Rethinking the Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

The MVP is dead.

The Minimum Viable Product philosophy has become corrupted. We have misunderstood its intent and diluted its core elements over the years. What we are left with is a superficial term, often thrown around in conversations around product building, with little to no understanding of the underlying principles. 

Sometimes the way to understand something is to first understand what it isn’t. An MVP is:

  1. Not an excuse to make a crappy product/ feature in name of experimentation and frugality 

  2. Not a minimum product - which isn’t a product at all 

  3. Not bereft of market context. Tesla did not start by making electric cars with wooden seats. They are competing in a market against other car manufacturers where a baseline of comfort has already been established. The “minimum” is decided by the market one operates in 

  4. The first step of the public release process. It is not the last 

  5. Supposed to be a complete solution to a problem, not a partial one (need not be a comprehensive one; more on this later) 

One of the best graphics to describe the MVP philosophy was created by Henrik Kniberg:

Each stage of the MVP process is a real marketable product. It meets a real user need (get the user from point A to B in the example above) and completes a job for the user and provides a benefit.

Maybe it is a fault with the terms “minimum” and “viable”.  Perhaps they are not intuitive enough. Let’s replace them with three words that I feel maybe more intuitive: 

  1. Beneficial

  2. Complete

  3. Delightful 

BCD - your product needs to provide a benefit to the user, should be complete in its implementation and delightful (not just functional). Let’s dig deeper: 

  1. Beneficial - each product/ feature needs to solve a real problem for the user. The benefit needs to be tangible (quantifiable) and should move a metric 

  2. Complete - the problem needs to be solved end to end. The loop has to be complete. A partial solution is not a solution. It need not be comprehensive though. A good example is Google Docs. When it began, it had only about 3% of the features of MS Word. However, these features were complete in their implementation - you could create and access your document from any browser and provide access control (read, write, comment) to other users. It wasn’t a comprehensive word processor but the things it did - it did them well

  3. Delightful - a purely functional product will not move the needle in a competitive market. User delight covers functionality, reliability, usability, and pleasurability. It is an intangible - but it influences behaviour and helps formulate opinions

…  Long live the MVP.