The term minimum viable product (MVP) has been around for quite a while. Quora says the earliest citation is from 2001 around the time of the Agile Manifesto. But since then, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on exactly what an MVP is. Eric Ries, creator of Lean Startup methodology who is credited with popularizing the term, says, “The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”
In the context of the Lean Startup method, which involves identifying a problem, developing an MVP, and then learning from user feedback, the definition leaves a lot of room for interpretation. And for developers who follow other methodologies besides Lean, pinpointing what an MVP exactly is and what it should do is even more of a gray area.
What an MVP Isn’t
One place to start with a working MVP definition for your development business is to first take a look at what MVPs aren’t (or should not be):
- Not a final product: An MVP is a starting point. There will be more work to be done if it’s a viable application.
- Not the worst version of a product: The objective isn’t just to finish something and get it out the door. Remember, customers will use the MVP, and it will reflect on your skill.
- Not “small” or “simple”: Depending on the vision for the full app, an MVP could include a variety of features that are essential to the user story.
What an MVP Can Be
Developing an MVP can be a powerful tool that provides your business with any (or all) of these advantages:
- The framework for the first version in Agile development
- A way to test an idea with low risk
- A low-cost way to try a concept with a new market
- A method for collecting user feedback that will guide future versions
The fact that the MVP definition leaves room for interpretation isn’t necessarily a negative. You can decide how to integrate it into your software development and business strategies most effectively.
The Benefits of MVPs for Startups
A great idea alone won’t advance your business. A minimum viable product can help you turn your vision into a reality. By building an MVP, you can release your product more quickly—and possibly beat competitors to the marketplace. For startups with limited resources, you can develop an MVP at a lower cost rather than invest more money into a full-featured product.
An MVP can also result in acquiring your first customers, and—if they like the MVP—your first brand ambassadors who spread the word about your app. In addition to attracting customers, an MVP can also attract investors. Moreover, the data on the MVP’s performance and user feedback will demonstrate your app has a market much more convincingly than just a concept and market research alone.
A Proven Strategy for Established Businesses
There’s no reason that developing MVPs is a strategy exclusively for startups. Even with available resources, it’s a more logical course of action. It minimizes risk until you confirm the product is viable and worth more of an investment of time and money to develop it fully. It can also help your team identify and focus on the essential features of a new app so they can plan and work efficiently.
There are many examples of wildly successful former MVPs —including Facebook, Twitter, and Dropbox—that make developing an MVP a strategy that’s hard to dispute. MVPs work. Define how this strategy can provide the most significant benefits to your software development business.