In this series of articles about MVP, we’re taking an in-depth look at the practical implications of the MVP methodology. In the previous post, we discussed deciding if MVP suits your project. In this post, we will take the next step and examine the different stages of a project build, specifically, what constitutes a “minimum viable” product at each stage of the process.
Every project has unknowns. These can be obstacles or opportunities, but they’re rarely apparent at the start of the process. We need to adapt to meet challenges as they emerge. As such, the “minimum” we need to achieve to move the project forward will change throughout the project.
While the exact profile of your MVP may evolve, its purpose remains to guide your product design with confidence.
Stage 1: Initial Value
Project managers refer to the first stage of a project as “conception” or “ideation.” Founders often refer to it as their “Eureka moment.” It is the initial spark of an idea.
At this project stage, we don’t know if we will proceed to build a product, let alone how we might go about it. But there are three questions we’re trying to answer at this stage:
- Is it feasible? — Ignoring considerations like budget and available expertise, the product must be theoretically possible for us to pursue it.
- Is it valuable? — The product must be worthwhile; in other words, it must offer some form of value.
- To whom is it valuable? — We must know who we’re benefitting to attract early adopters.
Value is such a critical element of the product that at this early stage, it can sometimes be worth considering MVP as “Minimum Valuable Product.”
An initial MVP is something concrete that answers those three questions. It could be as simple as a sketch on the back of a napkin or as complex as a Nobel-winning economic theory.
It’s essential that we keep this stage to a minimum. We’re not trying to sell a specific strategy to stakeholders or plan features. You don’t need to rush out and buy a domain name — as tempting as that may be! This is big-picture territory.
When President Kennedy announced that the USA would land men on the moon before the end of the 1960s, he knew that rockets existed and that winning the space race would inspire a generation of Americans. But in 1962, Kennedy’s MVP wasn’t a prototype in a NASA lab; it was the moon hanging over Washington.
Stage 2: Assessment
In traditional waterfall development, assessing a project comes after the build and, as a result, is often an afterthought. In MVP, there is little value in moving to market quickly if you don’t gather feedback, and assessment is a core part of the methodology that must be built in from the start.
To assess anything, we need a scale to measure it on. In the case of product design, we need to know the product’s Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and have a strategy to measure them.
KPIs vary from project to project. An overly-simple KPI is based on financial gain, i.e., the more money you make, the more successful you are. However, numbers in a ledger rarely tell the full story; successful organizations track multiple factors, from sustainability to Customer Experience (CX).
This is the ideal time to involve a specialist agency like ours. Not only can we help you identify KPIs, but we have years of experience designing and interpreting product tests that can monitor performance.
Unlike other stages in an MVP approach, assessment doesn’t end. Testing and validation should be built into every aspect of your product at every step.
Stage 3: Planning
Once JFK had inspired a generation of Americans, a generation of rocket scientists at NASA was tasked with working out how to actually land a man on the moon.
At this stage, the minimum product that can be considered viable is an idea that is feasible, valuable to a specific group, and assessable. It’s time to define your goals and develop a concrete plan for achieving them.
Some goals are more apparent than others — if the initial spark of the idea was to land men on the moon, then it hopefully wasn’t too long before someone added “get them back alive” to the to-do list.
There are three types of goals to consider:
- Primary Goals — The initial idea, the core value proposition of your product.
- Brand Goals — Overarching goals of your team or organization. Any product must fit within the broader mission of the parent brand.
- Project Goals — That include meeting your budget and delivering on schedule.
In our experience, MVPs at this stage usually include adopting a brand design system, identifying where the product sits within a broader business strategy, and establishing confines like budget and timescale.
Often, clients already prefer or are committed to a particular technology, which should also form part of the MVP at this stage.
Stage 4: Features & User Flows
By now, our MVP has grown from an initial idea to a strategy that encompasses project goals and broader business targets and has built-in mechanisms for measuring success.
It’s at this stage that we finalize the features to be included.
The fewer features, the better. You’re aiming for the leanest product possible. Anything that is set aside can be added in a future iteration. Remember: Done is better than perfect.
As part of this process, it’s essential that you consult a User Experience (UX) specialist who can create user flows and even build rudimentary prototypes. Doing so can reveal both essential features that have been missed and redundant features that can be put on the back burner for now.
To help you choose the features to include in your MVP, you can pose similar questions to the ones we asked about your initial idea:
- Is it feasible? — Is this feature something we can practically achieve within the confines of the existing MVP?
- Is it essential? — Is this feature something we must have, or could it be postponed until a future version?
- To whom is it essential? — Is the feature essential for early adopters?
At this point, our MVP has evolved to encompass a (hopefully) small set of features.
Stage 5: Design & Build
Our MVP is largely defined, with a set of features and user flows.
The goal now is to move to market as quickly as possible so that we can begin gathering feedback from real users.
We’ve had great success in deploying WordPress as a headless CMS, with React as a multi-state front-end. This is a powerful and relatively straightforward approach that allows us to go live in the least amount of time and get products in front of real users quickly.
Because we’ve eliminated everything but the essential features, we can focus all of our available resources on the core product and move toward launch in a relatively short space of time.
Stage 6: Rinse & Repeat
Product development doesn’t stop. Once we have 100 users, how do we reach 1,000? Once we have 1,000, how do we reach 100,000?
Certainly, some products have a short shelf-life. For instance, we’ve developed apps for events that were mothballed once the real-world event has concluded. However, even those projects with a short lifecycle can be used to inform the MVP of the organization’s future projects.
At every stage, the MVP approach allows us to ask, “Is it feasible, is it valuable, and for whom?”
MVP is a simple methodology that enables us to tackle very complex projects. The key to its success is to focus on the minimum progress required to make moving forward viable. MVP allows us to be confident in our decisions and ultimately increases our chances of building a successful product.