Why an MVP Needs to Be a Product and Not Just a Test

MVP needs to be a product

Language is dynamic, and terms in product management are subject to the same forces.

Meanings evolve, and this can lead to ambiguity.

The MVP or minimum viable product is one such term.

It has been popularized by Lean Startup for nearly a decade. Although Eric Ries, the founder of Lean Startup, did not invent the term MVP, I credit him for its adoption into the standard lexicon of product teams.

Interestingly, during the early days of Lean Startup, the whole premise was to put a product out in the marketplace with a limited feature set that delivered just enough value to resonate with early adopters. Thus, MVP was defined as a product.

But then in 2009, the definition shifted to in be any form of the product that allowed the team to learn the most about customers with the least amount of effort.

This slight change in the wording of the definition of the MVP by Lean Startup was meant to accommodate new styles of tests that entrepreneurs were using to determine the attractiveness of different product concepts. One method was Google AdWords’ testing of various value propositions.

The “smoke test” was another method where a website described the product concept as though it existed to see how many visitors to the site would click the “buy now” link. When the user clicked the buy link, they were typically taken to a page stating the product was not yet available and given the option to sign-up to be notified when it was released.

The “video MVP” was made famous by Dropbox that used it secure funding by showing how the product was envisioned to work.

Thus, began the confusion.

It opened the door for almost all types of market research where learning could occur (such as a wireframe, a concept document, or even a customer interview) to now be considered a form of MVP. By trying to be all things to all people, the MVP lost its meaning and usefulness.

At 280 Group, we have always considered the MVP to be a product and define it as:

The smallest product that will meet the need of a narrow user segment (i.e., early adopters in acute pain) and for which value has been exchanged.

The MVP as a minimal product is a powerful concept.

Selling an MVP and putting it into the customers’ hands is the first true test that our solution solves their problem and is worth the price paid. Everything up to the MVP release is just an educated guess (aka a hypothesis).

Thus, getting to MVP is a major milestone for the product team (and it is important that we have a term for this threshold).

The MVP moment is the first time all the hard work of the team to understand the problem and craft a solution pays off. Or we learn, despite all our research and efforts, we missed the mark and need to rethink our approach.

A lesson that is better learned sooner, rather than later. The MVP is also the point where learning accelerates because the team can get rich feedback in the solution space observing real customer usage.

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