MVPs are magnificently misunderstood
With the arrival of Eric Ries and his lean startup approach, more and more companies have started building Minimum Viable Products to eliminate corporate slack and introduce fast, cheap and simple processes for product innovation. In his words, "a Minimum Viable Product is the version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort."
What might be considered elementary for startups is a deliberately entrepreneurial attitude for corporates, who don't want to become the next Nokia or Kodak and fall victim to the innovator's dilemma. Both share a vested interest in quickly launching products and services to validate their ideas. This need for speed results in an abundance of "almost, but not quite" prototypes, usually referred to as MVPs.
As a result, customers are haunted by products and services that I like to call walking skeletons. They kind of work on a functional level, but fail in delivering a valuable experience to those who are supposed to use them. It's almost as if the term MVP is used as an excuse for an inferior product.
What is missing?
For far too many companies, an MVP simply means Minimal Product. What's missing is right there in the name. Viability is not something that just comes in further releases; it has to be designed for from the start. Put simply, an MVP has to actually be viable.
What does a viable product look like? Patrick Thornton mentions the very first iPhone as a prime example of a successful MVP. On the day of its release, the iPhone lacked many of the major features that we have all grown to expect. It did, however, do other things like multi-touch so amazingly well that it instantly created a following of people who loved it. If your MVP has no viability on launch day, it will be understood by the market as dead on arrival.
How can you ensure viability?
Viability is a multifaceted concept, but once you take a step back, you will see that the main driver and essential requirement for viability are creating true customer value. Create something that your customers fall in love with; make sure to create a Minimum Lovable Product®.
The 4 Pillars of the Minimum Lovable Product Mindset
The term Minimum Lovable Product was coined in an insightful blog post by Laurence McCahill, in which he offers a detailed guide on how to build MLPs. However, the MLP is more than just a methodology; it is a valuable mindset that can be used when building new products and services. I have summarized four core concepts that form the pillars of the MLP-Mindset:
Creating something that people love is hard. It could almost be described as an artisanal process, with the key difference being that you don't have a lifetime to master your craft. The only chance to achieve a certain level of enlightenment is by finding a clear focus. Craft clarity by identifying the principal pain point or gain creator. Don't try to address them all simultaneously. Use methodologies like a value proposition canvas or the kano model to structure your thinking and conduct user research to identify where you can create the highest value.
Prioritize mercilessly and know when to say no. Set a clear time box and take the advice of Jason Fried, who says: "If you can't fit everything in within the time and budget allotted, then don't expand the time and budget. instead, pull back the scope." A constrained time frame will support you and ensure the needed clarity. Find the features that differentiate your product and emphasize them even more.
Prioritize for Desirability
Great products start with solving human problems. When deciding what to build, prioritize for desirability. Of course, feasibility and viability are just as essential; however, in most processes, the user's voice is underrepresented.
The best way to understand this is to imagine an onion with many layers, with value at its core. Humans need to find a product valuable in order to develop a desire to purchase it. Without feasibility on the second layer, there is no way to deliver or transport this value. Once the inner rings are fulfilled, the underlying foundation is there to create revenue and ensure viability. While each layer is of equal importance, they are creating the onion from the inside out and build upon each other.
How to increase desirability? Lean into the experience and generate repeated interactions through a product or service that is worth using. Every interaction is an opportunity to make an impression on your user that you should not let go to waste. You might only get one try, so make it count!
Create fans, not users
All of this focus comes at a cost. You will not be able to cater to everyone from the start. However, this is a huge advantage. It's better to build something that a small number of users love, than a product that a large number of users only like.
Be ready to find a niche where people are absolutely passionate about your product. This will turn them into true fans, whose repeated interactions, in turn, will tremendously improve your iterative development process. Co-create with your users, so they develop a feeling of ownership and investment and become your most valuable ambassadors. Once you perfect it for this group, you can take it to other user groups in the next step. Most of the time, you'll be surprised how small the needed adjustments are.
Experiment and validate repeatedly
An MLP is not a product but an ongoing process. Call it working lean, agile, or failing fast, in its essence, you need to quickly learn with real users. The more engaged your fanbase, the better feedback you will receive early on. This results in a better outcome and a clearer idea of the metrics you will need to achieve in order to keep the project going.
Use an assumption map to Identify your riskiest assumptions and find ways to validate them. Whether you are in B2C or B2B, don't be afraid to actually talk to people. An open conversation on eye level with your potential customers will move the hearts of both the team and the users.
The Minimum Lovable Product as a mindset
As you can see, an MLP is so much more than just a product or service. After having applied it to countless projects, I have settled to approach it as a powerful mindset in its own right.
The MLP is a mindset that uses constraint to craft clarity, prioritizes the user experience, engages with people in an open conversation, and is inherently curious and open at heart.
Whether you apply it to a designathon, prototyping project, or full-blown venture, this mindset will be a strong guiding principle that supports you, your team, and your organization as you identify where to best invest your resources to create something that people fall in love with.