Considering going digital? Start with a Minimum Viable Product!

 

MVP or Minimum Viable Product seems to be one of those buzzwords that anyone who wants to be anyone in the modern business scene has to sprinkle into their vocabulary with careless ease. But using cryptic abbreviations isn’t necessarily the equivalent of expertise - often quite the opposite. So what is an MVP and how why should you start your digital journey from there? 

The term MVP is rooted in the startup culture but has gone mainstream in the last 5 years. There are also popular business books that you can read and thank for that. Minimum viable product is a development technique for uncertain circumstances. If you don’t have enough information about the users’ wants and needs, it allows you to test fast and cheap, and if needed, also fail fast (and cheap). To test the product and market, a product is built with just enough features to satisfy early users, and to provide feedback for future product development.

At Thorgate, we like to call it even more broadly - Minimum Viable Solution. As the main goal of MVP (or MVS) is to find out what works, the solution may consist of a combination of different digital products. As you can see - both minimality and viability are still the core terms of this concept. 

Everyone should start with an MVP 

MVPs are not only for startups - it’s for anyone who wants to go digital. This includes traditional manufacturing companies (industry 4.0), banks (Python in fintech), and even public sector organisations. We must admit, for the latter, it might not be ideally suited due to bureaucratic procurement and budget rules. Still, we find that the public sector has a lot to learn and benefit from agile software development / MVP approach. 

The main reason to start with an MVP is of course money. This agile process keeps you from wasting money on pointless development and helps you learn by doing. If you’re not exactly and entirely sure what you need, start small. 

It’s also a great way to test out your development partner. Having good chemistry, collaboration and matching vision play an important role in the development project’s success. With so many IT-companies out there, if you don’t have a long term trusted partner (or if this is your first project ever), it’s better not to commit right away. 

How to do MVP right? 

MVP is the cheapest functional option that gets a solution up and running. If you’re not sure if the people would use it or how exactly would they use it, you can test a hypothesis in the cheapest way possible. 

An MVP can be just a design prototype or even as simple as a well crafted Google Sheet. We just recently did an MVP workshop for a health tech startup in Cambridge. We only did a design prototype, after which the clients understood that it probably doesn’t make sense to develop it. This saved the client hundreds of thousands of pounds. 

The key to a good MVP analysis and development is strong cooperation between actual product users and product professionals. They should both be included in the process as early on as possible. Collecting and implementing user feedback is essential to building a product that users need and use. 

Including analysts, product managers, designers and developers can save a lot of money and headache early on. The product team has probably seen many digital projects during their career and can both suggest solutions and bring out common errors in the ideas. As development is the most expensive part of building a digital product, it’s critical to run all ideas past the people who will actually build the product and can make suggestions regarding the overall architecture. 

To help you define a good MVP, ask yourself the following questions. 

  1. Who is it for? Who are your product users? Are all those users necessary in the first phase? Maybe you can leave out some parties for the first phase?
  2. What do those product users want the most? What are the 20% of the functionalities that give 80% of the results? What can you leave out? 
  3. How could you test this hypothesis the most efficient way? Could you test it on a design prototype at first? Or start with a web app instead of a mobile app? 
  4. Could you use some other tools to get the same result? Maybe you don’t have to build everything from scratch? (E.g. using a cloud-based calculation sheet instead of a custom dashboard.)

Let’s get you started 

We usually recommend our clients to spend no more than €30 000 on their first MVP. This is definitely a ballpark figure but should give you an estimate of the price range compared to full development projects. 

At Thorgate, we always build digital products in three stages:

a) product analysis (MVP scoping) 

b) design and

c) development.

We don’t write one line of code before the first two are done since our experience shows that writing code is too expensive to do it on a hunch. All our projects start with an MVP workshop that helps us determine project scope for the specific project/client. 

In summary - money spent on knowing what does or doesn’t work is not money wasted. 

If you need to discuss with someone experienced in product development, feel free to get in touch with me directly via janar@thorgate.eu. I am always happy to help!