MVPs: Minimum Viable Product Mutants

Over the course of the past few years, MVPs have begun to mutate. I’m not talking fun, turtle power mutations, I’m talking product stomping, Godzilla style mutations.  People are managing to completely skip over the “V” in MVP.  Why is this occurring?

True MVPs

MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product. The concept seems to have really taken off in the tech industry when Steve Blank and Eric Reis started talking it up.

The basis is that an MVP is a way to get the most bang for your buck when you’re marketing a new product concept. The idea is that you invest the least amount of money and effort possible to give your product idea a market test run, to see if your target audience is even remotely interested. If they aren’t interested, no harm no foul, because you made a very small investment. If they are interested, it gives you a green light to invest more time and cash to build out a more substantial version of the product.

Thankfully MVPs are not required to be partially developed versions of a product, because quite a few companies can’t afford that kind of investment.

There are tons of MVP options out there, I’m going to talk about 4 of my favorites in this article.

Types of MVPs 

The type of MVP your company should select depends on resources (staffing, time and finances), your audience, and the scope of the project.

The most common types of MPVs are:

1. Wireframes

Wireframes are a great MVP choice if you’re short on time and cash, and you’re presenting your MVP to a tech savvy, creative audience. If you’re targeting people who can really visualize the awesomeness that will come to be, wireframes are a safe bet. If you’re presenting to a group of clients who don’t fall into that category, you may want to invest in a more graphically enhanced MVP type.

2. Mockups

Mockups are a little safer if you’re working with an audience that doesn’t have much practice mentally visualizing abstract concepts. Kick out some beautifully executed mockups in a program like Sketch to get your point across. Think of them as a guide that gives a tour of what’s to come. For some stakeholders a picture is worth a thousand wireframes.

3. Rapid prototypes

There are some fantastic rapid prototyping tools out there right now. My team recently used InVision to create a killer MVP that we presented at a tech conference. The pitch went over great, and the product has moved through our internal approval processes really quickly as a result.

Sometimes people just need to see something that moves, with buttons they can push and eye catching pictures and colors to draw them in. You have to clearly explain to some audiences that they’re not seeing/working with the actual product so they don’t get overly distracted by functionality, but rapid prototypes are great for an audience that needs even more assistance in the area of visualization.

4. “Lite” Product Versions

This MVP type is where the recent mutation issues have really taken root. If you’re solidly funded and staffed, you may get approval to create a small scale, developed MVP. It’s not going to be a fully featured masterpiece, it should be more of a cleanly executed version with only a few key features integrated, that can serve as a foundation if the project gets enough market buy in to proceed. Adding some bonus mockups to tell the rest of the story rounds out this style of MVP.

A few years ago our amazing team banged out a beautifully polished mobile app “lite” MVP in a matter of weeks, and it was a fantastic success.

After we tested the market with it and realized it was going to be huge, we were able to use the “lite” app as a firm foundation and jumping off point for all of our future app enhancements that followed. We were fortunate to have the staffing and the funding available to make this a possibility.

At the end of the day, the point of an MVP is to sell a concept to the market. That being said, lets talk a bit about what an MVP is not.

What MVPs Are Not 

Some folks only focus on the “minimum” in MVP and skip right over the “viable” piece.

Due to this misrepresentation of the concept, for some people MVPs have become synonymous with sloppy, Frankenstein-esque, hideous product representations.

Releasing half baked features smashed in to a poorly constructed version of a product is not an MVP. It’s a train wreck, and it’s counter productive.

Using a poorly executed MVP to test the market will very likely mean that you’ll get negative market feedback, regardless of how awesome your concept really is.

The  whole point of an MVP is to sell the concept to the market, not to scare people away. That’s why selecting the appropriate type of MVP is so important. If you select an MPV that you can execute well, that falls within your budget & hits the sweet spot with your audience, you can get a far more accurate feel for the market landscape.

Don’t get in over your head with your MVP. If you don’t have the time or budget to create a polished, key featured, partially developed version, then kick out a polished mockup or rapid prototype instead.

When it comes to MVPs, appearances aren’t everything, but they’re pretty freaking important.

Why You Should Give MVPs A Shot 

When executed properly, MVPs are incredibly powerful. Rather than spending obscene amounts of money designing and developing a product, only to find out after release that no one wants or needs it, you can create a well executed MVP. If the MVP tanks, you’ve only invested a minimal amount of money and effort. If you get fab feedback, you have the validation you need to throw more time and money at the project.

Basically, well executed MVPs are a win-win opportunity regardless of the market results. They either save you boatloads of what could have been wasted cash, or they give you the market confidence you need to let your product soar into the next phase: full on design & development.

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4 thoughts on “MVPs: Minimum Viable Product Mutants

  1. […] MVPS: MINIMUM VIABLE PRODUCT MUTANTS […]

  2. Bill N. says:

    I’ve never thought of wireframes as an MVP option, since it is really not a product, just a concept. I’ve only heard MVP used in the concept of a product with limited functionality, fully developed, but limited. The product could be sold to the market and used by early adopters, so you can start collecting real feedback from users and the product doesn’t sit in development until everything is done, which is more of a waterfall mentality.

    • jma245 says:

      I’ve found that when teams broaden their idea of what constitutes an audience appropriate MVP, the ability to really get in and innovate really takes root. If you focus on a truly minimum “minimum viable product” the financial implications of trying new exciting things are exceptionally low, so you can test ideas that would have otherwise been business risks if you had to create a coded product with limited functionality. Switching mentalities is especially powerful on startup environments, but it benefits large corporations as well. It saves tons of cash in what could have been wasted manpower development hours otherwise. Ive never seen the concept turn waterfall, since the process I’ve experienced always included developers in the MVP creation process. (We’d design it as a group, then test it with the market, discuss findings and iterate the MVP as a team. If it tanked, no harm done because the time investment was very small compared to that of a partially developed product. Using the lighter MVP options also gave us the opportunity to portray the full feature set we envisioned to the market without having to actually create it, as opposed to presenting a partially developed version with limited features. If folks loved it, we got financial backing to proceed with the project. I definitely hear what you’re saying though, I’ve chatted with other folks in the industry with similar views. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and share your feedback, Bill!

  3. […] Header photo by Eugene Flores. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic. This post was originally published on UserExperienceRocks.com. […]

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