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Published: 10/06/2021

Minimum viable product – when you should consider it?

Minimum viable product - when you should consider it?

At which stage exactly can a product be considered as finished?

Actually… probably never.

There’s always something to improve – bugs waiting to be fixed or features that need to be added. The final product should be perfect before it is released, after all. Shouldn’t it?

Why does perfectionism impact product development?

Aiming for perfection in various areas of life is actually a wider trend. As a study published by Harvard Business Review points out, between 1989 and 2016 perfectionism among the youngest generations of college students across the USA, Canada, and the UK has significantly increased.

The movement of striving for nothing less than the ideal translates, among other things, to processes and expectations in companies worldwide. The students whose behavior was analyzed those years ago are currently populating enterprises of all sizes – micro, small, medium, and corporate. It is expected that they will maintain high personal and professional standards, thus performing at the best possible level.

How to meet the customer’s requirements?

First of all, perfection is a very subjective matter. A designer might consider a product perfect in terms of graphic design. A programmer may be proud of the code they created. A project manager could be satisfied that all processes were completed within the deadline and all ideas were agreed upon smoothly… But in the end, it is the customer who makes a final decision about whether the creation will be useful to them.

And their judgment is not always positive. The reasons for that may differ. As Marion Gillet – an entrepreneurship coach – remarks, a product is never perfect until its usefulness has been confirmed by manufacturers, buyers, and end-users. What’s more, if it turns out that despite all the mock-ups, market research, and marketing the product simply does not attract customers, it is definitely easier to spot issues and redesign a creation in its early stages rather than final ones.

Having to develop further a “good enough” product provides unlimited opportunities in terms of its direction, goals, and even target groups. But fixing a “perfect” creation is mostly about reducing losses with as many cost-effective resources as possible.

Solution: Minimum Viable Product

One of the ways to avoid such losses would be to introduce a Minimum Viable Product into the development process. The idea is fairly simple. Based on the general idea and the problem it solves, the team works out what core features they need to test whether the solution (or part of it) will work.

After it is created, the team provides testers from the target group with this version of the solution so they can confirm whether the idea is correct or it should be changed. Long story short: minimum resources, maximum feedback. The Minimum Viable Product should usually confirm your knowledge about the market, target group, and the solution itself, but it can also add extra valuable info that you missed before.

How does MVP help?

  • Market research is great to have, but it isn’t always the ultimate proof that your idea will work out. 2 out of 10 UK residents don’t declare providing truthful answers to polls. Globally, the tendency is probably very similar. What’s more, even if respondents try to be honest, they might find it difficult to rate an idea based on theory alone. Moreover, even if they confirm that you have correctly identified issues faced by them, your product still might not be as helpful with resolving them as promised. Giving them something to play with will improve the quality of their feedback while confirming (or not) your assumptions.
  • You can gain first fans of your product with MVP. Inform your target group about your idea and you will surely find the first testers who will help you with improving the final product. If it really appeals to their needs, they will gladly support you with building it and then recommend it to their friends once you launch it to the general public.
  • It confirms the directions you need to take. You or your team might disagree on certain features because you have different views about the target group’s needs. Where the results of your initial market research might be ambiguous, interactions with your product by real users will be much more helpful for determining the next steps of the development.
  • MVP gives you a deeper insight into your target group. When gathering feedback, you might discover many new things about the group you intend to help. They might inspire you to change the general plan of your product or be a source of ideas for future creations.
  • It may motivate the team to work on the project. Long product development processes can be boring or even discouraging when you are working for what feels like ages on a product you haven’t even seen yet. A tangible result from the first hours of work might motivate the team to put even more effort in after they can see that their creation is indeed helpful to the world.

 We all live in our own social bubbles, enabled – among other things – by the way social media platforms are built. Sometimes we might make assumptions based on our own or those of people we have interacted with. Reaching out to a wider target group, especially one consisting of entirely new people who aren’t familiar with us or our ideas, ensures that your solution to the issues they face will indeed support them. At the same time, you might discover new business avenues or risks.

When is it a good idea to implement an MVP?

There are at least a few cases where an MVP can be a major boon to the overall project and strategy.

When costs and/or time matter.

Not everybody with an ingenious idea is able to dedicate all the necessary capital or time to a product prototype. Sometimes it is only a time-consuming side project for a large corporation, and sometimes the inventors do not have a stable income yet.

