I will explain the concept of a MVP, explain why it can be so valuable for UX designers, and review two common ways to create a MVP.
How Do You Create A Minimum Viable Product?
From idea to validated learning, MVP is the shortest path. A MVP is the version of a new product that allows a team to gather as much validated learning about customers as possible with the least effort, according to Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup.
Circle of MVPs and Lean Startups
MVPs are designed to embody the principles of Agile and Lean UX-collaboration and fast delivery (Agile) and measurement and validation of products (Lean). MVPs are aimed at learning, validating, and invalidating hypotheses.
While building an MVP, you need to understand the cycle Build-Measure-Learn. Lean promotes the idea of building fast and measuring/analysing each iteration of a product.
MVP as a Process
As a product team, MVPs are one of the best ways to start learning quickly. The process of creating a MVP usually contains 6 steps:
- Find a problem worth solving.
- Determine the smallest possible solution (MVP).
- Make sure the MVP communicates the value of the product.
- Build the solution.
- Test it with early adopters and obtain feedback on the MVP.
- Determine the strategic direction of further product development.
Why Designers Should Care about MVPs
The purpose of MVPs is to maximise the value that designers will receive as soon as possible with the lowest risk. There are several key benefits of using the MVP process:
- Maximising viability while minimising risk. It allows a hypothesis to be tested before an actual product is built, which is the most important benefit. By testing pieces of the product with real customers, designers can iteratively improve the product based on their feedback without building a complete finished product. Proper use of a MVP allows you to build a product they will simply love.
- Eliminate dead weight. There are many products that have deadweight – features that have no value for users. MVPs allow you to eliminate deadweight and save time and resources that would otherwise be allocated to design and development.
- Knowing a user’s needs and wants is important. By creating an MVP, the team can discover what users really want/need while using iterative development to deliver it. A MVP focuses teams on what is important.
The Difference Between MVPs and Other Design Models
Traditional development and ‘Release Early, Release Often’ are two popular ways to build products.
MVP vs. The Traditional Design Model
With an old-fashioned design model, product teams try to design the entire product at one time. The purpose of this is simple: designers believe a product won’t be cohesive and complete unless it is designed across the board. In other words, designers try to maximise the chance of success.
Due to a number of reasons, this approach rarely works well. The two most critical issues of this approach are:
- There’s no flexibility. It’s just like planning every detail of a long trip before it even begins to try to design the final product in one fell swoop. The journey will have moments (or moments) when things do not go as planned, no matter how thoughtful the plan.
- Your product could end up being built for you, not your users. Conventional methods don’t factor in customer needs and wants. The absence of an actual feedback loop makes it very risky and definitely not agile. Developing a product that a product team thinks their customers want, then discovering they don’t want it is not all that rare.
The MVP model is different from traditional design practices, which are usually concerned with features and feature sets. As far as details are concerned, MVPs keep the big picture in mind, but continuously make small steps towards the destination. They measure the progress they’ve made, make all required adjustments, and only after that do they take another step.
Below is an example of how this works in practice. The image below shows the difference between a traditional design approach and an MVP for a project that aims to build a car. With the MVP, designers focus on the underlying need the customer wants fulfilled.
When the product team delivers the ‘lite’ version of the product, it will be tested by the customer, and feedback will be collected. In this case, the underlying need is to go from A to B faster. Of course, the customer is unlikely to be happy with this–it’s nowhere near the car that he ordered. That’s OK though, since the primary goal for the product team is to learn; to test a hypothesis about the product and gather feedback.
MVP vs. The ‘Release Early, Release Often’ Model
When a team just releases anything to the market and then listens to what customers have to say about it, the MVP strategy can be compared to the ‘Release Early, Release Often’ strategy.
Iterating and gathering customer feedback are central to both strategies. It comes down to design objectives: MVP has a clear objective prior to engaging with customers, seeking reassurance, while “Release Early, Release Often” relies on customers to set the objectives as the project develops. Both strategies can be used for developing products; however, the ‘Release Early, Release Often’ strategy won’t work in some cases (like innovative products, for example). When you show an innovative product to 20 customers you might get 20 different opinions.
