Saturday, June 16, 2012

How to design a Minimal Viable Product

While it is pretty clear that a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) enables validated learning through its adoption by early adopters, it is not clear enough what it actually is.

Even Eric Ries seems to be very vague on what actually constitues an MVP. He says that essentially a MVP is a learning tool that we can use to learn about the targeted customers needs from early adopters providing them with the minimal set of features that they accept to find in your product.

Minimum Viable Product

View more presentations from Eric Ries

But now the question is how to figure out the minimal set of features? In order words, how do I know the needs adn wants of early adopters?

This might seem an chicken-and-egg problem, but there might be a way out.

First of all, WHERE do I find early adopters. Well, of course it depends on the type of product, but high chances are that you find in place where the people talk about simiar products (e.g. discussion forums).

Second, HOW I select the features for building my MVP? Here is my 2 cents about the topic. You can follow these simple steps:

  1. It is very likely that your product is similar to existing products. If it is the case, you can select the most similar one and list all the features of this product.
  2. Once you have listed these features, select those that your product will share with it and add those features that will differentiate your product from the selected one.
  3. Now (and this is the hard part), start to remove features. Once you removed a feature, ask yourself, is the resulting product still something "acceptable"? You iterate this removal process until you reach a situation where removing any of the remained feature will make the product "unacceptable". 

One suggestion, to improve the process is the following: for each feature you want to remove, ask yourself what is the value of this feature to the user/customer and try to understand what is its contirbution to the overall perceived value. You might even rank them beforehand and start removing them from the lowest valued features up.

Notice that this is about "features" of your product and it does not tell you if you have to implement them into a real functional prototype. This process leads to the design of a product that is the "cheapest" to build because only contains the features that define the "substance" of the product.

Building it or not is another story. Namely, it fundamentally depends on what resources you have. If you can afford to build a real instance of your MVP, that's great because you can directly sell it to your early adopters. But sometimes (often?) this is not possible. In this case, you can tell your early adopters about the "design" of your MVP and ask them for feedback or, even better, to support its development. In times of economical recession, maybe this is the way to go and there are a lot of successful cases of crowdfunding out there such as KickStarter.

My personal suggestions are:

Don't be afraid to eliminate "vanity" features from your MVP as long as it represent your vision. There will be time to reintroduce them later.

Dont' be afraid to ask your early adopters to pre-order your product. Sales are the only reliable indicator that people really want what you offer to them. If your MVP requires an effort that you cannot afford, ask your potential customer to help building it. After all, this is a win-win situation because they will eventually have what they were looking for. 

Don't ask investors to help you in building your MVP. Investors are not customers and basically they are interested in their return on investment and company ownership. Always be aware that with an MVP you are running an experiment that allows you to learn what the market really wants. Inverstors are not interested in experiments that have a high chance to fail.

Make several versions of the same MVP and split test. There is a high chance that you made a mistake in selecting the relevant features.

Listen your potential customers and ask them to help you in designing the MVP: they know better than you what they want.

Vincenzo Pallotta, Strategic Adviser at LeanStart Geneva.

 

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