The idea behind Minimum Viable Product is to create a collaborative product development process with a segment of your customers. A Minimum Viable Product by definition consists of only those features that are absolutely required for the product to be usable by customers. No more, no less.
If you were building a car and were uncertain if there were a need for such an invention, what would you do? How many features are absolutely necessary for the car to still be a car? If the car can get you from A to B safely, that’s what you need to determine if there is a market for a car or not. The MP3 players, the GPS, even the paint aren’t necessary to achieve the basic purpose of a car. An MVP would not only confirm the need for a market, but could also tell you early on in the development process what features would be well received in the marketplace. This would allow you to focus your efforts on those features.
When you create an MVP, the goal is to obtain feedback from your customers as to whether the product is desirable and in what direction further development should take place.
Rather than relying on third-party research, focus groups, and other tools, MVP puts something in the hands of real customers and asks them what they think. This is extremely valuable. I can think of many times when I spent weeks or months working on “the perfect” proposal or “the perfect” business plan only to find that there was little interest in my perfect output. People wanted something else. Had I used the MVP process, I would have collaborated with my customers at an earlier stage in the process. This would have taken my work in a different direction; perhaps in one where the customer would actually buy.
When launching an MVP, it’s important to remember that not all of your customers will be receptive to it. One way to address this is to work with your best customers. If they are happy with your level of service and quality to date, they will greatly appreciate the fact that you are including them in your product development process. It will give them an opportunity to provide feedback while something is being made instead of after. This enhances the relationship with the customer.
The ability to offer this kind of feedback is far more valuable in the eyes of the customer than the cost of using a product that may not have many bells and whistles.
MVP has been championed by Eric Ries, a software developer and entrepreneur who writes at Startup Lessons Learned.