating dozens of different features that don’t provide much actual value to users. 

After you create this matrix, you need to turn it into a product roadmap. Define key milestones (i.e., creating a low-fidelity prototype for product team review, creating the first version of a UI ready for usability testing, and so on) and tie particular features to those milestones. Remember that the roadmap should not be set in stone. When you learn how users react to your features, you need to be able to quickly adjust to accommodate ongoing changes.

3. Minimize the cost of testing

Testing is the cornerstone of creating minimum viable products. The product team should test out whether an idea works for its users while using the least possible expenditure. In other words, the team should aim to spend as little as possible, both in time and money, while learning as much as possible.

A few simple approaches can minimize the cost of testing. For instance, you should practice dogfooding. Ask your team to use the product you design. For example, if you design an MVP of an e-commerce website, all the team members should try to order something using the MVP they’re building. 

Consider inviting early adopters. Share the information about the product you develop on social media channels along with an opportunity for people to become early adopters. If your product resonates with your audience, you will likely have a group of people eager to join the testing.

Finally, establish clear feedback channels for your users. Make sharing feedback with the product team easy for everyone involved. Design a special place in your product with the heading “Share Feedback” that will allow test participants to leave their thoughts about your product. 

4. Iterate fast

“Build, measure, learn” is a well-known product development approach. But when it comes to MVP design, you need to minimize the total time spent on an iteration. The faster you react to user feedback, the faster you will be able to release a full product to the market. 

Here are a few practical tips. First, always look at the app from the users’ perspectives. When evaluating user experience, you shouldn’t think about your product as a set of individual features, but rather a set of tasks that users want to complete using it. This way of thinking will make you focus on analyzing user flows (meaning the paths users take when they interact with your product) and improving areas of friction (i.e., those places where users face utility issues). 

Keep things simple. The goal of the MVP is to collect feedback at the end of each iteration and turn it into actionable product design decisions. In most cases, speed is more important than pixel-perfect design. You shouldn’t spend too much time making pixel-perfect designs simply to find out that it doesn’t work for your users at the end of the iteration. 

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Get to Work With Your MVP

An MVP is a great tool that shortens the learning curve to build the best version of your product. It allows you to improve the efficiency of the product design process and make it more user-centered. When your initial product has a minimal feature set and updates are granular and driven by real user feedback, you’ll be able to adjust your product design process.

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