Why it’s the year of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Enough functionality to work and a basis for future iteration.
15 July 2019 | 74 Shares

There are technology industry trends that every vendor jumps on and everybody wants to be a part of. You may have heard of cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT)?

Then there are still-nascent technology trends that have yet to be fully proven and widely proliferated across mission-critical deployments by recognized industry customer bases. You may have heard of Blockchain, deep learning inside neural networks and the forthcoming era of quantum computing.

All of the above make for good headlines. Most of those technology zones also make good fodder for management consultants to use if they want to charge your organization for ‘strategic visionary roadmap planning’ sessions.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Then, at what is perhaps a more subtle level of development, there are the technology trends that emanate without any fanfare. This is often due in main to the way these progressions are largely in the hands of real-world practitioners. You may have heard the term Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

The term itself is generally agreed to be any product (and across today’s technology platforms, that can of course also be a service) that has been ‘pushed to production’ with just enough features to a) satisfy initial customers and b) provide enough usability and value for the development team to gain user feedback for future development.

Minimum, not minimal

At the risk of giving the management consultants another PowerPoint slide, it’s important to remember that an MVP is minimum, not minimal. An MVP is usually more than a mere prototype version of what might later be developed; it does have to have enough substance to perform for early adopters.

  

What an MVP does have to have is enough functionality to work and provide a basis for future iteration. It also needs to be created inside a feedback loop framework that will allow it to be onwardly (often perhaps continuously) developed.

The rise of MVP and Agile

Some have attributed the rise of MVP processes to the rising popularity of Agile development. Agile is spelled with a capital A in reverence to the Agile Manifesto which lays down its twelve principles. This is a developmental methodology that was initially created for software application development.

Agile promotes and welcomes changing requirements, even late in development. This is because Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage and the whole project development approach is based around shorter timescales. 

When products and services are built with an inherent appreciation and expectation for change, then it makes sense to get the MVP out and get development running in more regular cycles.

This kind of approach is essential for the web. Software application developers working on web-native and indeed cloud-native platforms (you could pick Google, you could pick Facebook and many others) will be well used to working inside Continuous Development (CD) and Continuous Integration (CI) cycles. 

Because web applications and services can be changed, updated and augmented so seamlessly (often even while users are logged in i.e it’s just a question of a click and a page refresh) the continuous approach has become part of modern web development and starting with an MVP is often the first step.

The tough part for most organizations using an MVP approach in development is knowing which features to include in the first iteration– and which to hold back on.

Who should embrace MVP?

So who should embrace MVP? Should it be smaller startups that want to test the water with new innovations? Should it be larger, already established multinationals looking to create new product and services channels? 

The answer is obviously both, but the way large and small concerns approach the challenge is often different.

Larger firms have more options to create what is known as a piecemeal MVP. This is one that has been created by using little and sometimes zero investment, often through the re-channeling of existing resources into some aspect of Research & Development (R&D). Smaller firms obviously have a harder time doing this, unless they’re literally a Silicon Valley ‘two pals in a garage-workshop’ type startup.

Deep dive MVP purists will talk about other different forms of MVP, which may include the Concierge MVP (one that has a human to demonstrate it) and perhaps even the ‘Wizard of Oz’ MVP (one that masks that fact that it is developmental and tries to convince the user that it is fully blown). 

Whichever type of MVP your firm decides to work towards developing, the important thing to realize is that this term has become part of the management-speak lexicon for the web-driven cloud-connected age.