Learn all about the MVP concept and how product teams can use it to stay a step ahead.

A minimum viable product is a product with a very limited feature set. It technically works, but it’s more like a proof of concept than a finished product. And this prototype can answer a number of questions you may have had, like: would a customer really use a product like this? Is the concept enough to get people excited?

Certainly every product team wants to develop and launch a hit. But for every hit, there’s many, many MVPs. Some are phenomenal, some are promising, and some are just flat-out bad. And that’s okay! In fact, it’s kind of the point.

While developing products in this way doesn’t give you license to skip the research and development stage altogether, an MVP does give you a functioning prototype that you can put into real customers' hands.

What is a minimum viable product (MVP)?

The phrase "minimum viable product" was coined more than two decades ago by management consultant Frank Robinson and popularized by Eric Ries, a startup expert and creator of the Lean Startup methodology.

The process of building and releasing an MVP usually follows this timeline: the team creates a new product or feature that has just enough capabilities to allow it into customers’ hands. Then that team gathers feedback from that MVP maiden voyage. This feedback helps validate their hypotheses and can later decisions about how to tweak or overhaul (or scrap) the product.

This feedback-focused approach is core to what’s called “agile methodology,” which is one of the most popular product-management approaches out there today.

Requirements for a minimum viable product

If you want to create an MVP that offers valuable insights and a path to move forward, there are a few key components to keep in mind.

  1. Does your MVP offer sufficient initial value?

You can't just call any prototype an MVP. For an MVP to be an optimal part of your product development process, it must provide real value to your customers. In other words, does it fulfill a customer’s actual needs? Are they interested in it? Would they want to see more products like it? The MVP must solve an actual problem.  

2. Is there evidence of any future benefits?

An MVP should not feel like a final version of your product. There should be plenty of room for the product to grow and improve in certain areas once customers have had a chance to try it out and give feedback. An optimal MVP should feel like a good idea that could grow into a great one.

3. Have you established a meaningful feedback loop?

Your MVP serves as a starting point for future product iterations. What’s guiding those product changes? Your customers’ opinions. It should be clear that there is a meaningful feedback loop using your customers’ real experiences to help guide the building of the product. 

Questionnaires, user research surveys, andcustomer satisfaction forms are a few ways to gather legitimate customer feedback, which will guide your product's roadmap.

Examples of minimum viable products

Many features, and even companies, that have grown into household names started as a minimum viable product. Here are a few:

Airbnb's MVP

Everyone knows Airbnb is now a leading online marketplace for vacation rentals, but its MVP was a bed & breakfast concierge service for conference attendees

Founders Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky assumed people would be willing to pay to stay at someone's house instead of a hotel, and they were right. They took a simple MVP landing page and turned it into a massively successful marketplace by continuously tweaking their product based on user suggestions.

Amazon's MVP

Amazon is now the e-commerce company, but the first MVP was quite a bit more limited—it was a basic website that only sold books. With customer service as its north star, Amazon iterated until it found a product that kept customers coming back again and again.  

MVP is fundamental to agile product development

Including an MVP in your product development process can be a hugely beneficial step in turning a product into a long-term business. Garnering feedback from early adopters—the kinds of people who will use an early prototype—is essential. Plus, there are few smarter ways to begin putting forth new ideas, staying out of decision-making paralysis, and deciding if your hunches are even right. 

Creating an MVP is the single best way to keep your product team informed so they can make deliberate product decisions.

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