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Product Management: Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Definition: A minimum viable product, or MVP, is a product with enough features to attract early-adopter customers and validate a product idea early in the product development cycle. In industries such as software, the MVP can help the product team receive user feedback as quickly as possible to iterate and improve the product.

Because the agile methodology is built on both validating and iterating products based on user input, the MVP plays a central role in agile development.

What is the purpose of a minimum viable product?

Eric Ries, who introduced the concept of the minimum viable product as part of his Lean Startup methodology, describes the purpose of an MVP this way: It is the version of a new product that allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least amount of effort.

A company might choose to develop and release a minimum viable product because its product team wants to:

  • Release a product to the market as quickly as possible
  • Test an idea with real users before committing a large budget to the product’s full development
  • Learn what resonates with the company’s target market and what doesn’t

In addition to allowing your company to validate an idea for a product without having to build the entire product, an MVP can also help minimize the time and resources you might otherwise commit to building a product that won’t succeed.

How do you define your minimum viable product?

How do you actually develop a minimum viable product, and how will your team know when you have an MVP that’s ready for launch? Here are a few strategic steps to take.

Make sure your planned MVP aligns with your business objectives.

The first step in developing your MVP, before weighing which features to build, is to make sure the product will align with your team’s or your company’s strategic goals.

What are those goals? Are you working toward a revenue number in the coming six months? Do you have limited resources? These questions might affect whether now is even the time to start developing a new MVP.

Also, ask what purpose this minimum viable product will serve. Will it attract new users in a market adjacent to the market for your existing products? If that is one of your current business objectives, then this MVP plan might be strategically viable.

But if your company’s current priority is to continue focusing on your core markets, then you might need to shelve this idea and focus instead, perhaps, on an MVP designed to offer new functionality for your existing customers.

Start identifying specific problems you want to solve, or improvements you want to enable, for your user persona.

Now that you’ve determined your MVP plans align with your business objectives, you can start thinking through the specific solutions you want your product to offer users. These solutions, which you might write up in the form of user stories, epics, or features, do not represent the product’s overall vision—only subsets of that vision. Remember, you can develop only a small amount of functionality for your MVP.

You will need to be strategic in deciding which limited functionality to include in your MVP. You can base these decisions on a number of factors, including:

  • User research
  • Competitive analysis
  • How quickly you’ll be able to iterate on certain types of functionality when you receive user feedback
  • The relative costs to implement the various user stories or epics

Translate your MVP functionality into a plan of development action.

Now that you’ve weighed the strategic elements above and settled on the limited functionality you want for your MVP, it’s time to translate this into an action plan for development.

Note: It’s important to keep in mind the V in MVP—the product must be viable. That means it must allow your customers to complete an entire task or project, and it must provide a high-quality user experience. An MVP cannot be a user interface with many half-built tools and features. It must be a working product that your company should be able to sell.

Minimum viable product examples

If you’re wondering what this would look like in practice, let’s review how a couple of familiar brands launched successful MVPs.

Airbnb

With no money to build a business, the founders of Airbnb used their own apartment to validate their idea to create a market offering short-term, peer-to-peer rental housing online. They created a minimalist website, published photos and other details about their property, and found several paying guests almost immediately.

Foursquare

The location-based social network Foursquare started as just a one-feature MVP, offering only check-ins and gamification rewards. It wasn’t until they had validated the idea with an eager and growing user base that the Foursquare development team began adding recommendations, city guides, and other features.