The Benefits of MVPs
Understanding the concept of a MVP holistically is important to effectively design one.
There Is No Minimum Viable Product
A lot of designers approach the MVP by looking for some minimal feature set needed to create a working product. This misses the point of an MVP. The MVP requires you to treat the product as a set of experiences rather than a collection of features and functionality.
There is a difference between a MVP and a viable product
MVPs are both minimum viable products and products that are marketable. Project teams are too often focused on the ‘minimum’ aspect of creating an MVP without thinking about building a ‘viable product.’ This results in unreliable, unstable products. No matter how good an original concept is, poor execution will likely result in negative market feedback. Of course, a MVP shouldn’t be a complete product but it should be valuable to those who will test it.
Quick To Create
MVPs are quick releases, whether it’s a physical product or just a landing page. If a product team has a hypothesis about a certain feature or even a whole product, a MVP should be the fastest way to test that hypothesis and reveal whether it’s correct or not. There’s a simple rule to MVPs: the more time it takes to complete, the less valuable it becomes. A MVP should be created in hours or days, not in months or weeks.
However, speed does not imply a loss of quality. In the UX design process, adopting Agile/Lean tools and methods will make it possible to iterate quickly at the appropriate quality.
MVP-driven UX design is based on proving viability. The MVP should allow designers to learn from what they built through measurement. Gathered metrics will inform the degree to which the original prediction about design was accurate.
Two Popular MVP Design Strategies
In order to create a MVP, product designers don’t always need to build a fully-functional prototype. There’s a wide variety of methods one can utilise to test a hypothesis. Here are two popular ways of approaching the design of a MVP:
Fake It ‘Til You Make It
Lean Startup popularised this approach. A product team creates the marketing page for an imagined product rather than building it. Checking whether a product is interesting for the target market is the goal of this step. Product designers analyse the key quantitative metrics (such as a number of sign-ups) to determine a potential interest for the product. It is possible for product managers to modify advertising properties (e.g. changing the message on a marketing page) if they are not satisfied with results (e.g. the total number of signups is lower than expected).
This was the approach used by Buffer, a company that uses this strategy. If you aren’t familiar with Buffer, it’s an app that makes it easy to share content on social media. Buffer’s founder, Joel Gascoigne, had a vision for the product when he first started out, but he didn’t want to waste time building a product that no one would use. Instead, he built a simple landing page to learn if users were really having a problem scheduling and managing social media publications.
The first version of Buffer had an explanation of what Buffer was, how it would work, how much it would cost, and a signup form. When visitors attempted to sign up, they were presented with a message explaining that the Buffer wasn’t ready yet and they could sign up for updates by typing in their email address. As a result of the signup form, Joel began conversations with potential users about what they wanted. By relying solely on landing pages, he was able to validate two hypotheses (people are interested in the product and they would pay for it) for little cost.
Simulate features that are eventually incorporated into a product can be done manually in some cases. Essentially, this is what is known as mechanical Turk: a user inputs a request, the request is forwarded to a worker who performs the task manually, and the result is returned to the user.
As early as 1999, Nick Swinmurn thought about creating an online store for shoes but wasn’t sure if people would use it. Nick Swinmurn photographed shoes at his local shoe store. The photographs were uploaded to a super-simple website. When a site visitor clicked on the button to buy a pair, Nick would go to the store where he took the photo and buy the shoes. There was no infrastructure and no inventory from a business point of view, but everything seems to be fine from the customer’s perspective. This is the first page in the story of the company called Zappos.
Every UX designer should be familiar with the MVP process, regardless of whether they work at a startup or a large corporation. Learning from users, minimising risk, and maximising viability are all worthwhile objectives. If you would like to hear how Stich Creative can support you with your MVP requirements contact us here.