The Minimum Viable Product Mindset

FAQ — What is an MVP? We’re not talking about your high school quarterback, folks. In our world, MVP stands for minimum viable product and it’s a critical step in the product development process. Identifying the optimal MVP for your product will increase your chances of success and ensure that you are taking a measured iterative approach to find the ideal solution for the problem you are trying to solve with your product. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s demystify some technical jargon to take your tech knowledge out of the Jurassic period.

A Quick Vocabulary Lesson

When you’re new to the process of building digital products, it’s easy to get intimidated by the terms we techies use in day-to-day conversation. Adding to the confusion, some terms are used interchangeably depending on the situation and who is doing the talking. But don’t fret. Once you get past the acronyms and jargon, it isn’t that hard to follow along. For the purposes of this blog and how our team operates, we want to make sure we’re on the same page. Before we dive into the weeds of an MVP, let’s cover some basic vocab: 

Proof of Concept (POC): a demonstration of feasibility. A Proof of Concept is an important step when it isn’t clear that something is a) possible and b) viable. In our world, we might propose a POC if after hearing a product idea, we’re asking ourselves “Is it possible to do what you’re describing?” This question, of course, needs to be answered before we proceed further in developing the product. If the POC “proves” feasibility and viability, awesome. We can move into the next phase of development. If it doesn’t, it’s better to have figured it out now rather than down the road.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP): a stripped-down version of your product that allows you to test and learn as much as possible with the lowest cost and effort possible. With your MVP, you are looking to validate your assumptions, confirm you understand the problem you’re trying to solve, and make sure that users find enough value to adopt (and hopefully pay for!) the solution you are offering. 

*Note: A MVP does not necessarily need to be a fully functional application. They are often developed solely with the intention of onboarding early adopters to get more feedback to verify or upend your assumptions about what your customers need, want, or will/won’t pay for. Check out this blog post for other common misconceptions about MVPs.

Beta: a version of a product that is available for use (privately or publicly) prior to the product’s official launch as a means of further testing and gathering feedback. A beta product is typically close in design and functionality to the version of the product that is ultimately launched and marketed more broadly. 

Clickable Prototype: a dynamic visual design that represents a limited user experience and feature set of the envisioned product. At first glance, a clickable prototype may give the appearance of a functional app, as certain elements in the user interface represented are dynamic and can be clicked to alter their state.

A Deeper Dive into the MVP Mindset

Now that you understand how an MVP differs from a POC or the Beta version of your product let’s take a deeper dive into how we define an MPV. At its very core, your MVP should be a minimum feature set that helps you test and learn as much as you can with the lowest cost and effort possible. In other words, we want to start with a small, scrappy offering that’s just compelling enough to interest early adopters. The purpose is to test your idea’s riskiest assumptions, validate market need, and establish a feedback loop that will inform future decision-making. Based on the insights we gather, we’ll further develop your product from there.

In the early stages of pursuing your product, you might be tempted to jump straight into developing the full vision of your product. Hey, we get it! Innovators think BIG, but in this case, that is rarely a wise strategy. Identifying your MVP helps us fight that human impulse and reign in the initial excitement to an incremental, measured approach focused on a limited feature set. More often than not, when you are pursuing a new product, you will pivot at some point. You might think you’re solving Problem X, but actually, there’s a related Problem Y that’s a more significant pain point and a more compelling opportunity. Naturally, these kinds of pivots are easier and more effective when you’re adapting a product with a limited feature set.

We like to think of the MVP as a scrappy experiment. You have a great idea. You’ve talked to tons of people throughout your research (i.e. customer discovery) to make sure you understand your target user and the problem you’re looking to solve. Your next step is to test if, when the rubber meets the road, people truly “buy-in” to that great idea by presenting them with a minimal but key value proposition. At this stage in the game, it’s wise to invest more time and mental energy before you over-invest financially. There is always an MVP you can start with to validate that you’re heading in the right direction—and the ultimate way to validate your assumptions is to find out if people will pay for your product or service. That’s what the MVP mindset is all about.

Test Driving the MVP Mindset

Minimum Viable Product

Are you still scratching your head about this MVP concept? That’s OK! Let’s look at it in terms of something familiar to all of us: cars. If your big idea is a car, some of the key features in your mind might be that it has excellent gas mileage, spacious interiors, or a killer sound system. But, if we’re using the MVP mindset, we’re thinking, “what’s the fundamental problem that a car solves?” 

The simple answer to that question is that a car gets you from point A to point B. In this case, the MVP for your car might be a skateboard, a scooter, a bike, or any other means of getting from A to B. Your MVP is not the fuel efficiency, fancy leather seats, or subwoofer in the back (although those bells and whistles are certainly fun). In other words, your MVP is something that gives the user the key functionality that solves their problem, and your product evolves from there.

Conclusion

As you start adopting the MVP mindset, remember to think BIG but start with a small, scrappy approach. Your MVP doesn’t need to be perfect, but it does need to communicate your key value add for potential customers. And remember: Ideas are easy, but the execution is hard. So invest your time and mental energy in this testing and validation phase before you invest too much of your hard-earned money!

In the next blog of our MVP series, we’ll be covering the different types of MVPs and how a firm like Tyrannosaurs Tech can help you identify your MVP, analyze the feedback you receive, and advance to the digital age with a validated, viable product foundation.