7-Step Checklist to Build a Successful MVP
A minimum viable product (MVP) is an essential part of product development. While it’s not your end goal, the MVP is an important stepping stone to learning what you need to know to develop a product that will perform well in the marketplace. The goal is to provide immediate value to your users while minimizing risk and development costs — then to leverage customer feedback to continuously improve.
What is an MVP?
An MVP includes only the “must have” features that meet your customers’ most pressing business needs. Eric Ries of The Lean Startup says it well: “Remove any feature, process, or effort that does not contribute directly to the learning you seek.”
In other words, it’s developing a product that meets the minimum requirements for an audience. In the tech world, this means establishing the baseline set of features for software, website, or app development and rolling that out. It’s often referred to as “Version 1,” with the understanding that more features will be added later.
Why Build an MVP?
The purpose of developing a minimal viable product in software and app development is it saves time and money in the long run. As an MVP doesn’t come with all the bells, whistles, and “nice to have” features, it requires less time to develop it. This means the minimal viable product can reach beta testing or a market rollout sooner. This allows the actual user base to test the product and provide feedback.
Early feedback can determine the future of what features need to be added in and allows developers to be sure that what is being built is wanted. Instead of having spent hours developing features that no one actually wanted, just to strip all that out, and then add in the features that the users do want, the MVP model allows a business to be exact in where they spend time and money.
During this same feedback gathering stage, an MVP is also delivering evidence of market validation. Seeing the reaction of real users will provide insight as to how the full product will do in the market, but with the cheaper investment of just a minimum viable product.
What You Need to Build a Successful MVP
The checklist of what is required for a successful MVP can be distilled into three categories:
- The goal, defined as the one major problem you wish to solve for your intended customers
- A user flow process that shows the process and steps your customer will take while using your product
- A prioritized feature list that represents the minimal functionality required to solve your customer’s problem
Let’s look at what’s involved in each of these categories — the action items for building an MVP that succeeds in the marketplace.
The first step is to clearly outline the problem you’re going to solve and who you’ll solve it for.
1. Identify Your Target Market
First, decide who you’ll target and dig into understanding their needs and challenges. This can be done through interviews and market research. Additionally, investigate competitor companies and products to get a thorough understanding of what’s currently available in the market and how customers are responding.
Determining who your target user base is will establish a guiding light and keep conversations on track later in development.
Some questions to ask:
- Are there opportunities for products or features not currently being met?
- Is there a benefit to improving upon what is currently available?
- What value will this product offer my customers, and what problem does it solve?
2. Decide What Problem You’ll Solve
After you understand the needs and challenges of your target market, select one major problem you wish to solve with the MVP. You want to be sure there’s a business opportunity and a solid value to your target audience of intended customers.
This can be considered the “value-add” stage. Why would someone want to use this product? There could be a lot of problems an audience segment has but establishing the main one as a goal helps prevent bloat in building the MVP. Clearly identifying the benefit to users defines why something has value to potential customers. This statement will come in handy later in pitches for fundraising.
3. Create a List of Long-Term Goals for Future Versions
As you do your research, you’ll find other problems that need to be solved and uncover other features that would benefit your users. While you can’t focus on them now, keep a list of these items. Additionally, you’ll want to establish your long-term goals for the MVP. What’s your success criteria for the product? Having a strategy, even though it will flex and change as you gain customer feedback, will help ensure value to your company as well as to your customers.
A User Flow Process
The next stage is to map all of the steps each user type will take while using your product.
4. See from the User’s Perspective
Consider how each user type will interact with your product. What tasks do they need to accomplish? What environment will they be using the product in? Look with fresh eyes from the perspective of each user type.
Think about the goals a user would have – do they want to buy something? Search for something? Order something? What are they feeling during these stages? This section isn’t about features, but about the needs of the user. Having it laid out will help define the initial features for each goal that should go into the MVP.
5. Keep the Experience Simple
Focus on keeping each task as simple to accomplish as possible. The fewer clicks required to complete an action, the better. If the product isn’t convenient to use, people won’t use it. Remember, more processes and features can always be added into a version 2, after the MVP is released. To start though, users will have no idea what your app, software, or product is even about, so it’s key to keep it streamlined in order to give your audience focus and clarity around your product.
6. Define Your User Flows
Define the user flow for each task that each user type will be completing. To do this, outline the stages of each process and then define the steps needed to reach the main objective for each process.
To conceptualize, think of simple tasks like finding a product or booking a service on an app. Imagine where the user would start, how the user might filter results, what happens next, etc. Once you know that you want a user to start at point A and end at point B, you can describe that process and know the simplest, cheapest way to make it happen.
A Prioritized Feature List
In order to build the simplest functioning version of a product effectively, identify the core functionality that the product cannot do without.
7. Identify the Core Features
There are many frameworks for determining which features should go into V1 and which should be saved for later versions. Some of the more popular include:
- Prioritization matrix, with axes that include items like urgency and impact, risk and value, or effort and impact
- The MoSCoW method, splitting features into must have, should have, could have, and won’t have
- Story mapping, where you have a series of categories that represent each stage of the user’s journey on a horizontal axis, and vertically under each of these, place the features in order of priority
Regardless of the method, the goal is to decide on a prioritized list of features required to release the product. Anything not determined to be a priority from the user’s perspective can be reserved for future releases.
Examples of an MVP
It’s been a long time since Instagram’s fledgling years, so it might be hard to remember that it started out as a very simple photo sharing app. The founders built an app that let you post a photo and choose between a couple of filters. It grew to a user base of millions of people without even having a monetization strategy. Once the photo sharing caught on, we see how the company scaled to include more features, such as video, guides, and shopping.
Today it’s a robust business that provides information on hiking trails ranging from offline map downloads, trail elevation maps, and even safety and navigation tools. When it started though, it was a simple app for hikers to rate local trails. As AllTrails gathered feedback from users, they strategically developed those features, growing them into the million dollar company they are now.
When LinkedIn launched in 2003, it was a social media networking site geared towards business professionals. As it grew though, it added in different features to appeal to small business owners, like address book uploads and groups. With time, it expanded into the behemoth we know it as today, offering job searches, interest groups, and even skills training.
Build, Measure, and Learn
After building and launching your MVP, it’s important to connect with your users for feedback and market validation. Since you built the MVP with just enough features to satisfy early customers, this feedback is essential to successful future product development. Customer feedback can be provided directly, through interviews and surveys, or indirectly, through analyzing traffic, sign-ups, and engagement.
The power of the MVP is that it shortens the learning cycle to create the best version of the product as quickly as possible. It will also help strengthen your connection with your customers by involving them in the process, soliciting feedback. And it will help prevent wasting resources by developing features you later realize aren’t important to your customers, or failing to include those that are essential to them.
You might also like: