Working Towards a Minimum Viable Product

Written by Kevin on May 17th, 2010

One of the hardest things for a company to do is work towards the first launch of a product. It is no coincidence that many products, and companies, emerge from an idea that someone just threw out there for people to use. Generally these products are far from complete and missing tons of useful features, but the basic concept provides a user the ability to do something that catches their attention.

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Some of the hottest startups today fall under this assumption. The first iteration of Twitter was built in 2 weeks inside a company known as Ideo as a side project. The first revision of Facebook was built in a month from a Harvard dorm room. Foursquare was launched as a simple iPhone application with limited functionality other than to tell your friends where you are.

So what do all these products have in common? First of all, it wasn’t features that users fell in love with – it was a simple concept that was clear and easy to use. So often product developers get sucked into the dangers of feature creep and in the end a bloated product emerges that no one has a use for. I loved the quote from the lead product developer on the iPad team when he stated that the most gratifying thing was all the features they didn’t include on it. Some would argue that the lack of Flash went a little far, but that is a whole other discussion.

So how do you approach developing a new product? I love how Andrew Chen described the commonly used terms used in his blog post titled Minimum Desirable Product.  I would simplify it even further as follows:

  1. Minimum Feasible Product (MFP) – Build the simplest form of the product, even if it has few or no user facing features, to ensure that the engineering portion is possible and will support the basic functionality of the product. On the internet, with modern MVC architectures, this would generally be the first attempt at the model & controller portion.

  2. Minimum Desirable Product (MDP) – This is where you start talking to customers. Build the simplest version of your product that enables a user to experience the value proposed. This may require the addition of a few features, but don’t think that a lack of user interest is going to be solved by adding more. If it is apparent that the product is not solving a problem a user is having nor enables the user to do something that they enjoy – kill it.

  3. Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – If you have built something that users love then it is time to build a business out of it.  If you are in a hot market where people will throw you money for building a MDP (FourSquare, Twitter, etc.) you may have some time before worrying about a MVP.  However, most products need a business model that pays the bills and hopefully the founders. If you can build the MVP and prove out a profitable business you are well on your way to entering the Transition phase of your business.

Approaching new product creation with these 3 stages in mind can bring a lot of simplification and clarity to building the right product.  And if nothing else, tell you as soon as possible that you are heading down the wrong road.
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