A minimum viable product, or MVP, is the most basic set of features that can still be called a product.
Put another way, it’s an early version of a product that includes only the features needed to deliver its core value.
Using an MVP strategy has many benefits.
Most significantly, it helps you validate your assumptions about the product and its users.
An MVP lets you gather feedback from early adopters and see if the product is something they want. Feedback tells you what improvements to make to this initial version.
An MVP strategy is not a shortcut or a quick way to build a product to meet a short-term goal.
The goal is to determine what features and functionality your product needs to attract your targeted users.
You can also use an MVP to test your business model and monetization approaches.
This article provides an overview of the benefits of an MVP approach, the types of MVPs, and the steps involved in creating one.
What are the benefits of an MVP strategy?
As we’ve already touched on, an MVP helps you identify core user needs early in the development cycle.
More specifically, it gives you the data you need to make better decisions about the technology stack to use and the functionalities to focus on.
MVPs allow you to validate your idea with less risk. Early adopter feedback can tell you if your product is on target before you invest too much time or money.
This feedback can also guide product features and enhancements. By listening to what your MVP users say or monitoring how they use the product, you get valuable insight into the upgrades your users truly want.
In this way, an MVP strategy helps reduce development costs as well as the risk of financial failure resulting from bringing a product to market that nobody wants.
Finally, MVPs set the stage for future development iterations and help you see the next steps clearly. In some instances, an MVP can prove the merit of your product to internal or external investors to help you secure funding for future development.
Is an MVP the same as a Proof of Concept (PoC)?
An MVP isn’t a PoC—although what a PoC is depends on who you ask. Most agree, though, that a proof of concept is not an early version of a product.
In software development, a PoC determines if a software solution will work and, if so, the amount of work and technologies needed for development.
PoCs also help identify and solve any technical issues that might be roadblocks to building the product.
That’s not to say a proof of concept can’t become a minimum viable product. If your PoC works well enough, you might be able to put it in front of a select group of early users to test it out.
Types of MVPs
There are a few different ways to tackle an MVP. Which type you use depends on the nature of your product, your goals, available resources, and the level of validation you need to achieve.
Wizard of Oz MVP
In this approach, the product appears to be fully functional, but it’s actually operated manually behind the scenes. Nick Swinmurn famously used this approach when he launched Zappos, the internet shoe store. This type of MVP allows you to validate assumptions and test the market demand without building a complex technical infrastructure upfront.
Like a Wizard of Oz MVP, this approach simulates a functional product while the backend processes are managed manually. The difference is that your customers know this is the case. The concierge acts as another source of feedback, adding their voice to the users’ comments to generate ideas for product improvements.
A piecemeal MVP uses existing tools in a new way rather than building a custom solution. It looks like a full-featured product but is often a collection of third-party tools. This approach allows you to fill gaps in functionality with existing software rather than spending time and money developing the feature yourself.
The name is a little inaccurate because a “single-feature” MVP can include more than one feature. That said, it is a bare-bones version with only a few core features of the eventual product. This allows you to verify a particular feature and gather user feedback before expanding the product’s capabilities.
What are the steps to building an MVP?
Building a successful Minimum Viable Product (MVP) involves several key steps that help you create a functional version of your product while minimizing time and resource investment. Here’s a step-by-step guide to building an MVP:
1. Identify a Problem Worth Solving
Clearly define the primary problem your product aims to solve or the need it addresses. It may be as simple as asking why you need the product. In Nick Swinmurn’s case, he needed Zappos to buy shoes he couldn’t find locally. Your answer will be the foundation for determining the features to focus on.
2. Define the Target Audience
Identify your target audience and understand their preferences, pain points, and behaviors. Create a detailed user persona describing someone who will buy your product without a second thought. Knowing your ideal customer’s lifestyle helps you figure out if your product meets their needs.
3. Evaluate the Competition
Analyze competitive products and those adjacent to your industry. Knowing what they got right and what they need to improve can help you define the functionality of your MVP. Look at their market share, customer reviews, and articles from the press and bloggers. Knowing the competition’s strengths and weaknesses can help you discover what your product needs to succeed against them.
4. Look for Blockers
Even at the MVP stage of product development, you might run into roadblocks and constraints. Tight deadlines, limited budget, and regulatory compliance issues may hinder your ability to develop an MVP or even prevent it altogether. Looking for blockers before you begin helps you find solutions before burning too much of your funding.
5. Create an Initial Design
This phase usually involves business analysts, technical architects, and UX/UI designers. The business analysts describe in detail what the MVP should look like. The architects take that description and define the tech stack needed; this may require them to create a proof of concept. Then the designers develop working prototypes, a product style guide, and a visual design for the MVP.
6. Build the MVP
Armed with the knowledge and artifacts from the previous steps, your development team is ready to build and test the MVP. Depending on its complexity, your MVP could take anywhere from a few days to several months to develop and test.
7. Launch and Gather Feedback
Gathering feedback is why you built the MVP, so make it as easy as possible for them to share their thoughts and suggestions with you. Depending on the type of audience and product, you can use surveys, interviews, focus groups, and other such efforts to gather user feedback.
8. Analyze and Iterate
Remember that the goal of an MVP is to test assumptions, validate ideas, and gather user feedback. Therefore, each step should be carried out to learn from real-world usage and make informed decisions for the product’s future direction. As you analyze the responses, don’t just look at what they dislike about the MVP. Take note of what they like and where they see gaps in performance and functionality. Use this information to improve the next version of the product.
What comes next?
After you’ve gathered and analyzed enough feedback, you should have a clearer view of the path ahead.
If the response to your MVP is mostly positive, begin working on the product’s next iteration. Address the issues that surfaced, add new features, and keep monitoring feedback to find future improvements.
If the product receives a dismal response, it’s time to return to step one. However, now you’re armed with more information about your audience and their needs.
Using an MVP approach allows you to make such course corrections early on. As a result, you can test your product’s viability before sinking too much money into development. You also avoid missteps that lead to costly and time-consuming rework.
The development cycle ends up being shorter, and you get to market faster with a more successful product.