The concept of ‘Minimum Viable Product (MVP)’ has been made widely popular by The Lean Startup movement and is religiously used by everyone ever since. Enterprises are taking a page out of Eric Reis’s book and trying to adapt and adopt some of its best practices, MVP being one of them. But the problem and paradox of MVP is that in order to succeed in a modern digital world, it should be neither just minimum nor simply viable. Which also rises a question whether ‘MVP’ is still the right term to use. Today we dive deeper into why large companies should go with this strategy and uncover the contradictions it has gathered around to finally get to the bottom of what is essentially MVP?
If executed correctly, MVP helps to focus on the most important first and get a real feedback from users. By putting customers’ needs as a priority, it checks if by any chance you are building a product no one wants.
MVP is not the end product but it still has to bring customers value. The idea is that instead of developing a polished final version of a product that can be costly, time-consuming and generally risky, you focus on just enough features to bring impact first as a way to test your hypothesis. This way you fail fast, learn fast, lower the risk and apply your gained knowledge in the next iteration of the product development. Something startups have embraced long ago and enterprises are learning to adjust to by becoming agile.
But the challenging part for large companies is in changing their mindset. Enterprises are actually used to releasing highly complex and polished products that showcase their quality. And delivering a product that has incomplete features may look like a failure. And by adopting MVP, they need to shift from releasing these complete products to learning what features have the biggest ROI through a release cycle and investing in them.
Minimum Viable Product philosophy can help enterprises better adopt those agile principles, speed up innovation implementation and product release from years to months. The only thing left to tackle – is how to execute MVP?
A highly popular ‘cupcake MVP’ suggests that rather than start from a dull and dry cake and later add filling and icing, you start with a cupcake and iterate into a final version of a cake.
This approach is a source of inspiration of a very popular on the Internet ‘Skateboard into a car’ analogy.
Image source: expressiveproductdesign.com
While its initial thought is completely true – you can’t develop separate parts that eventually combine into a product. What are the odds that a person who’s interested in buying a car will be excited by the prospect of purchasing a wheel? Pretty much as slim as the idea of them wanting to buy a skateboard or a bicycle, actually.
MVP has to have common core features with your final product. It should be a sequence of products that explore your key idea for the final version. By testing and iterating the bare minimum you can create another prototype that’s not only minimum but also viable and that eventually will lead you to the product itself. But building a full-featured motorcycle when you want to attract an automotive market is not the right way of doing it. By pursuing this model you will either put your initial idea of a car on hold and become a motorcycle expert instead or you will build a product that has no validated market through your MVP.
So the idea is clear, come up with a business hypothesis, eliminate the core to test it quickly and cost-effectively and learn from the feedback. Where’s the misunderstanding?
The problem is, entrepreneurs often mistake the minimum part for insignificant. Fearing to give away key features they interpret minimum as secondary.
We get it, everyone wants to repeat the success of Dropbox who built a landing page MVP and a three-minute demo video explaining the technology and how it’s meant to work. This does look like an easy way to build MVP. But a part of their success was due to that video going viral. And while to go viral is every marketer’s dream, in reality, it’s hard to come by.
A minimum should not be an excuse to release an unfinished product. It’s one of the MVP’s hidden pitfalls – going only halfway and then ship to get a feedback. Think of it this way, when releasing the initial version of say, Twitter, the question shouldn’t be whether to go with writing and sending messages feature or the ability to follow others. Both are the core of the product and should be included, but stripped down to the bare minimum. Any additional features like saving, favoriting tweets or making lists of people you follow should be added once you’ve validated your idea. The end-to-end experience is critical. Without it, your product will feel broken, hard to follow and as a result useless.
Which leads us to the last question – how to avoid being useless? We live in the age when ideas are dime a dozen and is it not enough for your long coveted product to enter the market, already overpolluted by digital noise, as merely viable.
There’s a discussion whether viable is even the right word to use. And the alternatives are numerous – Minimum Delightful Product, Minimum Loveable Product, Minimum Awesome Product. No matter how they call it, the argument is the same – being simply viable is not enough.
What distinguishes successful businesses is that they were able to offer value. If you look at the infographic below, you will see that each of these successful products that started as MVP were able to bring value. Yahoo offered curated content before there were proper search engines.
Image source: foundersspace.com
So no, Dropbox didn’t get lucky because they got away with only building a landing page. They were able to bring value to customers where no one else did. And what is rarely mentioned in their success story is that from the very beginning they provided a thought out technical background and simple UX.
According to Apple’s former chief evangelist, Guy Kawasaki MVP doesn’t have to be perfect but it has to be revolutionary. A great product or service must be distinguished by 5 qualities. It has to be deep, intelligent, complete, empowering, elegant. And that’s another contradiction, your Minimum Viable Product should be more than just viable.
The paradox of MVP is the approach that is very often chosen and the misinterpretation of the term itself. Of very often building MVPs that have no common ground with the final product you have in mind. Of fearing to give away all the killer features in the initial stage and thus creating a very weak product, hoping the market will buy it. Your MVP has to have the same core as the product you want to build. Yes, it has to be minimum in order to be built quickly but it also has to bring value by solving a problem no one before you did or didn’t even know it existed.