More product teams are taking advantage of the Minimum Viable Product concept – deploying products early to customers in order to learn and iterate. MVP is a fantastic approach for releasing products and features faster with less waste.

But I’ve consistently found that it’s essential to combine the MVP with features or value propositions that directly relate to the customer’s biggest pain point. When you do this, it’s possible to release successful new products that are even less than the “minimum.”

You might call this the 80% MVP.

I base this 80% concept from releasing many minimum products over the years, including GoToMyPC, GoToMeeting, AppFolio, and ProductPlan. Here are a couple of my observations:

  • The MVP is subjective, and only by releasing can we learn what the real minimum is. Even after conducting dozens of customer validation interviews for a product, I consistently discover that one or two features I thought were necessary to include in the MVP could have been released later. I learn that there are other things that would have added even greater value.
  • The MVP must tie back to high priority customer problems that were discovered during validation. Delivering a compelling product that relieves pain can delight customers, even if it’s lacking features. Customers are forgiving if you show them you are focusing on high value items for them rather than striving for the “perfect” feature set.

My advice to you: Skip perfection and get a minimum compelling product into the hands of real customers.  Tweet this

Look, you still need to deliver on the basics: products with features that are valuable, easy to use, and that delight customers. I’m not advocating releasing crap. But in my experience, to create successful products you need to combine MVP with unique and compelling value. This is how you can make your product a purple cow.

Does Your MVP Provide Enough Value? 

Compelling products aren’t necessarily limited to features – it can be your pricing, packaging, or anything that solves a top customer problem. For example, with GoToMeeting, our initial product lacked many features that were available in competitive products such as video. However, our “all you can meet” pricing was a unique differentiator that solved multiple frustrations customers had with the current solutions.

This philosophy works well for new products as well as future initiatives you are adding to your product roadmap. Here is my high-level process for defining a compelling MVP:

  • First engage customers by conducting problem discovery interviews.
  • Define your proposed features, making sure that features tie back to problems you discovered.
  • Validate the product in subsequent interviews.
  • After validation, cut features further, making sure to retain one or two valuable features that hit the biggest pain points uncovered during problem discovery interviews. Cut the MVP to less than you are comfortable with.

At ProductPlan, we released the original product and continue releasing features based around this philosophy. We have several in-depth interviews with customers to understand the pain, the value, review prototypes and understand the minimum feature set. We then ruthlessly prioritize and cut the MVP but make sure to include features that are highly compelling and differentiated.

For example, our product includes a prioritization framework for making product decisions. We interviewed dozens of product managers to understand how they were prioritizing features and their challenges with prioritization. Our first release of this feature was a mere shadow of the feature we ultimately envisioned. But there were several compelling elements that made it superior to anything our customers had: It was collaborative and shareable. It was integrated with the visual product roadmap. It provided transparency. It was based on industry best practices.

After releasing our MVP for the prioritization feature 1.) customers used the feature and 2.) got value out of it (or rather, they got enough value out of it). Because we solved pain with our initial release, our customers were patient and engaged as we continued to enhance the feature based on their input. We still have far to go to realize our full vision for the feature, but the stage is set for success.

All product managers at one point have wondered whether they’ve prioritized the right features before releasing a new product. Sometimes deciding that your feature or product is ready for release is tough. The bottom line is to first fully understand customer problems before deciding your MVP and compelling value. Then pull the trigger faster to get your product out the door.

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