Product management follows an iterative cycle. The iterative development approach allows product managers and organizations to test assumptions against user feedback and make fast product changes as new information presents itself.
What do successful products like Spotify, Uber, and Instagram have in common? Yes, you guessed it right, they all used Minimum Viable Product (MVP) design to refine and understand product-market fit. These organizations did not start by designing a new product that delivered a full value proposition. These organization understood the risks of missing the mark and failing. As an example, Google first announced Google Glass – an eyeglasses shaped head-mounted display with smartphone capabilities – to the public in 2012. The announcement began with a statement of principle: “We think technology should work for you to be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don’t.” The Google Glass failed because the creators neglected to define and validate the users and what problems it was solving for them. Instead they assumed the product would sell itself even without real solutions or value, that its hype would be enough to appeal to everyone.
So what is MVP after all? “Minimum Viable Product is a version of the product which includes only features that solve a core problem for a specific set of users, allowing organizations to release it to the market.” Eric Ries, the author of Lean Startup, defines MVP as “a version of a new product which allows the team to collect the maximum amount of validated learnings about customers with the least effort.” In simple words, MVP includes features that solve a core problem for a set of users and thrive in the market.
Recently, I finished reading the book by Dan Olson, The Lean Product Playbook, where Dan illustrates and emphasizes the concepts of using Lean development in software products. He talks about the concept of build – measure – learn – build. Where the goal of MVP is to provide immediate benefits while minimizing development cost and use user inputs/data to add value to the product.
The concept of ‘Lean’ in product management starts with forming a hypothesis about the targeted customers, understanding the underserved needs, creating a value proposition to identify that product being developed is better and different than alternatives. The concept of lean states that after you have achieved and defined market fit, move towards the solution space wherein as PM you need to start defining the feature ideas that you believe will address the needs of the customers. Categorize these features based on ROI and other value parameters that will define ultimate success.
This is where lean philosophy comes in and helps you select the top-notch features that could and should form the MVP of your product. As PM we should use the MVP to hypothesize the selected features with end-users to further refine the product needs. As Dan Olson states the pyramid of four hierarchical layers – functional, reliable, usable, and delightful – should be used to describe the product’s attributes.
How did Uber get where it is today? The very first version of Uber, UberCab, set out to connect customers with cab drivers and accept payments. Uber accurately identified a single and pervasive pain, which was hailing cabs, and as a result, the MVP was widely accepted. Uber took a basic concept, which allowed them to quickly enter the market, receive real user feedback, and grow into the massive brand that they are today. The popular cab app initially targeted a San Francisco audience, allowing mobile users to communicate with taxi drivers and pay them for their ride. It was only after collecting enough of the right user data that Uber added other features and services. Next, Uber entered the market in New York City and expanded its operations to Seattle, Boston, and other large cities. Uber slowly built new features based on validations that were made in those target markets and in 2012, uberX was born. This is when the company deviated from its MVP. As they learned more about the target market, they were able to determine what features were most valuable to their users. With Uber’s MVP, there was only one specific problem they were addressing which was getting an affordable taxi, quickly. Now, Uber offers a wide variety of features such as live tracking for drivers, fare splitting, automatic credit card payments, fare estimates, and more.
In my next blog, I will talk in detail about how to create your MVP. I will go in-depth about understanding the importance of user stories, creating templates to capture user feedback, breaking down features, and scoping with story points. Also, I will touch upon the importance of ROI indicators while finalizing the top feature for your MVP. Right now, I want to leave you with the benefits of having an MVP. Just to summarize key potential benefits include:
- Getting user feedback
- Testing business concepts
- Verifying market demand
- Developing a monetization strategy
- Testing user experience and usability
I would request the readers to leave their experiences, dos, and don’ts in the comments. My philosophy is to continuously learn and better myself. Some unique experiences and situations always help to understand other’s perspectives which can act as a key takeaway for me and implement as I continue in my journey of being a product manager.
Below are some references to better understand the concept of MVP
- The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olson
- Lean Startup by Eric Reis