Minimum Viable Product is Not a Milestone, It’s a Continuous Journey of Product Discovery

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is an important aspect of product management. It is not just a stage or milestone in the product development process. Instead it should be looked at as a method to ensure that product development is on the right course. This has been very nicely explained in this article titled “A Minimum Viable Product is not a Product, It’s a Process“. As rightly pointed out in the article, MVP is the base product which needs to be validated with a representative sample of customers, and then built upon further to make the final complete product.

MVP is NOT a Curtailed Version of Final Product:

Often product guys go wrong in thinking that MVP means a product with lesser number of features than what they have envisaged. As the product owner, if you had a list of 50 features of which 20 are must-have and 30 are good-to-have, then your MVP is not a cobbled up version of these 20 must-have features. Instead it is a dirty prototype of those features which communicate clearly and effectively deliver the core utility of the product. The below illustration very nicely describes this MVP concept.

minimal-viable-product-henrik-knibergMinimum Viable Product is Not a Milestone, It’s a Continuous Journey of Product Discovery
Source: The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog. Illustration by Henrik Kniberg

Economics explains the difference between need and want. To relate to the example in the illustration, need is of transportation, and want is to make it as easy, comfortable, fast and safe as possible. Hence MVP can start at being a skater-board in which utility is validated, and is then continuously enhanced to provide more value, more utility. Wants can be unlimited, and so are the enhancements that you can do to the product. But the basic need of transportation should always be validated and fulfilled.

Success of MVP:

MVP’s success depends on two key things – (i) base assumptions made about customer needs; and (ii) tests to conclusively validate these assumptions. While people can continue questioning whether or not Henry Ford really said“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”; the gist this statement is so very valid for product managers. If customer is asked what product they want, they would never be able to visualize the product or better version of existing alternative. It is the consumer behavior skill of product manager to understand the customer and design the validation steps in the journey of MVP to final product.

To successfully test the MVP, product manager needs to get into customers’ mind and see the product from their eyes. Product usage data and other data proxies also often provide valuable customer insights for this process. PM will never get to test your product assumptions with  the entire audience. That’s where defining user personas, creating user stories, sampling right test audience for methods like focus group discussions, blind tests and all become super useful.

how to make a minimum viable productMVP is a Continuous Process

MVP to Final Product:

While product manager does all these validations to evolve MVP into a market-ready product, she has to always keep in mind the resources at her disposal. She needs to be cognizant of the technical skills she has to make this product, how much time and budget have been allocated for the product and so on. Product manager also needs to be aware of future trends and incorporate them while planning the product roadmap. These elements should also be taken into consideration while designing MVP. That will make it a rightly designed and tested Minimum Viable Product which becomes the stepping stone towards a successful product.

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