"We need a minimum viable product."
In the development of new products, innovations should be implemented as quickly as possible and placed on the market in order to have an advantage over the competition. So far - so well known.
In the digital environment, many companies are faced with the challenge of having many ideas for a new product at the beginning of the development process and of offering users as much as possible. The parties involved often have different opinions about the range of functions. Numerous tasks have to be organized around the development (creating structures, marketing, organizing distribution channels, etc.), the market is competitive and the demand is changing rapidly. How can it be ensured under these basic conditions that the product is attractive for the customer and becomes successful?
This is where the Minimum Viable Product, MVP for short, comes into play - because this is exactly what the development and testing of an MVP is intended to achieve: Going to market quickly and implementing a targeted, needs-oriented product development that does not "burn" resources unnecessarily.
A "minimally functional" product - what is behind it?
The MVP comprises the absolutely necessary core functions of a product in order to place it on the market to gain knowledge.
It is to be understood as a product in the development cycle, thus in principle a prototype. This has not only some minimal function, but already usable features. The idea is to quickly test the product "on the customer" in order to gain important insights for further development.
Adaptation from the Lean Startup
The term Minimum Viable Product became known through the bestseller "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries What is a Lean Startup?, which caused a real hype among company founders¹. „Lean“ means that a successful company can be founded with as little capital investment as possible, as short product development cycles and customer feedback are central elements. Many young companies simply do not have the means to finance a long development period and are dependent on obtaining feedback as early as possible. These core ideas were transferred to the MVP: Ries describes it as "a version of a new product that allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated customer information with minimal effort".
How does the MVP process work?
The process is based on the Build-Measure-Learn-Circle from the Lean Startup. The model makes it possible to learn and experiment with feedback loops in order to adapt the product to customer needs. A MVP can be seen as a product version where customization can be achieved with minimal effort and development time.
Development is a repetitive process consisting of three phases. "Build" - in our case develop, "Measure" - in our case get feedback, "Learn" - i.e. use the knowledge and let it flow into the further development.
Important: Every MVP is to be seen as a complete product. It should not only be functional, but also usable, appealing, practical and useful.
Many people are familiar with this procedure from the web development environment. Often a slimmed down "landing page" - an overview website - with the most important information and registration or download options is first put online. Thus, visitor statistics can be used to draw conclusions about the interest of customers and the actual offer can be developed according to demand.The development of the MVP is an iterative process and concludes with the final product.
What should be considered when defining the MVP?
Let us first take a look at the components of the term "Minimum Viable Product":
... means using as few resources as possible to create the product. Conversely, this does not mean that it has to be "quick and dirty". How long it takes and how extensive the development has to be depends on the product and the market. The range of functions should be kept as small as possible to speed up learning. But pure functionality is not enough.
... expresses that the MVP, despite its minimal characteristics, must already be "usable", i.e. represents added value for the customer. It should arouse the interest of the customer and provide conclusions as to which direction the further development should go in or exactly not go in. Therefore, it is intended to fulfil the properties of the later end product on a small scale already in the first expansion stages.
A MVP should meet the following criteria³:
- Minimal & Viable - Reduce the MVP to its essential useful functions and features.
- Superior - Offer a significant advantage over the competition.
- Focused - With the MVP you address a selected target group that is open to the new product.
- Survivable - Your MVP should deliver added value (Ask yourself: Are your customers ready for use or even payment?)
- Promising - Your MVP should have a high potential so that your early adopters will continue to use it in the future.
- Expandable - Keep the scope to a level that allows for incremental development of the (minimal) product.
Why should I develop a MVP?
The development of a fully-fledged product requires a great deal of resources - and in the worst case, a great deal of time, money and effort is invested but the development does not meet the customer needs. A MVP enables insights into the fit between the value proposition and the target group and prevents long developments from failing in the end. With meaningful feedback structures it becomes estimable, whether the idea has a chance at all.
The advantages at a glance⁴ :
- A MVP contributes to risk minimisation
- Through continuous feedback, desired end products are developed
- Targeted investment of employees, time and money throughout the product development
- Finding the "early adopters" - customers who want the product from the start and who can help the product mature
- Getting to know the customer's wishes at an early stage
Worries associated with the MVP
"You want me to launch an unfinished product?" Yes. Because at this point it's not about the product, it's about the vision. Sell it as something big.
It's not easy to cope with it. In the definition phase it often becomes clear that there are concerns that the "minimal product" could be rather badly assessed. Economic interests should also be put aside for the time being, since learning about the target group and the interests of the users are in the foreground.
"If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late", Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, described his experiences in an interview.
In order to become safer, it helps to get all participants on board right from the start, to get to grips with the MVP process and to record together which findings are to be gained from it.
Only recently we had the opportunity to conduct a workshop on MVP definition for one of our customers and to work out the core of the later product together. fme uses a specific workshop format to do this.
Challenge: To reach a common understanding and define the MVP in a short time.
Our solution: In an intensive workshop, a common understanding of the objectives and approach for MVP development is created and a core product (MVP) is described with which all participants identify. The product is defined step by step in order to quickly place it on the market and generate important insights for further development.
Results: Defined target customer group, coordinated functional scope of the MVP, defined procedure for the further development (definition of the "feedback loops" including contents), roadmap for the product launch of the MVP.
Wrap Up: What do I need to internalize to MVP?
- A MVP is a tool for successfully developing a product with the least possible use of resources.
- Your MVP must be usable: It must offer a decisive advantage even in the smallest function set, otherwise it is unusable.
- The MVP is a first step, followed by many. If the MVP is successful, further development takes place around the central product core to the end product.
- Focus on the target group with the greatest need and a tolerance for limitations in functionality or convenience (early adopters).
- Define in advance which findings are to be gained with the MVP and when the MVP phase is to be completed - at the latest then the focus will be on the sale.
- To find out what the customer really needs, you need to be able to take criticism in the form of customer feedback.
- Listen to the customer's wishes, otherwise you run the risk of developing a product that nobody wants.
- MVP is about the vision of your product. Sell it as something big.
Do you already have experience with MVPs? We look forward to your comments and an exchange.
Further information about our workshop offer can be found here
¹For further information: Ries, Eric: The Lean Startup – How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses, Penguin Books Ltd, London 2011.
²Based on: Olsen, Dan: The Lean Product Playbook – How to innovate with minimum viable products and rapid customer feedback, John Wiley & Sons, New Jersey 2015.
³Based on: Schulz, Christopher: „Glasklar definiert – Das Minimum Viable Product”. https://www.mosaiic.com (last downloaded 2018-09-28).
⁴Based on: „The Ultimate Guide to Minimum Viable Product“. https://hackernoon.com/the-ultimate-guide-to-minimum-viable-product-59218ce738f8 (last downloaded 2018-09-28).