In this article we will describe and define in simple terms what a minimum viable product (MVP) is.  An MVP should be considered when launching a new service or product.  At its simplest an MVP is a version of your product or service that contains the minimum amount of features and functions that a customer would be willing to pay for. This is not your assessment of what is the minimum feature or function a customer is willing to pay for, it is the assessment of the marketplace and your target customers.

We often find our customers either underestimate the amount of features or functions required for a customer to pay for the product, or conversely overestimate.  Of course, if you underestimate the amount of features or functions you will struggle to find any customer willing to pay for your product, if you overestimate you will typically spend more of your budget developing the product then the value seen by your customers.

Whilst there is no magic formula, good old fashioned market analysis and discussions with potential customers can help you better understand their needs, their willingness to apportion value to function and of course help you understand the key features that would be required for an MVP.

Assessing features for an MVP based on cost to build

One of the ways we support our clients is by listing those features they’ve identified within the MVP, and ensuring that a good solid base to build a future solution is also included in any scope (there are different approaches it can be taken such as developing an MVP to be thrown away/ restarted once the market is better understood).  For each of these identified features/base solution requirements, we indicate the level of budget required to develop, test, and launch that feature.  This serves as a guide to marry and match the expectation of budget / cost versus the expected pricing and return.  This in turn  allows you to assess the potential return on investment.  At this stage you might have a fixed budget to deliver the MVP, a reverse mapping of budget to features allows you to focus on those critical features and ensure they are delivered to the best quality level.

An MVP should allow us to learn more about our customers

The key goal of an MVP is to often develop a solution that can be rapidly deployed to a market, and enable us to obtain feedback rapidly. We must therefore consider ensuring our MVP allows us to easily capture the data points we require to understand, and interpret for future releases.  It is important when launching an MVP that we are clear to our customers and it is priced in such a way as to not tarnish any future solution that may result from feedback gathered by the MVP.  What we mean by this is that we have understood and delivered features based on our best understanding and that we don’t want to be judged by our customers for this single view, rather they understand the process and are supportive of the need to provide the feedback and help us deliver and develop a better product.

What if I am confident about my product do I still need an MVP?

This is a common question and not unreasonable, not every product launch starts with the launch of an MVP. Some product launches follow different approaches, however you will always find a product launch, containing similar features and functions to your MVP definition, perhaps calls something else such as beta launch, friendly testing etc.  In all cases this is as much about validating understanding of your market, the features and functions within your product, and the impact these will have on your customers as anything else – how you achieve this will depend on how you are funded, your understanding of your customers needs and to some degree your openness to risk.

The purpose of each of these stages, let’s call the result of the first an MVP at this point, is to validate and provide empirical evidence to substantiate further investment and development in your product.  It is not uncommon for an MVP to demonstrate to a business that either they have missed the market, that they have misunderstood their customer, or they have delivered something that is too close to an existing and better product already available.  Understanding this at an early stage could save further investment and time being spent on the wrong product, the wrong features / functions or the wrong market.  If your business plan, market and customer analysis was correct, this stage should further confirm that you have both a product that your target customer wishes to use, along with the product that a customer sees value in and is therefore willing to pay for.