5 Reasons an ‘MVP’ Might be Right for Your Project Management Team
There are many strategies for innovation and design which project management teams can use today to ensure they are creating the best solutions for the needs of their clients. Human-based design, lean innovation, agile, scrum, and others, have revolutionized the design space and given project managers, software designers, and developers a multitude of options to choose from even before the challenges of the design itself begins. One such strategy is the MVP or minimum viable product.
In this article, we will lay out what an MVP (or minimum viable product) is, how it fits into the innovation and development cycle, and offer solutions and discussions to help you decide whether or not it’s the best choice for your product and your team.
What is an MVP?
Coined in 2001 by SyncDev’s Frank Robinson (SyncDev President and industry veteran with decades of experience in design and innovation), the MVP began as a trademarked term meant to guild designers to rethink the sequence of the product-to-market ecosystem.
Rather than “design-build-sell,” the MVP/minimum viable product production process encourages a development team to bring to life the smallest viable version of their product and share it with customers or product testers as early in the process as possible, in order to gather data on usability and effectiveness long before a substantial investment has been made in the way, what, or how of their product’s design.
The thinking behind the MVP is to question not whether the product is successful in its early manifestation, but how much can be learned about the product at this early stage and built into its success in later iterations of the design. Because the MVP is, by its definition, minimal, low cost, and quick to make (as small-scale as possible while still embodying the client’s needs), product designers can maximize learning from the MVP’s deployment, while minimizing financial risk.
For Robinson, if a product design team is only gaining insight on the functionality and customer response to a product beginning with the beta stage, it’s far too late to judge the effectiveness of the product and pivot — even profoundly — if need be.
In other words, before the MVP, development teams were designing with guesswork and depending on luck for product success. Now, with the MVP, they can test the water with a toe — judging the temperature, current, and appetite for a swim — all while only risking a toe’s worth of discomfort in the process.
When and Why to Use an MVP
If you or your team are considering investing in a minimal viable product for your design, consider these five points to judge whether or not the MVP is right for you.
- Have you built a prototype first?
What differentiates a prototype from an MVP is the functionality of the item. A prototype — a useful step in human-based design — often can be as simple as a sketch, an image, or a super basic model. An MVP, on the other hand, is (to paraphrase Eric Reis, author of Lean Startup): a “version of the new product that allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least amount of effort.”
Simply put: the prototype is for the design team; the MVP is for the customer.
- Is your team structured to receive feedback and pivot if needed?
The power of an MVP comes from learning, not sales, not sleekness, not any other metric of success. Therefore, if your team isn’t built to learn from the data that comes from the deployment of an MVP, then perhaps it’s not the right approach for you. However, if you are, or aspire to be, definitely consider the minimal viable product for your project team.
It may require an investment up front, but it’s bound to save you money —and perhaps a great deal of it — in the long run.
- Is your team built with agility in mind?
MVPs are not static creatures. They are a step along the way to creating an ideally responsive and effective instrument. Therefore, they work best in conjunction with agility and adaptiveness. If your team is running with agile methodology, you’re likely familiar with techniques that allow for changes based on data, and pivots based on emerging customer needs. If not, then these might seem mysterious or even frustrating to try and integrate into your process.
Our advice? For best outcomes, become firmly invested in agility and innovation before you invest in the MVP.
- Is your team open to learning through failure?
A defining characteristic of the MVP is that it can’t be everything for everybody — and it’s not meant to be the final product, as the client wants to see it brought to market. Rather, an MVP is as little as you can get away with to learn as much as you can. With this in mind, remember that much of what becomes of an MVP may feel like a failure.
Remember the only metric of success that matters with an MVP is learning. If your team culture is not prepared to celebrate learning over traditional metrics of “success,” you might want to pass on the minimal viable product approach.
- Does your team value the customer over the client?
At the end of the day, any methodology of design using an MVP to gather insight and learning is a methodology that prioritizes the customer’s needs over those of the client. It is most certainly putting the horse in front of the cart.
However, if your team isn’t set up with a sense of the user determining design needs over those impulses and desires articulated by CEOs, investors, or “the board,” then think again about inputting an MVP into your design flow.
But if you can dedicate your work to a user-centered approach and place the customers’ needs above those of the men in suits, then an MVP might be your best bet for quick, iterative learning.
In the end, a project management team must make their own decision when it comes to determining whether or not an MVP is the right move for each product, each client, each design challenge. Minimal viable products, like agile methodology, scrum, lean management, prototyping, human-based design, and more, can be just buzzwords or they can be revolutionary techniques that change every aspect of your development work.
Ultimately, an MVP is up to what you and your team make of it.
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