Once upon a time a young developer Marty spent nine months with his team building a product for IBM. Everything was going well, the product was looking stunning and the team received many praising comments on their hard work from stakeholders. However, when the team launched a product, they realized that customers weren’t rushing to use it. The reason was simple: no one actually needed this solution in the first place. Marty Cagan, now known as a guru of product management and the young developer we’re talking about, promised himself not to work ever again on products people do not need.
In his book Inspired, Cagan says the minimum viable product (or MVP) is one of the most important concepts in the product world. At the same time, he criticizes companies for dramatically misunderstanding what MVP is and spending too much time on it.
Okay, seems like there's some confusion around MVP. But for product managers working with MVP it's crucial to get it right and successully manage its development.
Eleken is a product design company focusing on SaaS. We have built several successful MVPs and worked along with talented product managers. In this article, we will talk on how you should manage your MVP and share some tips for product managers.
What is an MVP?
As you already know, MVP stands for a minimum viable product. MVP is a product with just enough functionality to satisfy early customers and provide feedback for future development.
The MVP methodology is closely tied to the Lean startup movement. The basic idea is that startups should build only what is needed to learn about their target audience and make it as quickly as possible. This helps avoid wasting extra resources while ensuring that the product meets real customer needs before further investment is made.
According to Eric Ries, the author ofThe Lean Startup book, a simple formula for an MVP is as follows:
"The minimum viable product (MVP) 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."
MVP is an approach used by startups and entrepreneurs to determine if there's a market for their idea. It's also used by large companies as a way to test out new products before committing big dollars and resources to them.
When you want to define MVP, you may also bump into MLP or MMP terms.
As a product manager, you should distinguish these terms and we will quickly explain them below.
MLP stands for minimum lovable product and MMP - minimum marketable product. Both describe an MVP that you can take to the market and win your first customers while improving and developing your product.
For simplicity many people just say MVP and we will stick to it too in this article.
MVP in product management
MVP is not new, but it has become much more popular in recent years. It's easy to see why: an MVP helps you to test assumptions about your product quickly, cheaply, and with minimal risk, while simultaneously improving quality. So, less time spent, more nerves saved, customers are happy - great, right?
MVP management is a term that describes the process of building an MVP and managing the evolution of the product after its initial release. The MVP is built based on customer feedback and data analysis, instead of intuition or assumptions, so the product manager’s role is extremely important for companies building MVPs.
As a product manager, you can use the benefits of MVP we briefly mentioned above to test the following:
- The problem you're trying to solve for customers
- The features that will solve the problem
- How customers will respond to different features
- Your boldest assumptions about your product
Of course, it’s all fantastic and stuff, but without proper MVP product management, we won’t be able to achieve anything. But don’t worry and keep reading, as we are about to talk about some tips that will definitely come in handy.
Tips for MVP product management
Here’s what you, as a product manager, should do when working on a minimum viable product:
1. Learn the market
Before you start work on MVP with your team, learn your market. Good product managers are experts in their product niche. It gives them a thorough understanding of the field they work in and enables better product decisions and results.
2. Define your target audience
The first step in creating an MVP is defining your audience. This means identifying who will be using your product and what they want from it. It also means finding out what problems users are trying to solve with products or services similar to your future solution and how many users there are.
For example, if you're thinking about building an app for fitness enthusiasts, ask yourself these questions: What do fitness enthusiasts want from this app? How do they want their data tracked? What kind of workout routine do they need? And then get in touch with your audience and ask them these questions!
3. Listen to your users
When managing a minimum viable product, it is very important to hear real users’ feedback. Find out what users want rather than playing a guessing game regarding what they might need.
Get feedback from users on a specific product feature or usage scenario (for example, what they would like to see in your new mobile app). This can help you prioritize features based on user interest and needs rather than just what you think they'll want.
You can survey your potential customers to get more information about their needs and problems. If you already have some materials, run A/B tests where you compare two variants of design or features to see what your users respond better to.
4. Start with the MVP roadmap
To reach your goal painlessly, it’s the essential to plan all the milestones. It makes your MVP management less chaotic and reduces the risk of going off the road. Create a project plan, define what you are trying to achieve with your MVP, and write it down in your product roadmap.
