How to Create Your First Minimum Viable Product

How to Create Your First Minimum Viable Product

If you have a great idea brewing in your head for a new piece of software, an app or a service, one of the best ways to start developing it is with a Minimum Viable Product or MVP. Think of an MVP as an initial version of your new software that is built with only the core features you have in mind, so it can be properly tested by a small group of users.

When creating an MVP, you don’t need to come up with all the solutions in one go. Since not all start-ups (and even established businesses) have unlimited resources for every idea, an MVP allows you to focus on the most important things first. This would enable you to have a working product in the shortest amount of time.

Once your MVP is up and running, you can have a small group of users or early adopters to test it out so you can get feedback on how to improve it. In other words – an MVP allows you to learn what your audience or target market really wants. This, in turn, lets you fine-tune your final product into something that will truly add value to people’s lives.

You’ll likely go through several iterations after building out your first MVP before producing a final product that’s ready to be released to the public. You will have to be prepared to scrap features and create new solutions as you continue to test the MVP. After all, you are busy figuring out what your customers want.

However, an MVP is merely a tool and part of a process that will allow you to test what works and what doesn’t.

An MVP is not a mock-up

It’s important to remember that even though the MVP is a very early version of your product, all the features you include should be fully functional. Once you release it for testing, every button should work. Don’t include buttons that only act as a placeholder for a feature you didn’t have the time or capacity to implement. Often, there’s too much focus on the ‘minimum’ aspect of the MVP, while the fact that it has to be viable to be truly effective is easily forgotten.

First steps to building an MVP

Before you tell your team to build the next Facebook or Twitter, you’ll need to establish some ground rules and define parameters for the features that you want to include in your MVP.

  1. The first thing you want to figure out is who your target audience If you can streamline your MVP to make sure it provides value to your ideal customer, you’ll have a much better chance of success. This way, you can focus on making the experience as close to perfect as possible for that one person.
  1. Along with identifying your audience, your MVP should be designed around user stories. This means identifying what the user wants to accomplish and why. These stories allow you to define feature requirements in non-technical terms from the perspective of your customer. In turn, this gives better context to the system that you are busy creating.
  1. It’s also important to establish a budget and timeframe for your MVP. Since its goal is to determine the viability of your idea and learn from user feedback, it will be a more effective tool if you can launch it as quickly as possible. You don’t want to waste time and money developing features and functionality, only to find out that users barely touch it during the testing phase.
  1. During the development phase, you should also have a clear goal for your MVP. Is your end goal to make money from its use? Is it a demo, so you can raise additional funding? Are you trying to grow a user base? Or do you simply want to test a hypothesis?
  1. Finally, before moving forward with your MVP, you may want to consider if a Riskiest Assumption Test (RAT) would be more useful for your situation. Ever since the concept of the MVP was introduced, many people seemed to think that it was the only way to prove workable ideas. They went through the process of building and testing their MVP, only to find out that it was not the solution users were looking for.

When building an MVP, you’re usually working with untested assumptions. A RAT will let you know beforehand if that assumption is even valid. Also, if customers are interested in using your product or service, using simpler testing and research methods.

Which features should I include in my MVP?

During the design phase of an MVP, it’s important to determine a feature set, or list of features you want to include in your MVP. This is mainly to establish the scope of the project. A feature set gives you a clearer vision of what you want to accomplish with your MVP, and would be immensely helpful for your team, your developers, your investors and your target audience.

The next crucial step is prioritising the features you plan to include in your MVP. This requires a lot of thought and deliberation. It’s also a collaborative process that needs input from all interested parties, such as your development team, your stakeholders and your target audience.

Just because you have a clear vision of what your MVP should look like, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the only option to go with. You have to consider if your team can implement these features properly. Also, if you have the time and resources to make them work upon release.

To ease prioritisation, make a list of all the features you want to include. Then organise them into feature buckets.

Your feature buckets can be as simple as:

  • Must-Have Features
  • Nice-To-Have Features, and
  • Unnecessary Features

Consider categorising features based on impact and cost, or their effort vs. value ratio.

For example, a Must-Have Feature that offers a high impact on the customer experience, and is low in cost to implement, should easily get the green light.

However, a Must-Have Feature that has a high impact, but is prohibitively expensive to implement, can be dropped into the Nice-To-Have bucket.

Likewise, a low-impact and high-cost feature should definitively go into the Unnecessary Feature bucket.

What happens next?

Once you’ve agreed on your MVP’s feature set, you can proceed with the development phase and get it ready to go live as soon as possible. Many start-ups get really excited once their MVP is ready, but they don’t really know what to do with it once it’s done.

Consider the following:

  • The faster it goes live and is released to your customers, the faster you can have your assumptions validated or disproved.
  • The user feedback generated after releasing your MVP is even more valuable that the MVP itself. Take as much time and effort as you did in creating the MVP to study and analyse the user feedback. This is so you can further refine your next MVP release.
  • You will also be creating a feedback-loop of ‘build-measure-learn’ – an approach that has proven to help businesses design products that customers cannot live without.
  • Using MVPs as a learning tool lets you incorporate incremental improvements into your product, using knowledge that is validated by actual data, and not just assumptions.

Final words

It’s been proven, time and again, that an MVP is an effective tool that can turn a simple idea into something truly amazing. It is especially useful in the early stages of product development and provides you with invaluable data that you simply cannot get anywhere else.

An MVP will furthermore help your business save valuable time and resources, which can be easily wasted on a fully-fledged product that nobody wants to use.

However, when using an MVP, you should set your expectations appropriately.  Be prepared to make radical changes or completely pivot away from your original concept into an entirely new direction. This way, you will be more likely to create something of real value. Bad news and failures are part of the process, so you should be fully committed to the feedback loop. Have the flexibility to learn and grow from your misconceptions and mistakes.

Daniel Boterhoven

Developer and Founder @DenimDevAU. I create #apps for the web and mobile.

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