IS IT THE RIGHT OPTION FOR YOU?
In recent years, the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) model has gained popularity within the software industry.
The MVP model is a flexible lean business methodology that enables an organisation to rapidly test their core assumptions about a software product or feature.
By taking advantage of the MVP model, organisations can benefit from:
- Testing assumptions quickly with minimal effort;
- Taking products to market without large financial investments;
- Providing learning opportunities to understand which features are important to the user base; and
- Increasing user base engagement.
This article explores the MVP model and how organisations can utilise this approach to achieve business objectives.
The MVP process
It should be noted that MVP is merely a concept and there is no one formula or set of steps that should be taken. Each company will take a different approach when implementing the MVP methodology – some will collect and interpret
qualitative data, while others may work with early adopters to get other users on board.
A potential framework used to implement the MVP concept is outlined below:
- Idea Generation: start out with a product idea and brainstorm the features that could be included. Hypotheses and assumptions are also defined at this stage.
- Prototyping: build an MVP using the basic features and capabilities put forward during the Idea Generation stage.
- Presentation: the go-to-market stage, where early adopters have the chance to feedback on the features presented.
- Data Collection: feedback and suggestions are collected from the user-base. Requests are filtered and a list of unplanned features and capabilities is created.
- Analysis: a product backlog is established with all suggested features and capabilities. It is at this stage that features are prioritised based on the feedback received.
- Learning: based on the priorities set in the Analysis stage, new features and capabilities are built into the product and released for further feedback. At this point, the process then cycles back to the Presentation stage where the new functionality is presented to early adopters or current users for further testing. The reinvented MVP then continues through to data collection, analysis and learning until a viable product is developed.
Advantages of using the MVP Model
- Test assumptions quickly with minimal effort
- Ability to quickly bring products to market without a large financial investment
- Provides a learning opportunity to understand which features are important to the user-base.
- Engages the user-base and allows them to provide feedback ensuring a successful product is delivered – one
that the market actually wants.
Disadvantages of using the MVP Model
- Doesn’t provide end-to-end experience so the user may perceive the product to be broken or nonsensical. This could impact the accuracy and completeness of the feedback given.
- The MVP concept is not appropriate for all types of products such as those that have a sophisticated architecture
or those that are being developed for maturing or saturated markets.
- Expectation management is critical. Simply presenting a list of planned features won’t work – need to ensure
the user-base understands the product incorporates a limited feature set.
Examples of companies using the MVP approach
Dropbox published a quick 3 minute explainer video on Hacker News to give early adopters a hint of the product experience. From this, viewers were able to give feedback which enabled new versions of the video to be uploaded. In a single day, the waiting list of email subscribers jumped from 5,000 to 75,000. To this day, the explainer video is still
featured on the Dropbox website (TechCrunch).
From its inception, Twitter has used the MVP concept to come up with ways to improve the social media interaction that they provide. Originally starting with the novel concept of the 140 character limit, Twitter found their idea to be viable as users had a positive reception to it. From this, user feedback suggested various other features which eventuated into hashtags, @ mentions and retweets (Forbes).
LinkedIn used the idea of launching a public website as their MVP approach in 2003. This had very few features including user profiles, the ability to invite people to connect, minimal search functionality, and the ability to send email-like requests to users who were two or more degrees away. After testing occurred, LinkedIn found that security and spam were a big concern for their customers. From this, they decided to implement a new feature which allowed customers to only invite a person to connect if they knew their email address. Other features that eventually came to fruition include the profile photos, the ability to endorse or recommend your colleagues, groups and jobs (Quora).
Social gaming giant, Zynga, utilise the MVP approach to assess demand for new products and features (Grattisfaction). To reduce the amount of engineering hours required in the development of new products, each product concept goes through the following stages:
- Describe the new product or feature in 5 words as though it already exists. Customer metrics are also defined at this stage.
- The idea is then placed on a high traffic website for a few minutes to see whether it will generate any interest.
- Once an interested user clicks the link, they are redirected to a survey which allows them to provide their email so they can be notified once the product is released.
- Meanwhile, a ‘ghetto’ version of the product is developed and deployed to approximately 1 – 10% of users.
- The ‘ghetto’ product is then rigorously tested against customer metrics to see how the customer reacts to it. If the product has an impact on customer metrics in a considerable manner, the company begins to build the actual
product and gets ready for a full feature roll out.
- As a follow up, the company will constantly iterate and send updated versions of the product.
Determining if the MVP approach is appropriate for your organisation
Organisations should note that the MVP approach is not appropriate for all types of products. It is important to analyse your product ideas to determine whether implementing the MVP model will benefit your organisation.
WHEN SHOULD AN ORGANISATION USE THE MVP APPROACH?
- If the organisation wants to measure the need for the product or new feature in the market. The MVP model allows the quick release of features to determine what the customer’s reaction would be and to see if further investment should be provided.
- To develop a business case for new or extensions to an existing software product. The MVP approach can be used to build a solid business case and buy-in from across the organisation. Future enhancements would then be released in iterations and cycles.
- If an organisation wants to learn more about their customers. In this case they need to answer the following question, “what is the minimum we need to ship so that people can feel like they are looking at and using our product?”
WHEN SHOULD AN ORGANISATION REFRAIN FROM USING THE MVP APPROACH?
- The MVP approach is not appropriate for products with sophisticated architectures as they require more investment and effort than that provided by a minimalist approach.
- The MVP model should not be used for complex products as these require multifaceted features and functionality to work as designed. In other words, the user will not be able to give accurate feedback on the minimal product as it is not a clear representation of the product concept. It is difficult to provide users with a product that they can test because it requires complex functionality that cannot be achieved using the MVP approach.
- If a company is building a competitive product in a maturing or saturated market. In this instance, competition is everywhere so the organisation can see what is currently working and what isn’t.
- The MVP methodology shouldn’t be used if the company has already achieved product-market fit. This occurs when the value proposition is proven by a substantial number of market transactions that creates business momentum.
Viability has already been proven so there is no requirement to be minimal anymore.
Organisations often utilise the MVP model to avoid building products that customers do not want. Products without a market only waste the time and resources of a company. The MVP approach could be used by organisations to learn about their users, what they want and what they don’t. The MVP approach enables organisations to create meaning where little or none currently exists. Engaging in this model allows an organisation to determine what the meaningful set of features is for their customers, and thus develop a product to suit their needs.
Combining the MVP strategy with the method of Agile software development can assist an organisation to meet their business requirements, while reducing the risk of project failure. This means an iterative development approach is undertaken, deployment of custom builds are carried out regularly, and end-users are able to add functionality during the development phase. This will assist the organisation in ensuring they deliver the project, on budget and on time.