An MVP is a product with just enough features to gather validated learning about the product and its continued development (Thanks Wikipedia!). Depending on which methodology you subscribe to there are a variety of means of getting to an MVP. There is, however, a better way.
The traditional methodology of the product development lifecycle follows about eight steps and rarely allows movement back and forth.
1. Requirement Gathering and Scoping
5. Testing and Quality Assurance
7. Training and Sales Support
8. Maintenance and Tech Support
9. Rinse and Repeat
The steps are not the problem, it’s the order that they’re in: particularly steps 1 through 5. They don’t provide the flexibility to pivot that a product teams need – particularly those in the startup space.
With this method MVPs take a long time. First you figure out what you’re building and who it’s for (months) then based on some best guesses you code them (months), then test them (weeks), then get feedback (weeks), then recode (months again). Rinse and Repeat.
Try building it once instead.
Here’s our revised steps:
Start from a place where the team has mutual understanding of user needs and business requirements. This will probably require some user research because no matter how well you know your product, it’s not being built for you. Go out and actually talk to your users.
The insights you gather from user research may require you to pivot on your initial concept. Wouldn’t you rather pivot before you’ve spent months in development?
Prototype your MVP
With these newfound user insights, you can get started on building a prototype. In the traditional methodology a prototype might be paper wireframes or it might be a shell MVP, but either way you likely won’t be able to test it with your users. If you can it won’t be robust enough to test the actual experience.
Enter the prototype! We like to use Axure, which is a prototyping program that allows you to build out the functionality, interactivity, and interface of the product – without writing a single line of code. You can get as high fidelity as you want with it right up to the point where it looks, feels, and operates just like a finished product. The prototype can be exported as a web-file so you can open it on any device and test it with users.
Iterate like your life depends on it!
That’s where the value comes in: you can user test what looks and feels like a final product without writing any code. This dramatically shortens the product development lifecycle by months. User feedback can be incorporated quickly (in hours) and tested again, and again until the product team is satisfied with the results.
Only once you’re at a place where you’re happy with the user feedback use the prototype as a functional specifications document and get coding!
By no means is this the end! You still have steps 6 through 8 to tackle. But this process speeds up the product development lifecycle significantly while saving money.
Your MVP should be your functional prototype. Gather user feedback, validate your learning, pivot when necessary and then start development. You’ll get to market faster, it will be a less risky process, your end product will have a better market fit, and your user experience will be validated.