5. Don’t forget about the value proposition
One of the important responsibilities of product managers is value proposition. Value proposition is a statement that communicates to the customer why they have to choose your product. The value proposition is the basis of your marketing and business development strategy. You may think it’s too early to shape the value proposition in the MVP stage, but we recommend starting early.
6. Keep the main thing the main thing
Stephen Covey, the author of “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, coined the phrase “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”. This is totally applicable to MVP management, where keeping the focus is crucial.
One of the biggest mistakes in MVP management is spending too much time and resources on things that don’t matter. A lot of product managers become obsessed with making a “perfect MVP” and end up missing their goals. As we said, MVP is a set of core features, so build only what’s necessary to prove your solution’s viability - this is your “main thing”.
Remember, your goal is not to create perfection, but to collect feedback and test your assumptions. So always keep your and your team’s focus on what’s the most important and resist the temptation to add extra features or overpolish your solution at the MVP stage.
7. MVP is a ready-made product, not a sketch
Here, everything is simple: MVP is not an idea of a product that will be released in the future, it’s a fully-functioning solution that customers can try and express their opinions. That leads us to the next tip.
8. Learn from users - share with the team
For any MVP one of the main goals is always to collect feedback from the users, analyze it, make conclusions and share it with the team. So the product you build would serve users’ needs and exceed their expectations.
In that sense, a product manager of MVP is kind of like a trickster, a mythological character, who exhibits a great degree of intellect or secret knowledge and uses it to challenge conventional behavior.
Trickster is also known as a “boundary-crosser” because he is multifunctional, travels between worlds of people and gods, and passes their messages to each other.
It is of course a joke. But modern product managers who need to be extremely creative, connect users and the product team, and be able to see the big picture, could learn a lot from folklore tricksters.
9. Brainstorm and collaborate to find the best solutions
We recommend trying the Double Diamond technique like we did to build an MVP for Cylynx, a no-code visualization platform. The client’s goal was to improve the existing demo’s interface and turn it into a full-fledged MVP so that individual users and corporations could start subscribing.
Technically, this MVP project wasn’t too hard to implement. But we wanted to provide intuitive and consistent UX, as well as effectively solve user problems. Close collaboration with the Cylynx team helped our designers create this amazing minimum viable product. You can find the whole story of this MVP design in the case study
10. Be flexible
Building MVP and being stubborn is not the best combination. Learn from your mistakes instead of trying again and again. Adapt, improve your product according to market needs, and don’t be afraid to pivot. The quicker you can find out something doesn't work, the less time wasted - both for you and your users!
11. Speed is the key
The startup world is rocket fast, so there’s no time for sleep. Most successful teams launch minimum viable products in weeks. It is often the case that teams build an “advanced” MVP for ages, and in the meantime competitors deliver a similar solution faster. Product managers should realize this risk and make sure the minimum viable product is deployed as soon as it is usable and all the crucial features are in place. The further improvements your team will do in future, no need to make things harder from the very beginning.
12. Acknowledge the power of product design
MVP should be minimalistic. But it doesn’t mean it can be poorly designed in the hope you improve it someday. Such an approach only leads to UX debt or even can influence how the market will see your product.
Check out the design we made for our client Habstash, MVP of a platform that helps people navigate their savings for new homes.
We worked together with Habstash product managers and started our design process by discussing the objectives of the project, both from a user and business perspective. Habstash team shared with us their user personas and materials for prototype. Our designers conducted their own user research as well. Based on all materials, we created MVP functionality with fresh user interface and intuitive user experience for desktop and mobile screens.
With this MVP Habstash will enter the market to validate their idea and collect feedback for the next iterations. What we can say about the Habstash team that they took their MVP design very seriously and it resonated with our approach.
Collaborate with designers closely to make sure your MVP highlights the features to end-users, and also has great UI/UX design. We guarantee that well-designed products have better performance metrics and have more chances to survive on the market. Looking for an experienced product designer to build your MVP? Don’t hesitate to contact Eleken!