What is MVP Design?


Minimal Viable Product

MVP is a tech industry acronym that stands for 'Minimal Viable Product'. So unfortunately, we're not talking about 'Most Valuable Player' Peyton Manning, I'll save that for another blog post. The concept of the MVP started in Silicon Valley where entrepreneurs were seeking a lean approach to starting-up a company.

The main idea is to focus on the minimum features needed for a product to live and breath on its own.

By cutting the fat of a traditional waterfall design and development approach, product teams are free to test and iterate on the viability of their idea very quickly.  Since time=money, one can instantly understand the value in this route. In essence, this is similar to throwing simplified ideas onto a wall and seeing what sticks.

Design Driven

The life of a newborn idea or product is fickle to say the least. Many factors can contribute to the success or failure of your idea such as the current market, audience, competitors, timing etc. Unfortunately some of these elements are outside of your team's control. The good news is that we can shelter our idea from these unruly forces by starting with a research driven minimal design. Ideation, analysis, usability testing, wireframing, prototyping, and HiFi Comps are the tools that help teams test if their idea can weather the storm of viability.

Ask for Directions; Early and Often

When you go on a road trip these days, it's not uncommon to use a GPS application, or map, to make sure you are on track to reach your destination. While not usually explicitly stated, the driver, navigator, and all other passengers in the car actually have a responsibility toward how and where that car will ultimately go.

Now we've all been called a back-seat driver at some point in our lives. This is often seen as a detrimental aspect for a comfortable car ride. But on product teams, we actually need the squeaky wheels to speak up, and ask the tough question:

  • Are we on the right path to our ends?
  • Is this the right solution for this version?
  • Does this get us to our temporary goal?

Think Small in the Moment

Now this takes some practice, as most of us have been trained to think about solving the big problem. Successful MVPs take a step back and focus on small steps, that grow with each iteration, and ultimately solve the big problem over time. Having patience may sound odd, since this whole process is about being lean and shipping fast, but ultimately that is the difficult thing to learn about a process that sells itself in simplicity.

As in the graphic above, we're not setting out to build a car, but rather we're building transportation.

It's easy to get caught up inside a product team with deadlines and goals, but focusing small, to get big ideas done is the best way to approach MVP Design.

The FiSi Fallacy

Here is something to be weary of. Often shouting the word MVP is mistakenly used as a crutch for winning product arguments. I've been on teams myself, where we have gotten so fixated on shipping an iteration that we say "F--- it, Ship it". This is a mistake, and a very easy one to make in fact. In some cases, it's very similar to the house is dirty, and we want to sweep the dust under the rug. Its a thin line between responsibility and risk, and each team has a different approach to this. I still think we must try to resist the impulse to use the MVP crutch as an excuse for neglecting what will be best for the product. More often than not ill prepared ideas will not end up sticking to the wall.