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Prototype Development

The Core Principles for Creating an MVP

January 31, 2016

If you’re developing a product, you’ve probably come across the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach.

It seeks to create a product with the highest return on investment and the lowest risk. The idea was popularized in Eric Ries’ book, “The Lean Startup.”

Ries focuses on software development for startups, but many of the principles can be adapted to developing a physical product. The idea of building prototypes, testing, learning, failing fast and early, and quickly iterating the next version is really nothing new. At Design Concepts, this is a process we have done for decades when developing a tangible product. New name … not a new idea.

Who Should Use an MVP for What?

An MVP, according to Ries, is “that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”

Within the context of software development, “The Lean Startup” describes an MVP as a product that the consumer actually pays money for. Selling and shipping an actual product to a consumer validates key assumptions in a more concrete way than soliciting feedback based on a prototype. For the most part, this works for software, apps and websites where iteration is fast and there are no manufacturing costs. But can it work for a tangible consumer product? It depends on a few factors including whether:

  • Selling the product requires infrastructure and distribution channels
  • The product features cannot be independently evaluated
  • The project requires market power to implement
  • A product that is merely “viable” isn’t compelling enough to a consumer
  • Showing the concept to the public requires a patent
  • Showing the concept in a user interview requires an NDA (non-disclosure agreement)

If you answer “yes” to most of these questions, it is more likely that a full-featured product will produce more accurate feedback than an MVP.

For startups who may lack knowledge of their customers and the market, an MVP can be very useful. It can help prove the viability of a company’s business model to investors, estimate market size, define required product features and identify profitability on a per-customer basis. In addition, startups have the luxury of not needing to maintain the integrity of a brand so all the learning you get from that less-than-amazing MVP won’t bite you later when you launch the fully functional product.

The beauty of an MVP is in providing quick information in an uncertain situation.

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