Starting Your Next Development Project With a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

For a product to be successful, it must effectively serve the needs of its users. To ensure your product delivers these results, you need feedback. And the quickest way to get a product to the market for feedback is by developing a minimum viable product (MVP).

An MVP is the simplest form of your product. It focuses on delivering only the core features that users truly need. Many well-known companies started with an MVP, and many others could benefit by using this methodology when starting a development project.

In this article, we'll explore the benefits of developing an MVP, how to develop and release an MVP, and some of the challenges you'll face in the process.

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​An MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is ​an initial working version of a product​.
It has just enough ​functionality to satisfy ​target ​users while also ​allowing you to receive input for the next product version with the least amount of time and resources​.​ Source: Google Images

Benefits of Starting Development with an MVP

There are a lot of benefits to releasing an MVP as your initial product. Time and cost savings are the most significant upfront, as it's the most effective way to release the core of your product to the market in the shortest amount of time. An MVP allows you to start getting feedback on the core features of your product while also being able to iterate quickly and meet the needs of your users. Developing an MVP also makes it possible for you to gauge the demand for your product before investing time and energy into releasing a fully-built version.

Another great benefit is allowing the development team to find the simplest and the most effective solution for the users of a product. When you start with an MVP, it typically reduces what we call "feature-itis," which is when users are overwhelmed with too many options and lose interest in a product. Additionally, by building out all the features at once, the core features can often get diluted and reduce the product's effectiveness.

An MVP allows you to start getting feedback on the core features of your product while also being able to iterate quickly and meet the needs of your users.
The Waterfall project management and development methodology chart
Waterfall project management is a method of project management that is sequential and linear. Waterfall management does not enable you to return to a previous phase until the preceding phase is completed, and each phase's completion is terminal.

Starting with an MVP versus the Waterfall Method

The alternative to starting with an MVP would be to use the "waterfall" development methodology. The Waterfall methodology is a sequential development approach. Like a waterfall, it flows through each project phase, with each stage being brought through completion before the next can begin. This approach is lengthier and often takes more time getting an initial product to market.

Following the waterfall method can also easily cause you to get ahead of yourself with assumptions about what your users want and need from your project.

Typically, developing an MVP is your best option if you start a new project and have ideas that you need to validate. Since most products are developed as a solution to something, it's important to test features and get user feedback instead of relying solely on an initial project scope from a small team.

In other situations where the goal of the product is crystal clear and it's serving a particular set of users, the waterfall method could be the better approach. In these cases, businesses already understand how a product will be used, and they usually have a set of non-negotiable features. When a project is this specific, it might not be necessary to test and validate assumptions about the product.

Large tech companies that began as MVP products include Groupon, Google, Amazon and facebook
Large tech companies like Google, Groupon, Amazon and Facebook began with MVP platforms that have since evolved into the mega companies we know today.

Notable Businesses that Started with an MVP

Before the methodology was outlined and popularized, many large tech companies you're familiar with started with MVPs. The first company worth mentioning is Google. Google started as a simple search engine and now has a full suite of products that everyone knows.

Another company that started with an MVP is Facebook. Initially, Facebook started as a platform to help Harvard college students network with each other. You couldn't even sign up for Facebook unless you had a email address. The core features allowed users to set up a basic profile, send and receive friend requests, and search for people with limited parameters. This core functionality was simple yet highly effective at connecting people. It enabled Facebook to keep adding and testing features that ultimately allowed them to grow into the platform as we know it today.

Groupon is another notable company that started with an MVP. They have a pretty interesting story because their MVP was neither an app nor a website. Their MVP was a 500-person mailing list that aimed to connect businesses with customers by offering great deals. This was so effective that Groupon was able to generate demand for their product before it was fully built. They were able to validate an idea, build demand, and create a platform to support that demand. 

The last company worth mentioning is Amazon. In the beginning, Jeff Bezos was looking for a way to sell books online. He wasn't even thinking about selling everything. His initial book catalog was on the Amazon website. For fulfillment, he would buy books from a distributor and sell them for a higher price. After constantly iterating on this model for so many years, he built Amazon into what it is.

How to Develop an MVP

When starting to develop an MVP, there's always a research portion. You need to define what problem your product is trying to solve and your ideal users. You'll likely have a set of assumptions about what users want, so you'll need to validate these assumptions by speaking with your target audience. To gather this user data, surveys and one-on-one interviews are valuable resources. They enable you to understand the needs of your users better and start looking for ways to address those things. 

Once you've defined the core idea, you'll want to conduct competitor research. It's always important to see how other products address similar problems and learn from their successes and failures.

After you've completed your research, you can formally define your MVP. To accomplish this, it's best to start with an outline of the key actions a user will take within your product. 

For example: If you're building a dating app, the core steps a user will take would be to create a profile, browse potential matches, and have a way to connect with those matches.

Once you define these core steps, you create features for each step and prioritize them based on how important they are to your core functionality and the level of effort it will take to build them. 

(Interested in learning more about bringing your product to life? We've got you covered! Learn more about the journey from idea to full design here.)

How to Prioritize Features

For smaller projects, you can prioritize features by mapping them to an x- and y-axis. One axis rates each feature by its level of importance to the core product. The other axis ranks the features based on how difficult they are to build. In most cases, you want to start with the features that are the easiest to build yet are high in priority.

A prioritization matrix indicating value to the user and effort by an organization.

A prioritization matrix indicating value to the user and effort by an organization. Source: Nielsen Norman Group

For larger projects with multiple stakeholders involved, it's more of a challenge to get everyone on the same page. People will have varying ideas about what should be included. It's important to remind all stakeholders that less is more when it comes to developing an MVP. When there are too many features that aren't validated yet, users get distracted and you create unnecessary friction within your product. You also need to reiterate that developing the MVP saves time and money and will ultimately lead to a more effective product down the line. 

Releasing an MVP

The whole point of developing an MVP is to get it into the hands of users as quickly as possible so that you can start gathering feedback. But, this doesn't mean you need to fully release the MVP to the public off the bat. In the beginning, you can release the MVP to beta testers who could be internal employees, family, or friends. This way, you can quickly get feedback on how well your product is solving a problem and doing it faster, better, and cheaper than other products. You can also gauge the beta testers' feelings toward the product and if it's something they would use or recommend to other people. 

After this initial round of feedback, you can start working in an iterative cycle of building, measuring, and learning. This is where you'll figure out what features people are asking for, build the features, and then test them to gain more insight. This agile way of working helps ensure that your project is being steered in the right direction and prevents you from spending too much time on features that users don't find useful.

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Start Your Next Development Project with an MVP

Developing a product by starting with an MVP is a great way to quickly get the core features of your product to the market for feedback. It allows you to validate any assumptions about what users need out of the product. This ultimately saves you time and money developing features that could potentially cause more friction than productivity within your product. 

Though an MVP is the most condensed version of your product, it's often the simplest things that are the most challenging to create. Getting all stakeholders to adopt the "less is more" mindset and agreeing on core features can be pretty tricky at times. 

If you want to learn more or want assistance with this process on your next project, feel free to reach out to us today. 

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