What is an MVP

To be able to build a successful application, we must first understand what its first iteration should be. This is a Minimum Viable Product. Everything in successful modern development practices (I am referring to developing with Agility) is geared up for producing this type of product. It is this approach that has caused the explosion of some of the greatest internet success stories to date.

So what is a Minimum Viable Product in software development? Well, here is a definition from Wikipedia:

In product development, the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is the product with the highest return on investment versus risk. The term was coined and defined by Frank Robinson, and popularized by Steve Blank, and Eric Ries (for web applications). It may also involve carrying out market analysis beforehand.

Like the graphic above, a Minimum Viable Product should be something that delights the user throughout its evolution.

The challenges most businesses face when building the product is understanding that the end goal (in this case being a car) can be a huge risk. Why? Because humans are fallible and if your business is not used to building cars with a proven successful track record, the cost of getting to the end result could be disastrous. What if half way through your build a competitor releases an application with only 2 of your 10 features and steals your market share instantly?

What a MVP should not be

A lot of people get confused with what a Minimum Viable Product deliverable should be. Rightly so: it is subjective, and there is a debate about what it is. The common pitfalls and put offs with approaching work in that way is that they have been left with a crappy product that ends up dying before it starts, consistently producing a single wheel instead of a mode of transport. Never forget though – everything can be done badly.

What do you need to create an MVP?

The recipe for a successful first release is simple. You need the 4 main ingredients:

  1. Vision
  2. Mission
  3. Goals and Objectives

The 4th ingredient to truly be successful when scoping out an MVP is that you need the alignment and buy-in of senior management. The goals and objectives of the business need to be transparent to everyone. You may even require an alignment session to really nail down what your trying to achieve. Try to stick to the SMART objectives model.

Don’t focus on features, focus on impacts

Don’t let an MVP become a shopping list of features. This will make you produce a wheel rather than a skateboard! Senior management (generally) are not technical experts, and so suggesting features may break the whole purpose of keeping the cost vs risk to a minimum. If the group has a shared understanding of vision, the delivery experts will be the ones to help suggest solutions that deliver those goals in much more cost effective ways.

As Aarron Walters so succinctly puts it, maybe a better way of looking at MVP is actually;

  • Minimum
  • Viable
  • Delightful
  • Product

mvp design

With a coherent vision and a product that makes sense, you can seize your opportunity quicker and cheaper, and reap longer term benefits (or not as the case may be), with the most efficient use of time and effort. It is this movement that will continue to breed and create disruptions in the exciting world of technology engineering.


Next steps?

This part of product development stage as Eric Ries describes in “The Lean Startup” now moves you to the measurement stage. This is where you can assess your goals and objectives to see if you met your success criteria. This should serve as a spring board to iterative product development which I will cover in another post.