The Minimum Viable Product occupies a strange space within lean methodology. It's vitally important to your business, but not something you want to get stuck on forever. It's great for testing assumptions, but also great at making you look like a failure if your assumptions are wrong.
Establishing your MVP is a benchmark along the path to launch. It exists to help you lock in the core of your idea in the simplest terms possible, and to make sure that idea is something people actually want. It's not a mythical entity that we hope it to be - in fact, simply breaking down each letter in the name can help to demystify it.
So what do we mean when we talk about minimum, viable and product?
Minimum - Where Sketchy is a Good Thing
When you've struck gold with an idea, it makes perfect sense to want to keep developing the details. Creative momentum is a beautiful thing. And while having a vision for the future of your product is great, you'll never get there by sweating over every pixel at the beginning.
Because you're likely an expert in your field, you might often see a wireframe or initial sketch and decry it for being "too simple." You want to challenge yourself to not add too much complexity and uniqueness before you show it to the outside world.
If you find great challenge in building an idea out, then you'll find equal reward in scaling an idea down. Chances are, you've already overthought your product's features from the second you dreamed it up. The MVP's job is to hone in on the one small thing you can most easily test with your audience.
Challenge yourself to design the Minimum Viable Product as bare-bones as possible based off of one assumption, and make it simple enough that you can change it to accommodate a new assumption on the fly. Don't worry, you're still creative even if your first prototypes don't look it.
Viable - It's Actually Not About You
Creating your MVP is a mindset - one that forces you to surrender the idea that your product belongs to you. Whatever your idea ultimately becomes, it should turn out that way because of your audience. And most of the time, the ride that is product development will take more twists and turns than you ever expected.
We know that the vast majority of new businesses and products fail. But with more ways than ever to test ideas and more knowledge than ever about the subject of prototyping, there's no excuse for failure resulting from a lack of understanding of your target's needs. If you're not listening to your audience before, during and after the development of your MVP, then you're making the process all about you. That's a recipe for disaster.
Customer development means going beyond research you can conduct behind the comfort of your own laptop. From day one, you should be interviewing potential customers about their pain points and problems, and only inserting yourself as the solution in the form of assumption-based questions; "what about an app that does X?" "How much would you pay for a subscription that allowed you to Y?"
Product - Deliverables Come in All Shapes and Sizes
Minimum Viable Product is a bit of a misnomer. The "P" could just as easily stand for "Process." The physical piece that arrives at the end of your MVP journey may not be a product at all. It might be a wireframed landing page, or the outline of an idea sketched on a bar napkin, or it might take the form of a focus group with potential clients having a dialogue about problems and solutions. The important thing is that whatever your process is, you repeat it over and over again.
Trial and error is the only way to get to launch. The MVP can change dozens of times throughout the process - it in and of itself is not the final piece. Your "trial" becomes the question, "what's my biggest assumption?" and your "error" is found when you ask, "what's my smallest test for it?"
Creating an MVP should be an efficient process. You start with big assumptions about your audience's needs, then go to them with simple questions to test your hypotheses. Then you make another bold assumption, either about pricing model or user experience or marketing strategies, and you develop simple tests for those. In a way, each of these tests is a mini-MVP as long as it solidifies the core of your idea when put under the microscope.