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How building an MVP is just like your 9th grade science experiment

Posted by Janna Bastow
September 24, 2014

What is an MVP?

A term popularized by startup writer Eric Ries, a minimum viable product (MVP) is “a development technique in which a new product or website is developed with sufficient features to satisfy early adopters. The final, complete set of features is only designed and developed after considering feedback from the product’s initial user” – according to techopedia.

At the heart of it, the MVP philosophy about doing the least amount of work you can in order to learn the most of something.

When you release a new product, there are a whole lot of potential risks. What if people don’t see the value of your product? What if they just don’t love it? What if it’s not scalable? And what if it’s not financially viable? Or what if it’s not sufficiently differentiated from your competition? Or your market isn’t as big as you thought? Developing a minimal viable product is about reducing that risk so that you can maximize your success. When you push out an MVP as soon as is reasonable, you reduce your overheads, get faster feedback and all the while you’re able to measure your progress.

So how do you do it? How do you know when you’ve reached your MVP, when to stop building, and when to just get your product out there?

Taking a development term like this perhaps makes it seem more complicated a concept than it really is. Instead, you can probably take a look back to your grade 9 approach to science. In this introduction to the scientific method, all you were asked to do was to define a simple hypothesis and test it.

And much like your 9th grade science experiment, when developing your MVP this can be broken down into a few simple steps:

  • Declare your assumptions or business risks
  • Organize them into a testable hypothesis
  • Answer the question: what’s the smallest thing I can do or make to test this hypothesis
  • Do it! (it’s your MVP)

The last thing to figure out is what to do with the data that comes back from your 9th grade experiment. This is where the MVP philosophy is also about being bold. If your results show you that your hypothesis carries too much risk, you either change direction, or completely pivot, and try again.

A great example of this is Groupon. Before becoming the business we all know today, the Groupon team had created a social media platform focused on bringing people together around a cause, called The Point. When members showed a tendency to focus on saving money, The Point’s founders tested a simple MVP to test the hypothesis that group buying offered a better product/market fit. This took the form of a wordpress blog with PDF coupons. The success of this experiment is well-documented history of one of the fastest growing companies of all time.

Building an MVP isn’t about knocking out something quick and dirty or cutting corners. It’s not about deciding part way through development that you’ve about had enough and you want to give it a shot in the market. It’s about getting down to the very basics of the scientific method, and finding something to test.  The MVP approach to building products is much more than a specific method of development. It’s a mode of business that believes it pays off to invest in learning.

So if you have to, dig out those old excercise books and get back to the basics of experimentation, and you’ll be surprised by what your science teacher really taught you.

If you’d like to find out more on best practice processes, read our 7 pillars of product management

And if you’d like to discover how ProdPad can help you with awesome product management, sign up for a free trial here

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