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Software Development Terminology: Decoding ‘MVP’

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“MVP” or “Minimum Viable Product” is a term used frequently in the world of software development, usually with the assumption that everyone knows what it means and why it’s important. There are variations on this theme - because who doesn’t love jargon and an acronym - MMP (Minimum Marketable Product), MMR (Minimum Marketable Release), MLP (Minimum Loveable Product)...and the list goes on.

Is this just a case of buzzword bingo in an industry creating jargon to keep software development a mystery to outsiders? Absolutely not. So what is the value in these concepts, and what should you do with them when considering your own project?

The dilemma often confronted in the early stages of development is this: you want your customers to love your product, so shouldn’t you deliver the fully-formed, perfect final version in one go, thereby guaranteeing your success? 

The challenge is in the attempt to accurately define everything that your product will do, and anticipating exactly how your users will respond.

How will you know for certain, in advance, what your customers will love? Will you correctly assess what they’ll find easy to use, or what might be confusing to them? Have you identified all the problems that your application should solve for them? Are you absolutely sure you already know what the most important aspect to them is?

Spending time and resources in the right places

Spending time and resources in the right places, for both you and your users, is critical for success. That may seem like a no-brainer, but identifying key features is often more challenging than we all like to think. You’ve got your product idea because you want to fix a problem, or meet a need for a particular set of people.

You know what you are doing, but customers and product users can be tricky to predict and just when you think you’ve nailed down what’s important to them, there’ll be a curveball. Also, users’ expectations change over time -  something that was a great, shiny new feature for your product 6 months ago might become a standard requirement, or something that a competitor has introduced for their product might become an obvious must-have for yours.

You need data and real-world evidence to help you make the right decisions

You need data and real-world evidence to help you make the right decisions, identify opportunities and achieve the objectives for your product and company. To make the most of your budget and timeframes you want that data as early as possible feeding into your decisions and planning process. You can then continually check this against your product and company strategy.  

There are myriad ways to capture that real-world evidence: feedback surveys, user journey mapping, A/B testing, interviews, usage analytics to name a few.  The tools you use will depend on how and what you’re going to measure (success, budget etc.) but the important thing is to get that data!

The term MVP really applies to the initial stages of developing a new product, and is a step in the process to launching a fully-fledged great product that you can then continue to evolve and go from strength-to-strength with.

Start small

The aim of an MVP is to start with a small range of functionality so you can capture that user feedback; it’s not meant to be the fully finished article. Once you’ve gathered your real-world evidence with it, you can then revisit your product wish-list. This enables you to make better-informed decisions on priorities and scope out how your product currently fits with your ambition to meet your customers’ needs. Usually the data will prompt you to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which ideas are less important than you thought? 
  • Which ideas are now more important than you thought and need to be bumped up the priority list? 
  • What does your customer need that you hadn’t realised (but fits within the scope of your service/vision/mission)? 

Other terms like MMP (Minimum Marketable Product) might apply to other stages in a product’s journey to success. 

Each organisation/product will have a different definition for ‘minimum’ and ‘viable’, and the term ‘viable’ can be a bit nebulous when there are multiple perspectives at the table. You may want to think about alternatives such as ‘marketable’ and ‘launchable’.

Working out what these terms mean for you and how you’re going to measure success is time well spent.  Once you’ve got that it’s much easier to look at your wishlist and prioritise it. You do need to be strict; it’s always tempting to sneak in just one more thing.

So, does the terminology matter? It does help to know what the acronyms and terms mean to keep up with the conversation and the shorthand used by tech companies. Fundamentally, however, what matters most are the principles they reference.

Key takeaways

When we talk about MVPs, these are key factors to be aware of: 

  • Developing a web application or mobile app is an ongoing process and you will continue to evolve it.
  • You can’t do everything at once, and you’ll likely never have enough money, time or resources to do everything you want. You’ll always want more and you will always want it faster.
  • When we define functionality we are making assumptions about what customers/users need.. Sometimes we’re right and sometimes we’re wrong. Real-world data tests those and helps you make the impact you want.
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