What is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and what is its role in UX design?

In the latest in our series of UX beginner’s guides, we’ll be explaining the concept of MVP, as well as figuring out how to define user needs before its development, getting backing for its production and busting a few myths – all with a little help from our friends.

In this article, you’ll find input from the UX community on Twitter via our weekly #UXchat on Twitter – a place where you can rub virtual shoulders with some of the most knowledgeable ‘UXperts’ on the planet, every Thursday at 4pm.

Now let’s answer some pressing questions…

What is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?

In product development, the minimum viable product (MVP) is a product with just enough features to be considered ‘working’, i.e. it achieves the purpose it was built for in the most basic way.

Building an MVP means you can test the product fairly cheaply at an early stage, helping you iron out problems and gain feedback for future iterations.

Richard Whitehead, VP (EMEA) at Workfront, recently gave a good, basic example of an MVP during Econsultancy’s Agile Adoption webinar.

It helps to think about MVP in terms of transportation. A wheel or a chassis on its own isn’t going to get you anywhere. But if you think about moving gradually up from a skateboard, to a tricycle, to a bicycle, to eventually a car – in every single iteration you can be transported somewhere. They all serve the user need. Whatever you’re doing, you need to meet the user need at every phase.

Another popular and highly successful example of an MVP is Zappos founder Nick Swinmurn’s original lean approach to his online shoe store.

Peter Kappus, the Agile PMO at Government Digital Service, explains…

Zappos started with the founder going to local shoe-stores and asking owners if he can take pictures of the shoes to put them online, and then promised to buy them from the store when people bought them from his site. It wasn’t a fancy website, it was just pictures of shoes online. It was enough to see if people were interested, and enough to prove the idea had, excuse me, legs.

It may not have been the final, fancy website, with all the logistics in place – and it may have been exhausting for Swinmurn to run – but it still worked. And that’s the key to building a useful MVP: everything has to work as it should, even if it’s in the most basic form.

However, as you’ll see from our UXchat on the subject of MVP, there are a few vagaries around the term…

The MVP before the MVP

The linked article above explains the concept of the ‘MVP before the MVP’ – The Fake Door. This is essentially a clickable button on your digital product, app or website that doesn’t actually go anywhere, but does prove the intent of users.

Buffer used something similar in its earlier iteration where it placed a ‘plans and pricing’ button on its landing page. Buffer was free, it didn’t have any plans or pricing, but seeing if people clicked on the button (which led to an explanation that the plans are not ready yet and the user can leave their email for update) meant they could measure interest.

All of this without going though the time-consuming processes of setting up multiple landing pages, developing or integrating a whole ecommerce or payment system and various other supporting communication tools.

An MVP can save you a whole bunch of time and money.

How do you define user needs for an MVP?

The first step in your journey when creating an MVP is working out who will actually use your product and figuring out what they need.

But what methods of user research do our UX community recommend? Audience insights from AdWords campaigns, data from your own site search, search terms identified by Search Console, your site’s analytics package…

What if it’s a brand new product?

Imagine if your product has never existed before. This isn’t simply putting a digital clock on an oven, or adding a camera to a phone – your product is a brand new entity. How do you find out who your potential users are?

Surely any product that is supported by stakeholders and successful in the market needs to have both user needs and business goals in mind?

Perhaps it comes down to this rather blunt fact…

Is prototyping and testing part of building an MVP?

Is there any point in prototyping before creating the actual MVP?

How do I get backing to build an MVP?

As it so often does, the question on whether to build an MVP or not comes down to the stakeholders’ decision. So how can you persuade your interested parties and backers that an MVP is a brilliant idea?

You can build an even cruder MVP, one based on feedback from expected/existing users and scale it right down the very barest, cheapest, easiest to create version…

What are the misconceptions about MVPs?

Number one, that it has something to do with being very good at basketball.

Numbers two to nine…

Thanks so much for everyone who took part in #UXchat. Please tune into Twitter every Thursday at 4pm for more insightful UX based discussion.