To MVP or not to MVP ?

Mastering the art of the Minimum Viable Product

First let me be clear, I'm a huge fan of Minimum Viable Products (MVP's) !

In my career I've led many greenfield projects where an MVP forms a critical part of the development process. But let's consider what an MVP is (and isn't) in my opinion.

To build an MVP you need to focus on the most fundamental functionality that your software needs to provide. If you don't know what this is, try writing down the user stories you're trying to satisfy and prioritise them so that you can focus on just the top one or two.

When you launch your MVP it should be immediately useful to the user, but it generally will not satisfy all of their needs - why not? Because it's an MVP! Building an MVP enables you to get your software in front of users in the shortest possible time, which in turn allows you to:

  • Validate that you're solving a real customer need

  • Get product feedback from users including what additional features they would like

  • Demonstrate progress to your stakeholders in a shorter period of time

  • Start building an audience for your product ahead of your competitors

Now don't get me wrong, before you build an MVP you can also conduct user research, for example using paper prototypes to get feedback. This works well for software which appeals to the general public who can easily understand it's use. But what if your product is more niche, helps a smaller subset of users or those who are too busy to give you feedback? This is where an MVP can truly shine. Remember to make the giving of feedback as easy as possible, preferably with a simple form in the app or at a bare minimum a simple mailto: link.

Finally, be conscious that an MVP can mean different things to different people and you may need to establish this with your stakeholders up front. I worked for a fast moving scale-up where MVP's had a bad name because they tried to satisfy too many requirements within a short development window which resulted in a low quality release. An MVP should be feature limited, not quality limited! It should leave your users wanting more, not frustrated with what they've got.