MVP — An Introduction

What it means and why we love doing it

Vojtěch Švec

8 November 2016

Over the past 12 months, Sleighdogs have built digital products using the MVP approach (Minimum Viable Product). We have currently created 8 MVPs for our clients and partners, which range from CRMs to apps, SaaS and eCommerce solutions. We have built digital products for clients of all sizes, from startups to corporates and SMEs, that work in a huge range of sectors. Some examples of their industries include energy, entertainment, food, travel and publishing. Each client gives us a very different brief and we could be invited into their project at any time. Often we enter the project when it’s a mere twinkle in their eye and help to shape it from scratch. This is where the learning, measuring and tailoring method of an MVP works really well.

On our MVP journey so far, we have learned a great deal from each experience and we put all that learning into our work. As the journey continues, we are keen to take note of and share the insights that we gain in the process. These findings will be documented in a series of posts, of which this is the first, our introduction to MVPs.

In this first post we want to explain 1. What an MVP is and 2. Why it is an awesome way to build a product.

WHAT IS AN MVP?

Minimum Viable Products are a modern and efficient method which puts products to market as early as possible. In that, MVPs help to test the assumptions for your business model, discover whether there is market for the product, and assist in the build of the product, basing each decision around user actions, feedback and testing. The maxim is “do as much as possible with as little as possible”.

The basic benefit of using an MVP is that it enables you to make educated, research-based decisions before, or alongside, the design, development, marketing and branding processes. This not only increases usability, but means that the product is built based on what the user actually wants, rather than what you think they want. In turn, this reduces costs and assures you ship something that will actually sell.

To summarise, MVPs help you discover important feedback and data that help you to learn and measure during your build. You also get to utilise that knowledge right away, which is cost and effort effective.

HOW ARE MVPS BUILT?

The minimum viable product is that version of a new product a team uses to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.

Eric Ries

The approach is inherently light on rules and open to interpretations. It is very agile in the sense of making the most basic and/or probable thing and iterating based on testing. That has implications on the way you plan, design and develop your product. The underlying thought is that you “build to measure”.

Our approach is not linear — that would mean you could anticipate everything from beginning to end. It is neither cyclical — that would mean you only progress through the steps in a given order.

An important thing to understand is that the MVP process should be, in our philosophy, neither linear nor cyclical. It should adapt alongside your journey, staying open to newly discovered interpretations.

HOW WELL DO MVPS WORK?

Measuring is the most important and useful part of the MVP process and, unlike other methods of product building, measuring is something that is done at each stage. With the MVP concept, you are never done understanding, ideating, designing, developing, and — most importantly — measuring and researching. Every piece of insight gained triggers a complete round of examination before decisions are made based on it. That way you ensure two important things:

  1. No decision is made uninformed — from any point of view.
  2. No decision made should have negative impact bigger than the positive one — or be irreversible.

A big difference to less agile approaches is that MVPs are usable from the very beginning. You don’t invest years of work into an untested set of assumptions (the waterfall model mindset) and hope it works out at the end. You identify your assumptions, boil them down to the bare minimum, build, test and iterate. The testing is constant. Each iteration is more meaningful and beneficial, and this way you will always gain more insight into why and how conversions happen. You may end up successfully selling something completely different from the original plan — the key word being “successfully”.

Instead of being simply linear, cyclical or any other regular shape, our process is open. Each step can restart or revert back to any of the previous steps. The agile approach — you don’t even need to complete all of the steps before you can start iterating.

You will find out more about the first step, challenging, in our next article (and buildingand evaluating will come after that).

CONCLUSION (TL;DR)

To summarise what we have presented so far, the MVP approach means:

  • A flexible and agile way to build products
  • Educated, fact-based decision making from early on
  • Getting the product to customers early (early adopters tend to give better feedback or even conversion)
  • “Succeed or learn” philosophy, rather than “invest and hope”
  • More bang for the same buck

In the upcoming article in the series, we will delve into the first step when starting a new project with the MVP methodology. Let’s talk about how we built RoadRush, the motorbike touring app, while exploring the first step step of our process — the challenge.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about MVPs, thoughts about our own build process, or ideas for products to test with this approach, we would love to brainstorm with you — send them over to @sleighdogs on Twitter or via email to hello@sld.gs.

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