Can MVP development be wasteful as a process? Of course! You’re probably thinking that this may happen if you spend too much time making the first version of your product way more sophisticated than needed, right? But the truth is, delaying launch is not the only mistake startups make when it comes to MVP development.
As Eric Ries notes in his famous book “The Lean Startup“:
If you’re building something that nobody wants, it doesn’t matter if you’re doing it on time and on budget.
So, focusing on fast MVP development alone does not make you Lean.
What makes you Lean instead — and what helps you increase the odds of building a successful startup — is focusing on learning; that kind of milestone. And that’s because it’s these learnings that will help you find your bearings; at least, within this context of extreme uncertainty that building up a startup is. And, building your MVP with a learning objective in mind, is the first big milestone in your journey.
In order to get there safe and sound, you need to follow the Lean startup methodology, heart and soul. And that’s what we’ll be focusing on, in this article; how you can make your MVP development as Lean as possible.
But, before we continue, allow us here to get some things straight; MVP tends to be a buzzword for startups. There’s no doubt about it. And the worst part of it is that, most of the time, it’s oversimplified; and mistakenly considered to be merely the first ‘shippable’ version of your product and nothing else. Let’s not take it as an exact literal — the same way the Lean startup method dictates — and let’s examine the reasons you need to build an MVP (the right way).
What makes MVP development that important?
MVP development is one of the first steps you take on your way to corroborate your business model. By placing a minimum, viable version of your product in front of your customers you get the chance to validate or readjust your assumptions. To elaborate, you’ll (hopefully) get valuable feedback regarding your overall concept and its usefulness. And that, seen through the eyes of the most valid observers; your potential customers. Moreover, you’ll also get the chance to evaluate any financial implications — such as your initial pricing model — and readjust them accordingly. All in all, your MVP development will provide you with valuable findings that will drive the pertinent calibrations; that’s if — and only if — you follow a methodical and learning-oriented process: The Lean startup methodology.
How MVP development triggers the Build-Measure-Learn iterations
The Build-Measure-Learn model has become a catchphrase for the Lean startup methodology. And that’s because it sums up the three basic steps you’ll be repeating from day one, to successfully build your company.
And though the first ‘tangible’ thing you’ll set to build is your MVP, this Build-Measure-Learn process actually begins from day one. The reason? Simply because, in order to get started with MVP development, you’ll need to have good enough evidence regarding the validity — or lack, thereof — of your assumptions. Notice here, that we use the word “evidence” to emphasize the fact that validation will (hopefully) come later on. That’s when you’ll finally be able to launch your MVP.
Even so, the process you’ll be following throughout the pre-MVP stage, when you’ll be making your initial research to get evidence for your assumptions throughout your MVP development, is of critical importance. Why? Simply because it will act as your team’s warmup for the iterations that will follow; at least, once your potential customers get in the game.
Now that we’ve made a few important points clear, let’s get into examining what helps make MVP development a Lean process. If nothing else, that is how you’ll actually make it more effective.
MVP development: determine the best course of action for your startup
First of all, let’s clarify; there is no fixed series of steps that will get you from product idea to MVP launch. There will be seemingly infinite steps of back-and-forth along your way. And, most of the time, you’ll need to make inventive decisions. That’s what entrepreneurship is, after all, right?
However, in this effort, you have plenty of tools, methods and tactics to use. All of them are driven by the philosophy and principles of the:
- Lean startup methodology
- Customer development process
- Agile software development
These frameworks will offer you everything you’ll need to make it work.
To help you in that direction, we’ve gathered a list of things you’ll need to keep in mind when working on your MVP development.
A provisional list of steps towards a successful MVP
Conducting an initial research
- Write down your hypotheses and conduct an initial high-level research.
- Reform your hypotheses and translate this initial evidence into your next actions.
- Prioritize your next steps and focus on additional research work (where needed) and relevant experiments to validate the riskiest parts of your Lean Canvas.
Getting feedback early on
- Set up a strategy as to how you’re going to research and find potential customers. That goes to say, people that do have the problem you’re aiming to solve. This will also help set the ground for the day you’ll launch your MVP.
- “Get out of the building”, even if that just means a skype account, to enable you to communicate with interested prospects. Make that communication as much efficient as it can be. Set up a Calendly account, for example; and devote some time talking to them.This will not be a waste of time if you have a structure of questions prepared in advance. On the contrary, it will help get valuable insights regarding their needs.
If you seem to be getting answers that don’t make sense, you’ll probably need to reform your questions. In any case, you need to get information and conclude as to what is important to them. Especially if potential customers are already using another solution that is not that satisfactory; this may be a great opportunity for you to get valuable feedback as to what you should do better or improve, later on.
Testing Customer Segments
- While you’ll learn more about your customers’ problems, you’ll gradually be ready to get into building your website, preparing and adjusting your messaging accordingly.
- Additionally, you may run surveys on groups and leverage these outputs as well. Or you may even guide these “leads” back to your website.
- Moreover, you may conduct A/B tests — also known as split testing — in case you’re not quite sure as to where to focus on; especially if you have more than one customer segment to target and all options seem to be equally valid.
- As you learn more and more about your potential customers, make sure to write down a description of each customer segment in the form of a customer profile.
Focusing on a shortlist of features
- Conducting your research based on customer profiles, you’ll be gradually ready to write down a shortlist of use case scenarios that will be translated into the functionality and features of your application. Note here that you’ll need to re-prioritize this list again and again, while learning more about your customers; and your competitors, as well. In the end, you’ll need to focus on the “must-haves” and leave the “nice-to-haves” for later.
Improving team collaboration & feedback
- All in all, throughout your MVP development process, you’ll need to make sure that your newfound knowledge informs both your customer development tasks and your product development, too.
- Last but not least, you’ll need to gradually finetune your team’s intercommunication. This will be a key point later on, when things will get much more complicated.
Once you’re nearly ready to launch, it would be wise to make a kind of “internal release”, making the most out of friends and network, testing your MVP and getting usability feedback.
In a nutshell
To make sure that your MVP development process is “Lean” enough, you need to focus on actions driven by “learning”-type objectives. This way, you’ll manage to eliminate waste; and make sure that you’re making the most out of your limited — at this stage — resources. Keep in mind that, if your priorities and your actions, accordingly, are not value-driven, you’ll only be following the Lean Startup methodology, in theory. And that is nowhere near enough. Take our word for it.