Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Development

What is a Minimum Viable Product? 

Within the context of software development, a minimum viable product (MVP) is any application, platform or website with just enough features to attract the developer’s target audience. There are no bells and whistles in a minimum viable product. Instead, it contains only the most essential features, making it basically a proof of concept for your entire target audience. 

Although it’s common to compromise on flashier design elements in a minimum viable product, the user experience is still essential. The product must be convenient and intuitive while also addressing the customer’s core pain points. It’s also important to note that a minimum viable product is neither a prototype nor an ‘early access’ title — it is for all intents and purposes a finished release which has had the fat trimmed from it. 

What is MVP development?

MVP development focuses on creating a minimum viable product from a foundational problem, need, want, or pain point. It’s a common starting point for most agile development strategies. With MVP development, services and features that are in any way extraneous to a project’s core concept are set aside in favor of those required by the audience. 

MVP development and the minimum viable product were first popularized by Eric Ries in The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. The foundation of MVP development for startups involves an adaptation of the Business Model Canvas adapted by Ash Muarya in 2010 known as the Lean Canvas. All of these concepts ultimately have their root in lean manufacturing, a strategy first used by Henry Ford in the early 20th century. 

What purpose does MVP development serve?

The primary goal of MVP development, per Eric Ries, is for a development team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning with minimal effort. To put it in clearer terms, MVP development allows developers to better understand both the needs of their audience and how well their software fulfills those needs. In this way, a MVP is a solution for any business that wishes to learn more about whether or not a project will resonate with users, while also iteratively improving the project based on user input and feedback. 

MVP development is not solely used for testing and troubleshooting a new software idea. It’s also a strategy for bringing an application to market as quickly as possible, ideally before the competition is able to do so. A company may additionally use MVP development to minimize the time and resources committed to a software product in its early stages, considerably reducing the impact of that product’s failure. 

MVP app development and MVP web development both follow the same basic principles, with the only tangible difference being that the former focuses on software products while the latter focuses on web-based products. 

Common mistakes in MVP software development

It’s important that your team understands what MVP development entails — and that means avoiding the most common mistakes, which include: 

Conflating a minimum viable product with a minimum marketable product

A minimum viable product is typically focused on learning, while a minimum marketable product is intended to generate revenue. It’s a very fine distinction, and one which many companies don’t bother to make. Usually, this is relatively harmless, as the goal of releasing a minimum viable product is to eventually release a product that’s also marketable. 

However, it’s important that development teams avoid focusing too much on marketability. User feedback is a critical part of the MVP development cycle. Failure to collect that feedback could result in your team delivering a product that doesn’t fully resonate with your audience — leaving them primed for a competitor that better understands them. 

Sacrificing product quality

Too many development teams treat a minimum viable product as a prototype, leaving aside internal product testing. This lack of quality makes it impossible for the company to accurately assess whether or not the software is a good fit for its target audience. In the worst-case scenario, it can also harm the developer’s reputation, particularly if it’s one of their first releases. 

The only difference between a minimum viable product and a full release is that the full release might contain some extra fluff and flair. This means that a minimum viable product must be able to stand on its own merits, even without further support from the developer. Bugs and errors, while they may still happen, should be avoided whenever possible, and addressed immediately upon discovery. 

Ignoring user feedback

A minimum viable product is ultimately meant to help a developer or development team learn more about whether or not there’s demand for software that solves a particular problem — and if demand exists, how well their software solves it. User feedback is essential. If you aren’t listening to what your audience says throughout your software’s life cycle, then haven’t delivered a minimum viable product. 

You simply did the bare minimum to create a functional, effective application. 

A poor user experience

There are many things a developer might sacrifice in order to bring a minimum viable product. The user experience cannot, under any circumstances, be one of them. If your software is difficult or cumbersome to use, then it doesn’t matter how well it addresses the audience’s needs. 

They aren’t going to want to use it, and any feedback you receive is unlikely to provide any tangible insights about your product’s actual value. Instead, make sure your software requires minimal onboarding — there will be time enough to consider learning and development once you know people want to use your software. 

Adding too many extraneous features

On the flip side of doing too little, many development teams add too much when creating a minimum viable product. They confuse essential features with features that are simply nice to have. It’s important to always remember that just because a competitor has done something with their product, it doesn’t mean your team should do the same thing. 

Remember that the end goal of a minimum viable product is to include only that which is absolutely necessary for solving a user’s problems — as such, for every feature in your application, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Why have I added this? 
  • If I remove this, does my product still do what the user needs it to do? 

How to develop a minimum viable product

  1. Assess your business’s overall strategic goals, and make sure your software aligns with them. 
  2. Identify the specific problem you want your software to address or purpose you want it to fulfill. 
  3. Assemble your MVP development team. Generally speaking, a smaller team is a better choice — one to three developers should be more than sufficient for your needs. 
  4. Create a plan of action and a development roadmap. 
  5. Collect feedback on your software, and improve it based on said feedback. 
  6. Determine whether or not your software merits further development — is there sufficient user demand? 

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