The minimum viable product: exploiting potential while reducing risk-taking

Many startups spend years refining a product idea, develop their marketing concept, and invest a lot of money in production: they then go to their potential customers and present the finished product to them. If the target group does not show the expected interest in the product, the young company often disappears from the scene. Without being able to market the product, it is impossible to break even. If you have invested all your resources, bankruptcy is almost certain. The more cautious founders usually opt for another strategy: They start by designing a minimum viable product, also called a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

What does MVP mean? It is a product that is functional, no more, no less. The formula may seem simplistic, but it reveals a very clear concept. Frank Robinson, CEO of SyncDev Incorporated, first defined the notion of “Minimum Viable Product” in the early 2000s. The concept then spread among entrepreneurs, particularly through books such as “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. The Minimum Viable Product is a central pillar of the Lean-Startup corporate philosophy. We will explain how, with the MVP, you can get the most out of your product ideas while reducing risk-taking.

MVP: the importance of product development

By designing a Minimum Viable Product, called a Minimum Viable Product in French, or simply a minimal product, you will be able to see the interest in your product and measure the possible adaptations that the target would like you to make to the product, and this even before you have had the time to commit astronomical sums of money to its development. The idea is: don’t invest too much time and money in a product without knowing whether or not it will be accepted by customers. Instead, equip your product with a few essential features. But they must work without a hitch. Finishing and design elements, as well as accessory functions, are not yet necessary. In the first phase of development, it is important to keep costs to a minimum. An MVP is above all an opportunity to get to know your customers, and you will be able to answer the following questions:

What are the basic needs of your target audience?

Does your product idea touch the core of a market niche, or is it of no interest to a target group?

What features would your potential customers want to see added to the product?

Can your product idea be launched as it is, or does it need to be modified to be successful?

Initially, MVP was mainly adopted by computer software publishers. Teams practicing agile software development with Kanban or Scrum rely on what is called the build-measure-learn loop: it is a feedback loop resulting from the build-measure-learn method, which consists of confronting one’s product as soon as possible with the needs of one’s customers.

The MVP is the first product that Early Adopters (trendsetters) use. As a designer, you then need to point out to them that the product is a functional but still rudimentary model. Ask them to give you their feedback on the product. This will be invaluable to you in the future. Make small, incremental changes. If your idea is successful, and you develop it in close collaboration with the people who test it, your customer base will grow with each additional investment. Before the official product launch, thanks to your close collaboration with consumers, you will know exactly what customers want.

Eric Ries, who is at the origin of the Lean-Startup principle, describes startups as organizations that have to create a new product under very uncertain conditions. According to him, it is therefore important that the company founder develops a management concept, capable of adapting to new configurations at any time. This requires creativity and a willingness to learn.

The Lean-Start concept is based on several basic principles. One of them is “Build-Measure-Learn”. In this context, the minimum viable product is a key element. Comment loops are used to determine whether the idea should be further developed to the end, or whether it is better to “adjust the focus”. At the shortest possible intervals, you build your products, measure customer reaction, and learn from it. On the one hand, you learn what customers like about your product. On the other hand, you understand which ideas you should abandon if they do not meet any customer needs. This is the basic idea of the minimum viable product.

The basic idea of the minimum viable product

The minimal product is the first step in a development that takes into account customer feedback and comments. It is however more than a prototype because its main functionalities must be operational. It is also more than just a step in the process. It is the result of good use of the feedback loop method.

With a sketch made in a few strokes of a pencil, Hendrik Kniberg has managed to show how this approach has often been misinterpreted or misused. The diagram below illustrates a development process in which the MVP approach has been misunderstood. From left to right you have several symbols, each marking a phase in the development of a product intended to appear on the market. The smileys below express the reaction of customers. The finished product is a car. The vehicle must allow the designer to meet a specific customer need.

Laut Kniberg translates this need into these words: “I would like to be able to connect point A and point B as quickly as possible. »

Agile product development with MVP

The minimum viable product is part of what is called agile product development. Throughout the development process, the product is constantly being evaluated. Agile product development is also distinguished by the fact that the process can be modified along the way. This means that the development team can change course at any time. Most of the time, these are small adjustments. The concept of agile product development is also marked by the following elements:

  • It is iterative, with cycles that are constantly repeated.
  • It is incremental, that is, it changes in stages.
  • It saves time and resources through short development cycles.
  • It allows quick and immediate reactions.
  • The minimum viable product: a question of definition
  • The Build-Measuring-Learning process with feedback loops is not only used by startups.

Large companies reduce the risk of missed investments by opting for agile project management. Their model differs essentially by the fact that a large company usually has an existing customer base and an already known brand. Unlike startups, large companies therefore have a head start in terms of resources and trust. What is important for a startup is to design a minimum viable product that meets the latest standards. Consumers expect a product to perform at least its basic function properly.

The meaning and use of the term “Minimum Viable Product” have evolved over time. Since the primary goal is to design a product that is cost effective and will appeal to the customer, the term does not apply in all situations (because in a competitive environment, the customer will not be satisfied with only the basic functions). In the meantime, some management experts use the expression Minimum Awesome Product (brilliant minimal product) or Minimum Lovable Product (appreciable minimal product).

In summary

The minimum viable product is more than just a functional product. The Build-Measure-Learn method allows startups to minimize risk taking. It is also the basis for agile development. Before the first iteration, start by designing a basic idea that can meet a customer need. For more advanced needs, use feedback from customers, especially in the areas of Reliability, User-Friendliness, and Attractiveness.

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