How to define a minimum viable product

A minimum viable product relates to the Lean Startup methodology which provides a scientific approach to creating and managing start-up businesses and getting products that customers desire into their hands quicker and more efficiently than ever before.

Eric Ries, pioneer of the Lean Startup movement, describes a minimum viable product as: “[the] version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort”.

By exposing the earliest form of a product idea to consumers you can maximise your learnings of the product and its potential without investing your maximum time and effort. As a result, minimum viable products are considered a risk reduction tool, that exist to help start-ups test the water without producing something that’s not economically viable.

While a minimum viable product is designed to take little time and effort to create it, it does not necessarily need to be something that’s rough around the edges. Ultimately its features should reflect the demands of the product and market. Think of it as a prototype – keep the feature set as simple as possible to test the water and collect the maximum amount of validated learning from consumers with the least effort and cost.

In fact, a minimum viable product is probably not best suited to those looking to produce something quickly and sell on for a profit. A minimum viable product works better for entrepreneurs thinking long term - happy to create a first iteration of a product in order to develop a better version further down the line - capable of competing with products built by companies better financed and already established within the marketplace.

Thinking back to the Lean Startup methodology, a minimum viable product is a key component of this model, encouraging entrepreneurs to build, measure and learn, working smarter not necessarily harder.

Minimum viable product examples

You’ve decided you’d like to design the most stylish and comfortable pair of sports trainers for the mass market:

As a product team, it’s very difficult to immediately design a pair of trainers that will fly off the shelves and offer something different to the rest in the store. Therefore, you’ll design a minimum viable product version; designed to work, but won’t necessarily have the features of a market leading trainer.

The theory behind this is that you can ask your customers about what they liked most about the minimum viable product, what they didn’t like and what they would like to see added to make it better. Responses may even vary depending on location, resulting in you designing a range of trainers suitable for different territories.

An interesting real-life example of a minimum viable product is the way Dropbox tested the viability of its file sharing and synchronising concept in its infancy. Before investing millions in cloud-based, low-latency servers, the Dropbox team opted to create a simple three-minute video landing page, designed to explain the service’s functionality and features.

Just 24 hours after the video’s release, sign-ups to the Dropbox service soared from 5,000 to 75,000 people; all this without physically developing a product. The video served as justification enough that the concept had the potential to reach a functional level in the real world – a fantastic example of validated learning.

What’s the difference between a minimum viable product and a minimal marketable product?

So you’ve established what makes a minimum viable product that facilitates validated learning, but what happens next? You then need to define the minimal marketable product.

The minimal marketable product is one that addresses all of the consumer needs – as identified from the validated learning of the minimum viable product – and can be marketed and sold successfully. It includes the optimal amount of features that solve consumer problems that other products currently available on the market don’t do.

Unlike a minimum viable product, a minimal marketable product requires launch preparation, from advertising campaigns to certification.

The Lean Startup methodology suggests that the two concepts of minimum viable product and minimal marketable product can work in tandem to develop a cost-effective product with just the right amount of features and a compelling user experience that offers something different to the competition.

If you’re at the early stages of developing a new product or service, it might be time to consider applying the principles of Lean Startup. Sign up to our ‘Lean Startup’ webinar for the ideal introduction to the Lean Startup philosophy and practices to ensure that you do not waste time and money designing features that customers do not need. Visit our events page to view our upcoming events.

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