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How To Build A Great Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?

MVP is a cheaper, quicker, and effective way to learn about customers and validate your product assumptions

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One of the popular Product management methodologies of this decade is – The Lean Startup pioneered by Eric Ries. It is indeed a compelling model and has empowered Product Managers across the world to take the right product decisions. It borrows its ideas from the eternally-famous lean manufacturing concepts pioneered by Toyota Motors. My favorite way to summarize it in two words is to Eliminate waste. Minimum viable product (MVP) is one of the fundamental concepts of this Lean methodology.

Simplistically put, MVP is a cheaper, quicker, and effective way to learn about customers and validate your product assumptions. In my experience of more than a decade in the enterprise product roles, I have seen different flavors of MVP being used, some good and some not so good. The objective of this article is to share a few best practices in building a successful MVP.

Involve the customer early on

All successful products have one thing in common – they solve real customer problems. This is possible only when you closely collaborate with a customer right from the beginning. From requirements gathering to idea validation to development, and testing. By working with a real customer on a real use case, you will gain invaluable insights into their challenges and aspirations.

Minimum product maximum impact

Focus on a narrow scope of functionalities which creates maximum value for the customer. Many product managers fail in doing this right. Either the scope is too big or too little. Collaborate with your customers, understand ‘value’ from their perspective, and define the scope. Also, be careful about how you use valuable customer time. Don’t waste it in multiple rounds of demos on small and insignificant pieces of your product. Customers are interested in how their problems are solved, not whether you are building your product and business right!

Do not over-engineer

Focus on delivering value. Do not waste your precious resources on items such as product scalability, performance, and multi-tenancy. They are obviously important but not at this stage. You should be targeting them once a product-market fit is established.

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”- Reid Hoffman, Co-founder LinkedIn

Have full-time dedicated resources

Ensure that you have a dedicated team working full-time on the MVP with no other professional distractions. Early-stage product discussions are usually cross-functional involving architects, developers, and customers. Stay away from part-time resources who can either contribute only a few hours or as their schedule permits. It kills the core essence of the Lean methodology – Agility. Ideally, the developer should be from the founding team. If you plan to hire freelancers, try to agree on a delivery-based payment model instead of per-hour payment.

Be clear about the bigger picture

You should have clarity about your product vision and be able to break it down into smaller goals, prioritize them, and pick the right candidate for MVP. If A, B, and C are the three use cases, you intend to cover in the end product of which B offers a critical and unique differentiator, start there. This will help you to test whether B is really achievable. The skillset required to build this core value should be available within the founding team. Especially if the skill is new and hard to find in the market. The big picture understanding will help you communicate the business value to the customer and earn their support.

“All the guys who can paint great big pictures can paint great small ones.”– Ernest Hemingway, American Novelist

Closely observe the usage

Often, the problem is not that the customers don’t want to share their requirements. The issue is that the customers don’t know what they want. Hence, just interviewing them is not good enough to understand their needs. Instead, give them a working MVP which they can use, and you observe their usage behavior. This study will provide you invaluable insights. These days with a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, it is easy to gain access to the usage data. Ensure that you inform the customer about it.

“We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.” - Eric Ries, Author of The Lean Startup

Don’t distinguish the product from service

Do whatever it takes to add value to the customer. If you have done your target customer profiling and segmentation correctly and picked a good MVP customer, then highly likely that other customers in the same segment will need the functionalities the MVP customer is asking for. Also, this customer can serve as a great reference when you go to mainstream customers who typically make decisions based on what their peers are doing.

Following the true essence of MVP and Lean Startup, methodology empowers you to choose what not to do. Hence, enabling you to focus your limited and precious energy on building products that can potentially change the world. 

As Eric Ries says: “As you consider building your own MVP, let this simple rule suffice: remove any feature, process, or effort that does not contribute directly to the learning you seek.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Product Management startup

Abid Ali

The author is Senior Director - Global Product Marketing and APAC Business Development at CoreStack.

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