Twitter, Facebook, Zappos, and Dropbox; these are just some of the many tech success stories that started out with an MVP – or Minimum Viable Product.
A Minimum Viable Product is an initial version of your product that only includes a set of basic features. It’s not the final version, however, nor a prototype. It’s a clever way of releasing your product on the market as quickly as possible, capturing the attention of early adopters, and gain enough feedback to enhance the product. With so many success stories to inspire them, lots of companies have decided to make their entrance on the market with an MVP. Still, the process of developing an MVP is often shrouded in mystery, and businesses with great potential and good intentions end up flopping because they didn’t understand what an MVP is, what it isn’t, and what practices they should follow.
In theory, developing an MVP should be simple. After all, you’re launching a core version of your product faster and on a smaller budget. However, it’s precisely the process of filtering features that turns MVP development into a complex process that requires lots of strategic thinking.
The MVP is an initial product, but a product nonetheless. Your goal with an MVP is to validate a business idea and see how the market perceives it so, in order to do that, you must know what the market wants. So, getting started, ask yourself what void your product is trying to fill. What can it offer that competitors can’t, and what are the needs of your target audience? Market research is crucial not only to MVP development, but also to what comes after, helping you draft your marketing strategy and make long-term business decisions. It also lowers your risk and helps you identify growth opportunities through customer pain points. Ultimately, market research should answer these questions:
- Who are your target customers, and what are their needs?
- Who are your competitors?
- What trends stand out in your industry?
- What challenges does your industry face?
- What drives your target customers to make purchases?
Map out the user journey
Having the user in mind and mapping out their journey is a critical part of MVP development. What does this mean, exactly? It means that you have to visualize how the end-user will interact with your product and put yourself in their shoes when developing it. This user-centric approach creates positive experiences and ensures that your product is not only great in theory but also in practice.
When sketching the user’s journey, you have to focus on four major areas:
- What users are trying to achieve in your app or web service
- Where the interaction takes place (web, mobile, desktop, etc.)
- The steps taken by the users in your app
- The challenges users might face in your app.
Prioritize what features will go into the MVP
This is one of the trickiest parts when developing an MVP because taking the wrong path can sabotage your launch. Many businesses try to achieve too much with the MVP and, instead of focusing on the core functionality of the product, they look at the details and overload it with features that don’t add a lot of value. Think of the MVP as the foundation version of your app and have only those features that are representative of the product’s goal.
To help you prioritize, go over each feature and place it into one of two categories: high-impact or low-impact. Again, this is a process where you need to keep the user’s needs in mind and allow them to complete their whole journey.
One of the biggest misconceptions about MVPs is that, being basic versions of the app, you can get away with a few bugs here and there. However, an MVP is not a draft, and you shouldn’t neglect testing or QA. The purpose of an MVP is to validate a business idea, gain the attention of your user base, and make a great impression. If it’s filled with bugs and people have a negative experience using it, then the entire project might not make it past the MVP stage.
Collect user feedback
After the MVP is launched, a new chapter of your journey begins. You have to collect user feedback, find out what people have to say about your app, and, more importantly, if the app got the same response as planned. Did you get as many active users as you expected, and did they engage with the app as much as you wanted? Before launching a product, developers often look at it from their own perspective and assume they know exactly how it will be received, only to discover that the market’s opinions and experiences are different. Collecting feedback after the launch of your MVP will help you understand whether users really need your product and give you insights into how you can further improve it.
Don’t try to implement the full business idea.
If you’re a perfectionist, the best area to apply it during the testing process, to ensure that the MVP runs smoothly and bug-free. You shouldn’t attempt to roll out the final version of the app, down to the smallest details, because that’s not what a Minimum Viable Product is. Your mission is to implement only the core features and have room to grow based on the feedback you receive. Trying to add all the features at once is counterproductive, and it defeats the whole idea of an MVP, which is to launch a working piece of code quickly.
Sometimes, the MVP validates the business idea entirely: users responded to the app just as intended, confirming your plans, and you can follow the initial roadmap. But most of the time, things don’t go exactly as planned, and you might learn new things along the way. This is why it’s important to be flexible and form a team that can make changes along the way. You might need to add features you hadn’t thought of, remove ones that you liked, and even work on a brand new version of the app.