Creative Lead, 7+ Years of Web Design and Development Experience
February 2nd, 2016
When shaping and developing the release of your product, it's easy to become entangled in the array of features and functionality you could incorporate into it.
But the reality of the matter is you need to move fast and strategically! Building a product with all the bells and whistles ready to launch within a tight timeframe can be extremely difficult. It can also ultimately lead to issues on launch, poor ux, and disconnects on what the goal of the product really is.
Here enters the MVP, a “minimum viable product;” a way in which you design your product with the simplest usability and design so you can learn if it will perform the way you want it to or not.
With this approach, you launch with the simplest concepts implemented so you can nail down your products UX, flow, and core functionality, rather than focusing on fancy additional features from the get-go. It also lets you launch faster, with lower initial risk and lower costs.
The release of the first iteration of your product is a critical opportunity to learn what it needs to attract your ideal buyers. This is why it’s essential for your product to get to market quickly so prospective clients or customers can engage with it. With an MVP, you can gather data that will help you iterate farther down the road.
MVP’s Background and Why You Should Care
Before we look into the process of building a MVP, we need to establish that a MVP is not the bare set of features required to get your product functional. It’s also not the product itself.
In reality, it’s the smallest thing you can build that maximizes on customer value while exerting the least amount of effort.
To simplify, the term, coined by SyncDev CEO Frank Robinson (but popularized by IMVU founder Eric Ries), refers to releasing something quickly for the purpose of validating or testing your hypothesis about the product.
While your MVP (or lean prototype) could refer to your website, it could also be as small scale as a landing or site page. Whatever the expected outcome, both should be the embodiment of lean UX and best usability practices.
MPVs emphasize collaboration and product delivery while also requiring you to validate if it fits within the market.
Now that we understand the basics of a MVP, let’s dive into the process of creating one and examples that support each.
1. Find the Problem and Create a Hypothesis
To start, you need to recognize the assumptions you are making in relation your customers and the problem(s) you are solving with your product.
Once you define your assumptions, identify the ones that pose the most risk. These tend to be the ones that are required for your product to succeed. Those become your hypotheses.
They believed users didn’t have time to upload and share the files so they expanded this assumption into three main problems and did further research on via customer interviews.
While this process may seem tedious, it's a necessity in order to identify assumptions that may actually be invalid.
What if Cloudfire had decided to avoid hypothesising/research and instead, created a full-fledged product that no one wanted.
It would have ended up wasting time redeveloping unimportant areas and possibly even crashing and burning their existing product.
It’s better to discover you are making the wrong choices earlier on rather than the day before your product is supposed to launch.
This step gives you the appropriate time to pivot if your realize you are on the wrong track.
2. Determine the Smallest Possible Solution (The MVP)
After developing and researching your hypothesis, you can begin to think of the simplest design possible that will allow you to test it.
In this case, think of your products usability; what is the flow like? What are the crucial elements needed to get it off the ground? Why would your users use it?
Answering these questions will help you formulate a working model of your product -- though it may not have every amazing feature you’d like to begin with.
Once you have an idea of your working product, you can begin to work backwards and think of an even smaller way to prototype it. If lean prototyping isn’t an option, you can try to figure out a way just to get your idea out there.
For example, when Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia wanted to start a business, now Airbnb, they didn’t even have enough money to pay for their apartment.
Fortunately, there was a design conference coming to town, so they decided to create a simple website where they could list their apartment for rent cheap in hopes of attracting people who struck out at hotels.
They got three paying guests for the duration of the conference. This validated the potential market and allowed them to continue building out their product into what it is today.
3. Build and Test (Small Scale)
Now that you have the outline for your future product, you can begin to think of it on a even smaller scale, one that helps show you if users would even be interested in what you want to sell.
This could take the form of a landing page advertising the product with a signup link, or even a kickstarter campaign with a convincing video or animation.
The performance of this small-scale product will give you proof of concept before you start spending time doing anything too heavy.
If that's too much, try even prototyping stuff with:
A Powerpoint/Keynote presentation
A Word document
A blog article
A few scraps of paper
With these in hand, you can run your idea off people and gain feedback from them.
Dropbox was in a very similar situation initially, as it had no product at all when the company started. For them, creating any sort of prototype would've taken months to formulate, so developing one just wasn't a viable option.
Instead, the creators made a simple four minute animation video advertising what Dropbox would do in simple terms, no crazy jargon or tech talk. Following this video, Dropbox saw its signups increase to over 75,000, paving the way for the over 400 million they have today.
4. Iterate on the Product
Unless you are one of the lucky few whose hypothesis was correct on the first go, chances are you will need to create a new hypothesis and go through steps 1 - 3 again before you find a product that holds promise.
Your buyer persona, the product itself, or even the way you present your product may change. Either way, don’t feel as if you’ve failed if you find yourself having to change paths.
This model is meant for you to find these kinks early on and save you time and money before it's too late.
For those who have successfully figured out a direction for your product, congratulations! But now you are tasked will the goal of beginning to iterate on it so it evolves in ways that make it more profitable.
From a landing page its team launched in 2009, Spotify has continued to grow its product through bite-size projects. This lean prototyping has allowed the company to grow into the SaaS giant it is today, while ensuring long-term quality for the future.
This just goes to show you the value of developing your product using a cycle that allows you to test and tweak it, rather than acting on pure instinct with no follow up on how your iterations are performing.
Implementing These Steps During a Website Redesign
Just like product development, the creation of your website needs a strategy that align your goals and help hypothesize how to design it to facilitate the actions you want users to take.
The next time you redesign your site, keep the concepts used for MVPs in mind so you can redesign with what’s important to your results at the top of mind.
This strategy will help identify the current problems with your site, how to design for your users, and what steps need to be taken to fix and maintain both.
Using this approach ensures your website redesign strategy will have facts and data behind the decisions you make while also leaving open the opportunity to continue reiterating on what you've done for future changes.
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