A few years ago I led the development of a technically complex electronic product for the gas industry. The project took two years to complete. Once we’d finished the development of our shiny, feature-rich solution we discovered that there was no market for it. The much simpler competitor product had satisfied the requirement. It was not a Minimum Viable Product! That’s when I got out of product development and started to focus on customers and marketing.

Enter MVP, stage left

The term Minimum Viable Product (MVP) hadn’t been invented back then. Today it’s part of the start-up mantra. But it always tends to confuse people. And it’s only a three-word term. Let’s dissect it…

Minimum

People misunderstand the word minimum. They confuse ‘minimum’ with ‘basic’. If I go for a Champagne picnic and there’s no Champagne, the service is below the minimum. If there are no fresh oysters, I shouldn’t be disappointed.

Minimum is in the eyes of the customer, not the designer or engineer. For example, if I develop a sophisticated web design tool that I think does a great job, but the UX makes it difficult to use, it is probably below the minimum.

Viable

According to the Cambridge dictionary: able to work as intended or able to succeed. So an aeroplane that crashes or a software product that keeps losing your data is not viable. If it’s not viable it may be a prototype or a model. It’s certainly not an MVP.

Product

It’s a product if you can sell it for money. If you have to give it away, it’s a gift. You may use a freemium tactic to grow sales, but that’s just a sales tactic. And you can only do use that tactic if you have a product (I was tempted to end that sentence with ‘stupid’ but resisted).

In addition, it must be a complete or ‘whole product’. That might include the packaging, delivery, service and all the other things the customer associates with the product being valuable. Without those, it can’t be sold or won’t be bought.

So MVP is a great concept, and very valuable for anyone developing a product. But it needs to be applied correctly. This illustration is a great summary.

Minimum Viable Product Like this.. Not like this

Author/Copyright holder: Henrik Kniberg. Copyright terms and licence: All rights reserved

If you’d like to read more, there’s a really good detailed article called Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and Design – Balancing Risk to Gain Reward which I would recommend.