What is a minimum viable product?

Illustration of a bicycle, upgraded to a scooter, upgraded to a car, representing the development of a minimum viable product
Published
May 25, 2021
Category

Partners

The project manager’s job is to build and launch a product that meshes well with its target audience. This ultimately boosts engagements, sign-ups, downloads, and sales. 

The best way to accomplish this goal is to first create an initial minimum viable product (MVP), then gauge early audience feedback and use this information in future product development, thereby saving time and resources and reducing as much waste as possible.

Below, we’ll explain everything you need to know about the MVP concept, empowering you to build better products.

Minimum viable product simply explained

A minimum viable product is simply an early prototype with enough features for product managers to collect early feedback from a target audience. The idea is very similar to the lean startup philosophy coined by Eric Ries.

The MVP enables product managers to receive necessary user feedback to make changes and improve the product iteration during software development.

The MVP also validates a business idea early in the product development cycle. Generally speaking, it proves to shareholders that you have a marketable product that’s popular enough to yield a profit (with the right pricing) or make waves in a particular industry.

Companies choose to launch MVPs to:   

  • Launch a product in a market as soon as possible.

  • Test product hypotheses with an audience dedicating a larger development budget.

  • Understand what vibes with an audience and what doesn’t.

While MVPs are crucial for most product development projects, they’re not essential for all. There are both advantages and drawbacks of investing in creating an MVP for your upcoming product launch.

Pros and cons of a minimum viable product

Again, implementing a minimum valuable product isn't for everyone. Before beginning the development process, you should first learn about its pros and cons.

The benefits of an MVP

  • You can check if a product idea is suitable and eliminate preconceived notions with real-life data.

  • MVPs can help you reduce time-to-market when it comes time to release new product features.

  • You can quickly deliver value to your early audience, improve user experience, and learn from your mistakes.

  • Is there a market need? This is how you can test the synergy between your product and its market.

  • MVPs can help you generate user data to shape future marketing and product strategies.

  • You can use your MVP to increase your early adopters.

  • You can save time and money on pointless ideas.

  • The MVP approach is incredibly cost-effective.

The drawbacks of an MVP

  • MVPs are challenging to define. If its scope is too small, you’ll spend more money and time to validate your idea. If the scope is too large, it defeats the purpose of the MVP.

  • You’ll spend a lot of time choosing the right tech stack.

  • Your competitors can catch up if you take too long to move forward with your product idea.

  • It’s easy to lose focus and forget what your end product is supposed to be.

Ideating a minimum viable product

Developing an MVP isn’t as difficult as you may think. Beginning a minimum viable product is just planning any ordinary product launch. The only difference is that you’ll need to follow these specific steps:

1. Learn about the different types of MVPs

Before planning a minimum viable product, it helps to understand all your possibilities. Here are six ways you can implement an MVP:

Software prototypes

Software prototypes are the most common and challenging MVPs to build. It requires a product manager to develop software with just a few basic features using agile development.

Product design

Product designs are used commonly when developing mobile apps, landing pages, websites, software, and other tech tools. These include sketches of the product, as well as wireframes and mockups that will demonstrate how the product will work.

Demo videos

Demo videos are short and sweet yet dynamic enough to show an audience how a product will work. It’s useful for an audience to see if the product is worth paying attention to. These are usually more common in startups

Piecemeal

When creating a minimum viable product, product managers will piece together existing tools to show how the product will work.

Concierge

With a concierge MVP, you’ll need to reach out to an audience to see if they’d like to try out a suite of products on a subscription basis. Then, you’ll randomly send them products and build an app based on the one that receives the best user response.

Wizard of Oz

This model involves acting like a complete product exists when it’s still in development. This is ideal for many startups offering service-based subscriptions.

It’s essential to consult with a product’s shareholders and marketing team to find the digital strategy that will maximize the impact of the MVP.

2. Make sure your minimum viable product aligns with your business goals

The success of your MVP will depend on how focused and defined it is. To set your minimum viable product up for success, make sure to ask yourself these essential questions before moving forward:

  • What are our business goals?

  • What is the product’s vision?

  • How does this product fit into our overall product line?

  • What are the key features of the product?

  • What does success look like for this product?

  • How will we measure success for this product?

  • What is our budget for this MVP?

With a well-defined focus and understanding of how your minimum viable product will help achieve specific goals, you can begin building the solution for validation.

3. Define the problems you want to solve or improvements you want to make

The key to a successful MVP is to solve a problem or fill a need in the market. By identifying and resolving these issues, you can create a product that potential customers want to use. To find out what needs your product can fill, ask yourself:

  • Who is our target audience?

  • What are their unmet needs?

  • What are their pain points?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can begin developing a version of a new product. Remember, your MVP should only include essential features to solve specific problems.

