There are almost as many definitions of minimum viable product (MVP) as there are startups who use the methodology. But Eric Ries (of The Lean Startup fame) does an excellent job of summing up the concept and each component of its power:
“A minimum viable product is an early version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” — Eric Ries
Use the MVP Process to Get the Product Right as Quickly as Possible
Ultimately, the MVP process shortens the learning cycle to get to the right version of the product as quickly and efficiently as possible.
- Start with a simple product that solves one major problem for intended users. It’s tempting to want to solve all the problems you’ve uncovered. But for the MVP process to work, you need to pick a target group of users (market segment) and narrow your focus to one major problem you can solve effectively.
- Build an early version of the product that solves your focus problem quickly and completely. Both adjectives are important here: quickly and completely. Some companies misunderstand “minimum viable” as “bare minimum needed to ship.” But if customers hate your MVP because it’s ineffective, the process will fail you.
- Gather actual feedback from real customers. Feedback is the gold you’re digging for with your MVP. You’ll need to get out of the office, talk to customers, and learn:
- What part of your product vision initially captured your users’ attention?
- Does the new product truly solve the problem?
- What’s making your product difficult to use?
- Have users found another company that’s solving this problem in a better way?
- What related problems do customers need to solve?
- Use that feedback to iterate and solve bigger, more complex problems. Based on the input you’re getting from actual users, improve and build upon your original product design.
- Share your vision — continually. Customers should know where you eventually intend to take the product. As you’re marketing your MVP, communicate your ultimate vision. Get users excited about where you’re going, and motivate them to continue the journey with you.
How Enterprise-Level Companies Can Use MVP to Reduce Risk and Accelerate Time to Product-Market Fit
Startups face sky-high levels of uncertainty, and their MVP process has to accommodate fast rates of change. For enterprises, however, existing products are already solving some of the target users’ needs, and uncertainty isn’t as much of a factor.
The larger risk for enterprise-level companies is one we warned about while describing the second step in the MVP process: building an incomplete vs. minimum viable product.
Shipping an incomplete product is an even greater danger for enterprise companies because its users are typically established customers that the company relies on for revenue. An incomplete product will disrupt the customer’s’ business, at best, causing frustration and the temptation to switch vendors. Worse, an incomplete product could cause the customer’s operations to falter, creating lost revenue. An MVP should include the minimum that the users need to actually solve the problem and improve their business functions.
Ways Enterprises Can Use the MVP Process While Limiting Risk
Here are ways to use an MVP process while mitigating the risk that comes with shipping an incomplete product.
- Survey and interview current users to understand what essential functions and tasks they’re currently performing.
- Get input on what they’re missing with the current version of the product.
- Identify the most significant, highest-priority problem you need to solve in the new version, while maintaining the ability to perform the essential functions you identified in Step 1.
- Build the new version to function side-by-side with the old one (so that users who find that the new version interrupts their workflow can revert back until you iterate).
- Keep real users involved in the process, at every step. Their feedback will save you hours of otherwise-wasted development time.
- Continually “sell” the benefits of the improved version, to prepare users for the change and to accelerate adoption.
- Remember that it’s much better to ship an actual MVP late than to ship an incomplete product on time.
Enterprise companies have several advantages over startups that they can use in the MVP process: real-world experience with the identified target customers, a captive audience of users, and outcomes that are clearly defined. But as we’ve described, with these advantages come responsibilities that enterprise companies won’t want to ignore. The companies who successfully navigate the balance will be rewarded with customers who excitedly adopt and recommend their innovative products.
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