Minimum viable product (MVP) is one of the most important concepts in the process of building a software product. The concept was introduced by Frank Robinson in 2001. However, even after more than two decades since the term was introduced, and more than a decade that this concept is actively practiced in the tech world, the statistical data is still disappointing. About 90% of the startups end up with a failure.
While the term Minimum Viable Product resonates quite well intuitively with everyone, there is still a lot of confusion about what this term actually is, and even more how to apply this concept in practice.
Eric Ries, the author of the bestselling book Lean Startup, describes MVP as a version of a new product that allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.
But is MVP actually a product? This is often a debate. Some people believe that an MVP is only a prototype, it should never be a working product. For others an MVP is the minimal version of a live working product that we can sell to customers.
Before we talk about the definition, let's first understand the idea behind the MVP concept.
To build a product, we need to have users of that product. A user should have a need, or a desire, for example a problem to solve or a desire to become better in something. We build a product in order to satisfy this need of the users. A product in simple words is a vehicle that can move the users from the current state to their desired state.
But the idea we have for a product relies on a lot of hypotheses. This is why we don't build the complete product in one go. We build it in iterations, as small as possible loops, and within each iteration, we do validation with users. During this process, we validate our hypotheses, starting with the riskiest one. The goal of this approach is failing fast: If the initial idea is not valid, it's better to fail fast before making a big investment. And this is the meaning of the MVP concept - working in small iterations, and frequent validation with users.
To conduct this validation, we need something tangible, something we can show to the user and get feedback, we need an MVP.
So is the MVP a working product? Not necessarily. Depending on what we want to validate, we can use different types of MVP. A landing page is an example of a marketing MVP type, where we test the marketing message and the idea we have for a product. A wireframe or a mockup MVP can be used to test the user experience of the product. Wizard of Oz is another type of MVP, it is a working product, but where some of the basic but complex functionality is replaced by manual work in the background. So with Wizard of Oz MVP, we validate only part of the functionality of the product.
And because implementing the product is an iterative process, in practice we would typically go through multiple stages. An example scenario would be to start with a landing page MVP, then a wireframe MVP, a prototype MVP, maybe move to a Wizard of Oz MVP, and at some point during this journey, we would have the minimum viable version of a live product that we can sell to users. Having a live version of the product does not mean we stop there, instead we should iterate, improve, add more features and gradually increase the value to the users.
With every iteration during this process, the feedback we get from users allows for changing direction, correcting the course and getting closer to the product market fit.
Let's now go back to the definition of MVP. The "P" in MVP could refer to a product, but also a prototype, or concept of the product. Sometimes to avoid confusion, the MVP versions that are not working products are referred to as "MVP tests" or even "Minimum viable prototypes", while MVP is reserved for the live working sellable product.
I would not strongly advocate which terminology is best to use. Choose the one that you best feel comfortable with. But no matter what term you use, don't forget to apply frequent validation, not only after the working product is ready, but during the whole journey, starting from having the idea and onwards.
Until when do we use the term MVP for a new product, so when is it not "Minimum" anymore? I don''t think there is a clear boundary between MVP and a product. I'd say that's the moment when we feel confident about the product, when it resonates well with the market, and when we have found the product market fit.