Unlock the power of minimalism: the MVP approach in product development

    By Alice Kavanagh, Lean Product Lead at SPARCK

    Alice Kavanagh

    In technology and product innovation, where the only constant is change, one concept has stood the test of time: the minimum viable product (MVP).

    Originating from the lean start-up methodology, the MVP is the most basic version of a product that only includes the essential features necessary to provide value to both business and customers.

    The initial version is released first to:

    • Test ideas.
    • Validate assumptions and hypotheses.
    • Collect feedback from the early adopters or first users.

    Even though the MVP is meant to be simple, however, many teams misunderstand the core concept.

    Instead of focusing on simplicity, they often create initial product versions that are overloaded with features.

    As a result, the development process takes a lot of time and resources, undermining the efficiency and effectiveness the very idea of the MVP is intended to achieve.

    Understanding the MVP: A Foundation for Innovation

    At its core, the MVP represents the idea of keeping things simple when developing a product.

    It serves as the first iteration of a product that only includes the absolutely necessary features needed to test assumptions, gather feedback, and confirm hypotheses.

    The origins of the MVP can be traced back to the lean startup methodology pioneered by Eric Ries. In his formative work The Lean Startup Ries advocates for a systematic approach to building and launching products in the face of uncertainty.

    Central to this approach is validated learning, where teams quickly go through a feedback loop to validate or invalidate their main business hypotheses. The steps in that loop are:

    1. Build.
    2. Measure.
    3. Learn.

    The MVP is the ideal tool for this process, allowing teams to cycle through the feedback loop with minimal resources, in the most efficient way possible.

    When you launch a product, there is always a risk that you might not find the right fit with your target market in the way you’re hoping to.

    By embracing the simple MVP approach, teams can quickly get the core of their product to users at a relatively low cost.

    As they learn more about product-market fit, they have the opportunity to iterate, pivot, or keep going based on real-world feedback.

    This fast, low-risk process ultimately guides your product towards success.

    Challenges with MVP today

    Even though MVPs have been shown to work well, the meaning of MVP has changed in recent years.

    Many teams now view the MVP as a full first release rather than a quick first version meant for testing. This shift has led to the development of extensive MVPs that take two years to make and look more like fully-fledged products.

    This has led to the emergence of alternative terms and concepts like MLP (minimum lovable product) and MMP (minimum marketable product).

    This increase in variations on the term MVP perhaps stems from a misunderstanding of what an MVP actually means, and from people wanting to expand the thinking in this space.

    There are two issues with over-developed MVPs.

    First, it goes against the fundamental principle of minimalism, as these bloated MVPs are far from being small in scope or functionality, and end up costing a lot.

    Secondly, it takes longer to get the product to market, which delays crucial feedback and makes it harder for the teams to pivot or make improvements effectively.

    To fight this trend, we need to reframe our understanding of the MVP and remember that it’s meant to be a tool for quick testing and learning as much as possible.

    Rather than viewing the MVP as the finished product, teams should treat it as a step towards product-market fit.

    Each version of the MVP should inform the next one, creating a process of continuous improvement.

    Embracing the MVP: The core principles of minimal development

    At SPARCK and BJSS we advocate for a return to the core principles of MVP development, with a focus on minimalism, agility, and experimentation. The key is adopting a lean mindset, with a relentless focus on delivering value to the customer while also eliminating waste and maximising efficiency.

    When we deliver MVPs, we follow a few key principles:

    1. Lean approach

    We focus on speed and agility, trying to deliver the smallest increment of value to the customer in the shortest amount of time. Using small, fully empowered teams and this iterative approach allows us to test our assumptions quickly and adjust course as needed.

    2. Mechanism to test

    We are not our customers. It is so important to continue to gather feedback and perspectives of the actual people who will use your product day in day out. We use various methods to test our MVPs, including user feedback, A/B testing, and data analytics. By gathering real-world insights, we can prove our hypotheses and make better-informed decisions about where to take the product.

    3. Eliminate waste

    We try to get rid of waste at every stage of the development process – whether it’s unnecessary features, inefficient processes, or redundant work. By making the most of our resources and streamlining our workflows, we can give our customers the most value possible.

    4. Focus on core features

    There must be a clear understanding of what minimum means in the context of the product being developed for its users. Once this is agreed and understood, we prioritise developing the core features that are needed to achieve the product vision. By focusing on what matters most to the customer, we can deliver a lean, streamlined MVP that effectively meets their needs.

    The benefits of the MVP

    Embracing the true essence of MVP development brings many benefits. By focusing on delivering value quickly and efficiently, teams can:

    1. Reduce risk – by testing assumptions early and often, teams can mitigate the risks that come with product development and avoid costly mistakes later on.
    2. Refine the business model – MVPs are a valuable tool for refining understanding your customers and planning the product roadmap. By gathering feedback from real users, teams can validate their assumptions and make data-driven decisions about the direction of the product.
    3. Use resources efficiently – when teams focus on delivering the minimum viable product, they can make the most of their resources, time, and effort.
    4. Increase confidence and buy-in early – MVPs are a great way to demonstrate tangible progress and get stakeholders excited about your product from the start, and win buy-in.

    Tips for mastering the MVP approach

    Focus on vision: Make sure your MVPs match the overall product strategy and vision to avoid scope creep and stay focused on delivering value to the customer.

    Keep it minimal: Aim for simplicity in your features, design, and technology stack. Focus on delivering the smallest increment of value to the customer in the shortest amount of time.

    Embrace ‘just enough’: Don’t over-engineer or over-design. Focus on delivering just enough functionality to address the main problem or need.

    Prioritise pace over perfection. Aim for rapid iteration and continuous improvement. Don't let perfection be the enemy of progress.

    Adopt hypothesis-driven delivery: Create evidence-based hypotheses that allow you to set measurable criteria for success. Define exactly what you want to test with each version of the MVP.

    Let data and feedback guide your choices: Use metrics and analytics to measure how well your MVPs are doing and iterate accordingly.

    Get help with your MVP mindset

    It doesn’t matter if you're a startup trying to disrupt the market or an established company looking to stay ahead of the game – remember that less is often more when it comes to product development.

    The key to success is embracing the power of minimalism and mastering the MVP approach in product development.

    If your organisation is struggling with that, or you don’t know where to start, get in touch through our contact form or by connecting with me on LinkedIn.