4. Turn your MVP functionality into full-fledged development

Now that you’ve identified a problem, it’s time to develop a solution. This is where your product manager will need to outline the product’s key features and begin designing the product. 

For an MVP to be successful, it must be developed using agilemethodology and enough to test with customers. The goal is to get feedback on what works and what doesn’t, so you can continue creating the product.

Your minimum viable product strategy

Great products don’t come about by chance. Planning, skill, and patience are required to turn an idea into a successful product.

Some organizations turn to a third-party partner to help them devise their entire digital strategy, while others may already know what they want to do but are unsure about how to do it.

Whether you develop a roadmap in-house or externally, it’s essential to start by doing your research. You need to understand your customers’ needs, competitors’ offerings, and the market landscape.

Is now a good time to launch something new? Is it a good product-market fit? Who is it aimed at? How will it benefit them? Do you have the right resources and knowledge to make it happen?

Why you need to get your minimum viable product out there

How do you know if the product you’re planning to build will be valuable for your customers? You give it to them, as quickly as possible. Promote it far and wide through social media and any other outlets at your disposal. Then capture the feedback from your user base so that you can enhance it based on their needs.

For example, let’s say you’ve decided to create a tool for home interiors that helps users visualize their projects and plans. Users can drag and drop any image off the internet onto your product without having to save the file to a folder on their laptop or phone.

This is useful because the tool can be used from any device (no storage needed), it’s quick (no saving required), and it’s flexible (any image can be used).

What doesn't matter for your minimum viable product?

The exact design of the product (you can figure this out later). Don’t let the development team get hung up on additional features like customized mood boards, multiple projects, user profiles, editing features, and download options.

Imagine how long it would take to launch this final product with a complete feature set! By comparison, you could have a workable version of the simple MVP ready in just over a month.

How time affects a minimum viable product

A familiar counter argument focuses on perfection. If a product takes a long time to build, it will be perfect when launched — right?

This used to be the standard development practice in almost all organizations for a long time. But that’s not the case. Realistically, the impact of spending time finessing products before launch is usually harmful.

Sometimes, customers’ needs have changed within the time it takes to get the product to market. Often, the end product doesn’t work as expected or was rife with glitches and bugs. 

Unexpected user scenarios crop up and derail the carefully planned (and heavily documented) workflows set out.

The impact for many companies is lost time, wasted money, and a sub-par or redundant product. This is why agile delivery, particularly MVP development, is now so popular.

The Digital Detox approach to minimum viable product

Just because it’s an MVP, doesn’t mean it should be dull. The trick is to focus on the value of your product, not the features. At Digital Detox, we achieve this by ensuring that everything we create is desirable, feasible, and viable for our clients.

  •  Desirable — It’s wanted and needed by customers.

  •  Feasible — It’s technically and organizationally possible.

  • Viable — It makes financial sense for the business (ours and our clients’).

These pillars guide us to ensure that the MVP delivers on the product’s value without needing all the bells and whistles that can be added later.

If end users test an early version of the product (the MVP) and give us feedback on what they like/don’t like and how it could be improved, this is hugely valuable in shaping how we refine the product moving forward.

Successful minimum viable product examples

Companies have used MVPs for decades to great success. These are the most well-known companies that have used a minimum viable product and achieved remarkable results:

  • Airbnb — The founders of Airbnb had no money to start a business. So, they used their apartment to advertise and validate the idea of creating a peer-to-peer rental housing service.

  •  Dropbox — Dropbox began using a demo video to show people the importance of storing their data in the cloud. They eventually used the feedback they received to launch the company.

  •  Amazon — Jeff Bezos began buying books from distributors and shipping them to customers every time he received an order. This business model became Amazon’s claim to fame years later.

The conclusion

Sometimes the MVP is a simple, interactive wireframe made with the least effort. Other times, it’s a more design-led working prototype — what defines viability depends on what the customer wants, the time frame, audience, and the budget too.

Whatever format we use for the MVP, the result is always a practical, valuable, and effective model that real users can test and interact with, then engage in a feedback loop with suggestions on how it can be improved.

If you’re looking for someone to plug a skills gap in your existing team, or need a full-service design and development partner, we can help!

Get in touch to chat about your next project or read more about how agencies can help brands deliver cutting-edge digital experiences.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What is an example of a minimum viable product?

A great example is how the founders of Airbnb used their own apartment as a model to draw interest to their business. The stunt paid off and the company began making sales right away.

Q. What is the purpose of a minimum viable product?

The purpose of a minimum viable product (MVP) is to gauge a product idea before committing full resources to its development.

Q. Are minimum viable products only for startups?

A minimum viable product (MVP) is for any business offering a product. Its time- and money-saving benefits are clearly attractive to small businesses, startups, and enterprises. 

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