Wednesday, November 08, 2023

What’s the «Minimum» in MVP (Minumun Viable Product) anyways?

“There can only be one!” (Or not?)

At least one of my friends gets “all highlander” on people who try to talk about having defined the MVPs (plural) for the product strategy and makes a very strong point of the fact that there can only be one (predefined) minimum viable product.

But is that really true? Or is it prudent to say “we’ve defined a couple of MVPs?” Does it make sense to talk about the amount of users who actively “use our MVP?” Or is an MVP a thing that does not really provide any user functionality?

Well – as I like to point out: Context is King. Always. And we have to accept reality as it is. In that vain, I think we have to recognize that people are using all the notions above.

From what I’ve learned over the last couple of years, at least two fundamentally different ideas behind the term MVP are widely spread and of course we also have to take semantic diffusion into account.

The MVP in the world of Lean Startup (2008)

Some green liquid in a scientific jar – Free Image on pexels

With Eric Ries seminal work on The Lean Startup and the adoption of the whole lean startup approach, the term MVP gained real popularity.

Steve Blank, “An MVP is not a Cheaper Product, It’s about Smart Learning” “MVP is whatever you could build to learn the most at a certain time” in this interview at Startup Istanbul

According to Alex Osterwalder’s ideas for example, an MVP is “A model of a value proposition designed specifically to validate or invalidate one or more hypotheses” – at least in the context of value proposition design so I would argue, that there is some merit to this position.

The MVP in the world of product development (2001)

An old time cash register  – Photo by Ramiro Mendes on Unsplash

Way before Lean Startup, in 2001, Frank Robinson published a definition of the term MVP that is much closer to the concept I have most often heard associated with the term by people who have not been exposed to the ideas of Eric Ries :

The smallest product that will actually be sellable.

The problem with this outlook is of course, that the risk-issues Steve Blank and Eric Ries point out in their work are not at all addressed by this approach.

For those interested: the original wording from Robinson was > “ The MVP is the right-sized product for your company and your customer. It is big enough to cause adoption, satisfaction, and sales, but not so big as to be bloated and risky. Technically, it is the product with maximum ROI divided by risk. The MVP is determined by revenue-weighting major features across your most relevant customers, not aggregating all requests for all features from all customers.

For a more in-depth discussion of the topic I recommend reading through product board’s article about MVP and through the product schools’s comparision between MVP and prototype

Given this point of view, I’m inclined to argue that there is value in this position as well.

Other terms that might help

In the 2004 book software by numbers Jane Clelans-Huag and Mark Denne introduced the term minimum marketable feature (MMF) that nicely describes what is often meant when people talk about MVPs:

A chunk of functionality that can be sold together and makes sense for a potential customer to buy (Paraphrased by me)

till next time
  Michael Mahlberg

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