When you need financial backup from investors.

Setting up a working prototype that actually produces some results and is able to track customer interactions can be more convincing for VCs than just theory.

When the product strategy is heavily based on feedback from the beginning.

It is better to develop some ideas with continuous feedback or data measuring and share them with the inventors from the very start of its construction. Examples might include advanced scientific projects such as robots or products created for a niche target group.

When you are not sure how to estimate the required time and/or costs.

If the idea is not typical or your team is working on such a project for the first time, creating an MVP could help their understanding of what kind of resources you need for further development and estimating their own possibilities.

When the new creation touches upon an entirely new area of activity.

If your company is an established brand and the product is something new in terms of its activities up to now, it makes sense to firstly check out whether or not it will satisfy the target group before making significant investments.

In a competitive market, it often matters who is first to release an idea, not who was first to think of it. And sometimes the market situation demands a rapid and useful reaction, even if it won’t be perfect at the first attempt. An excellent example of such a situation is when the start of the global pandemic required fast reactions and changes. Companies that adjusted quickly compared to their competitors often managed to win their customers’ hearts for longer.

Minimum Viable Products don’t have to be just one-time ideas at the beginning stage of development. They can turn out into a regular part of product development processes: creating something, testing its usefulness, gathering feedback, adding new features, providing testers with the product again, etc. Customers appreciate if you listen to their opinions, which might make them stick with your company for longer if you employ such a development strategy.

How to start a journey with MVP?

Write down all the knowledge you have up to now.

It might include assumptions such as: target group, identified issues among them, monetization ideas, similar activities of the competition, business risks, or chances. If you haven’t yet done so, it is a great moment to determine the Unique Selling Proposal (USP) of your product.

Determine which data you need to move forward with the product.

Is it about the way customers will interact with it? Perhaps their reaction to the usefulness of its USP? Or maybe you just want to confirm that the most important assumptions made up to now are correct? One thing that is for sure – do not make your MVP bloated by testing too much at the same time. Select the most important aspect and stick to it in the development process.

Find a reliable testing audience.

Many companies invite customers to participate in an alpha or beta launch of their product. They usually only need to signal their desire for engagement in some way, usually by signing up for a newsletter. It might be a good idea to share such a sign-up form along with some social media ads to drive conversion.

Try not to divert from the main goal during the project development period.

On the one hand, MVP is, among other things, about finding potential pain points of the project development so if something turns out to be very difficult or nearly impossible to complete then you might need to pause the development to figure out a solution. But on the other hand, you cannot be distracted by every issue that arises. It’s good to note them down, but you don’t need to resolve every single problem right away. All in all, it’s mostly about a certain level of flexibility and ownership.

Take advantage of the data.

Focus on whether or not your assumption was confirmed, but do not forget about other priceless data that you have gathered at a minimum cost. The way users interact with the product, features that remained unused or noted unusually high popularity, etc. All of these might be important in the next stage of development.

Yes, building a Minimum Viable Product is not a risk-free activity.

A serious issue obviously arises when the product receives a lot of negative feedback. If it’s a major brand testing out a new idea then it probably won’t affect their reputation. However, if it’s a young start-up betting everything on an MVP then the opinions shared by its customers might turn into the company’s “to be or not to be”. If at this stage customers see more benefits in going with the competition rather than sticking with your brand, it might be difficult to attract them back without a good offer.

That is why it’s so important to determine the product’s USP – it should be really unique so your customers understand that although it is not yet the finished product. It’s something entirely different to what your competitors offer. If possible, the USP shouldn’t be easy to implement by the competition. It should depend on specific market conditions as little as possible.

An excellent example of this is the market of payment cards. Challenger banks have won the hearts of customers by offering cheap multi-currency conversion. It showed consumers and businesses around the world that they don’t need to go to an exchange office or pay high fees before going abroad. But it turns out that traditional financial institutions have adapted this idea rather quickly – a multi-currency account is now a standard element of their offer. What’s more, the pandemic and resulting travel restrictions have made this USP temporarily less useful. All of these challenges required an answer by digital banks in order to maintain their market presence.

Should you work on MVP?

Is a Minimum Viable Product worth it, then? It depends on your company’s situation. Sometimes it is better to strive for perfection (especially in strongly regulated sectors such as finance or law). Most of the time though, a Minimum Viable Product is a good starting point for entirely new experiments. Especially when some stages of the product require a quicker review.

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