representation of minimum viable product with skateboard, bikes, and car

From an outsider’s view, product development seems straightforward. You have an idea, build the product, and put it on the market for customers. But that way of thinking doesn’t allow for much flexibility, does it? So instead, the brains behind the most successful products follow a more methodical approach and create an MVP—a minimum viable product.

Developed by Frank Robinson and made popular by Eric Ries, founder of the lean startup methodology, the MVP approach applies to testing and launching physical and digital products.

Some of today’s most successful products started this way—including Uber and Slack—so there must be something to it! Take a deep dive into what an MVP is and how you can use this product development approach to build a successful app.

What is a minimum viable product?

An MVP—minimum viable product—is a product that is built out enough to attract early adopters and validate a product idea. Products in this stage are usable—rather than being composed of disparate parts—and serve as a groundwork for what the final product could be. MVPs help product teams gather user feedback from beta users to make improvements for release.

An MVP is …

So if an MVP is a basic product, what exactly does that entail? All MVPs have three things in common:

  • They provide enough value for people to use them.
  • They demonstrate future benefits to early adopters.
  • They allow feedback for future development.

Any gamers in the house? Video game demos are prime examples of MVPs. In these versions, users get a general sense of how the game will work, but it’s pared down to provide a taste. Maybe you only provide access to one type of gameplay when the final product will have five. Or perhaps you’re missing pieces like music, sound effects, or graphic elements.

Another example could be a platform like Netflix. Here, an MVP would need to allow you to browse and watch movies. It doesn’t need advanced features like watching with friends or making intelligent recommendations. The MVP only needs to test out the theory that users want to watch movies on their devices and establish a technical foundation.

In any case, the MVP is a preview meant to be iterated on, rather than a “Big Bang” final delivery that is polished and doesn’t require improvement.

An MVP is NOT …

You need to know how an MVP doesn’t work to best inform your MVP deployment. Translation? Here’s what an MVP is not:

  • Bare-bones functionality: An MVP needs to illustrate business viability and answer customer wants and needs.
  • A minimum marketable feature (MMF): An MMF is a single product feature with significant user value. MMF is about delivering value, whereas MVP is about improving the end product.

Benefits of a minimum viable product

In the context of app development, the primary benefit of an MVP is to understand your customers’ interest in your app and its digital experience before you fully develop it. We say it a lot, but development is iterative, so releasing an MVP allows you to launch much faster versus waiting for the product to be perfect. Starting with an MVP gives you the chance to test an idea with real users before committing to full development. With an MVP, your team learns several things about your app concept:

Interest

Introducing an MVP provides a temperature check on your new app. The first group to attract are early adopters because they are always game for the latest and greatest tech. But if a wider audience also appears interested, that could signal that your idea has long-term potential.

Validity of assumptions

Every app is built with assumptions because you want customers to interact with it in specific ways. As the first group starts using your MVP, does the customer experience live up to your assumptions, or are there signs that you need to pivot?

Example: You’re creating an app for an automotive company. Research shows that locking and unlocking car doors is something customers want to do from their phones, so your MVP centers on this functionality. But if initial user feedback speaks more to a desire to start and shut off the vehicle, it might be a sign to change course.

Needs and expectations

How well does your app meet your audience’s needs? Different from assumptions, living up to needs and expectations amounts to how well your app solves users’ problems. Maybe it does the trick but could be improved, or perhaps your audience has new functions in mind for future iterations. Does it seem realistic to make your app into something more?

Example: Consider the car app again. Instead of being let down by your app, users are inspired by it and see the potential for more. They love being able to lock and unlock their doors, so they want to see the product grow to allow them to start and shut off their vehicle, control the radio, open the trunk—you name it. Your challenge? Figuring out how to accommodate these needs as your app evolves.

Building your minimum viable product

When you decide to build a minimum viable product, the biggest challenge isn’t understanding what it is or how it could help your company release a top-performing app. Instead, it’s actually building it. When you build, you receive input from yourself, stakeholders, and users. Make it easier to manage by following a process:

Establish goals

What do you want to achieve with your MVP and your app? Make sure your MVP aligns with your business objectives. Start by defining SMART goals to measure MVP success. These might include:

  • The number of downloads (total or within a specific period).
  • Review or feedback scores.
  • The time users spend on the app.
  • Page views or bounce rate.
  • How often features are used.

Conduct market research

Where will your app sit in the marketplace? Define who it will serve, how it will benefit users, and where it fits from a cost perspective. With this in mind, do your homework:

  • Identify main users, establishing core demographics and buyer personas.
  • Determine the specific problems your app will solve or improve.
  • Engage in competitive analysis to assess how other companies are solving user needs and how your app could fill in any gaps.
  • Conduct a cost analysis to determine what it will cost to build your MVP (and your app).

Determine relevant features

High-level ideas or wish lists of app features are fine to start with. But to be successful, your MVP needs to be user-friendly and solve a pain point. Determine the best features to include by mapping the customer journey or how the typical user would interact with your app.

TIP: Make sure the user can fully interact with each feature you include, rather than settling for something that only half works.

Do you think it’s unrealistic to make your app’s MVP robust? Remember, it’s called minimum for a reason. So feel free to start small and keep building. In fact, some of the most popular brands started with an MVP.

Begin development

In the words of Beetlejuice, “It’s showtime!” App development is where the real magic happens, taking your ideas and plans and turning them into version one of your app—your MVP. But remember:

  • Your initial launch should be user-friendly and engaging.
  • You should focus on features that will provide the most value.

Analyze results

Are you right on the money or way off the mark? Put your MVP in the hands of real users and take note of their feedback. What users have to say is the real test of product viability. You might find out your app isn’t a good idea. (It happens to the best of us.) But ideally, you will get insights into what can make it even better.

After that, modify, test, and tweak your app until it’s ready for the wider market. But don’t stop there! Revisit this step throughout the product lifecycle to improve your offering and ensure long-term success.

Introduce your app with an MVP

Starting with an MVP gives your team insights into realistic consumer wants and needs, plus any shortfalls your new app might have. Once you have gone through the process, you get a new perspective—finally seeing the forest through the trees. Change and optimize your app as needed, and once it starts gaining acceptance, congratulations! You’ve reached the beginning of its introduction into the market.

Are you getting ready to build your app and want more information? Check out our guide, What to Expect When Building Your App.

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