April 11, 2016 // By Russ Miller
Over the last several years we talk less and less about building mobile proofs of concept (POCs) and more about producing “minimum viable product” (MVP). And the two terms are not the same in that a POC is generally intended to address key risks—often technical—or to socialize a product concept internally. While MVPs can do these things too, the big difference is that an MVP version is released to the market as working software.
However, some product owners have heartburn about the MVP concept. The idea of releasing what they see as a half-baked effort is believed to be a significant market and brand perception risk.
In addition to assuaging risk-related concerns, defining MVP can be like the proverbial twelve blind men and the elephant—each stakeholder sees the product and its success from their own perspective. Is it minimum testable, minimum usable, or even minimum “lovable” product? Or should you wait to release an “exceptional viable product” that is impressive but doesn’t have everything included? Isn’t MVP just for start-ups?
What is an MVP-caliber product release? To give context to the answer, consider the standard MVP definition for all products (software or not):
The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.
Generally, an MVP release has the four key characteristics:
- Sharply pruned, minimum feature set for a new product that is required to test foundational product hypotheses—what we believe to be true about “early adopter” or target users’ needs and desires, likely behavior, and what is valuable. What’s “minimally viable” is a subjective call and can be quite difficult to agree upon (see also my post on Capturing the Mobile Moment, a quick guide to targeting the right mobile features).
- Intended and designed to test, measure and learn how to shape the next product release.
- Minimizes risk by conserving effort, time and financial investments.
- Is released to the market and/or end users.
For mobile applications there are a several additional considerations that will impact your definition of MVP:
- Target Device and OS Much effort, time, and money can be saved by targeting a narrow range of devices and operating system versions.
- Connectivity Will your application work only when connected or must it also work offline? Adding offline capabilities will probably add complexity, especially if there is any data synchronization required.
- Integration Getting to mobile readiness of corporate data is often the longest duration task for mobile products. Data that’s readily available will probably influence the MVP feature set.
- Deployment It’s no secret that getting your application through app store approval is easier for Android apps—typically a couple days—than for iOS apps (maybe two weeks), which are also subject to a much higher level of design review.
- Management If you’re deploying an enterprise or B2B mobile app you may be required to secure, deploy, and manage the app through an MDM product.
- Analytics Capturing basic user event data and app performance data is a must-have to support the test/measure/learn approach that makes an MVP effective (see also my post on Developing a Mobile Analytics Strategy)
- Privacy, Security, Compliance Inadvertently exposing customer or company data can be a disaster—don’t skip this vital step! If you are collecting regulated customer data, make sure it is properly safeguarded.
Where MVP Fits in the Product Lifecycle
As we decide if MVP is right for your mobile initiative it’s important to briefly establish an MVP release’s place in the product development cycle.
Think of MVP as your product’s introduction to the market or end users. It’s the first of many releases, each of which builds value based on lessons from prior releases. Mobile apps in particular require many releases due to not only user feedback but technology changes, market changes, competitors, privacy or security concerns, and much more.
Have you ever looked at leading mobile apps’ release histories in the app stores? They typically update several times a month for years. MVP was a one-time event that introduced the product—and only the tip of the iceberg for the product roadmap.
Is MVP Right for Your Mobile Initiative?
Now that we have established what MVP is, identified special considerations for mobile apps, and properly placed it in the product lifecycle, is it right for your mobile initiative? There are several factors that will indicate if an MVP-based approach to your mobile initiative will be effective and appropriate:
- Is this a new product? If the answer is yes, then an MVP is absolutely on target. In short, it is the best way to minimize risk, conserve budget, and then apply time/money saved to lessons learned. If your mobile initiative is not a new product but only an incremental release or minor update of an existing mobile product then an MVP may be unnecessary.
- Is mobile a new platform for an existing product? If you are migrating an existing product from, say, the web to mobile you need to take an MVP approach. While you may believe you understand what features and capabilities from the existing web product translate to mobile—and which uniquely mobile capabilities to add to the product—it’s well advised that you will still need an MVP to vet key assumptions.
- Do you have a product roadmap? Product roadmaps are based on a collection of hypotheses about users’ needs and desires, likely behavior, what will be valuable, and so on. For mobile apps—maybe more so than other channels because the technology and market landscape is incredibly fluid—the MVP approach is the best way to efficiently validate your hypotheses based on users’ real feedback. However, if your mobile initiative is not tied to roadmap for delivering progressive value (are you missing an opportunity?) and the initiative is to achieve a highly tactical objective that won’t be measured or improved you may not need an MVP release.
- Are you targeting consumers or internal/B2B users? If you’re targeting consumers MVP is a must. Consumers—especially the mobile crowd—are simply too fickle and unpredictable to responsibly do otherwise. If you’re targeting internal or B2B users with a new product or a product that will evolve over time starting with an MVP release is the best approach. However, there may be specific circumstances, such as an upgrade of existing product or an extremely well-understood operational capability, where an MVP is unnecessary. If your initiative seems to fit in the “specific circumstances” bucket, proceed with caution—mobile is full of surprises.
- Is user feedback a priority? Ok—this is a little tongue-in-cheek. Every product owner values user feedback. And this is precisely why learning from an MVP release is the quickest and most time/financially efficient way to test product hypotheses—and then make quickly make changes that reflect what your users’ feedback and behavior (because you’re collecting analytics) are telling you about what they value.
Planning For and Learning from an MVP Release
Most mobile initiatives fit profiles that benefit from an MVP/Product Lifecycle approach (see also my post on Mobile Project vs. Mobile Product). If your mobile initiative is in this group, here are a few planning activities (among many others) to cover before launch:
- Align with Business Objectives Which business objectives will the mobile app support? (See also my post on Why Your Mobile Initiative Isn’t Getting Funded to ensure you’re on target in this critical area.)
- Identify Success Criteria and How to Measure How will you know that the app has achieved MVP success? How will you objectively measure that? Conversely, what results will indicate that the product concept either requires a significant pivot—or even a swift death?
- Identify User Stories and Perform Backlog Grooming Again, the wisdom and art is in what you exclude rather than what you include. Prune to the minimum set of user stories that will enable you to effectively evaluate product hypotheses for target user personas.
- Plan to Collect and Analyze Data Be sure that the data to support your success criteria is collected and available for analysis to prove product hypotheses.
- Establish a Timeline How long will the MVP release be in production before you prioritize your lessons learned and focus on the next release? Hint: You will need a high-level of velocity here in order to not lose mobile users—patience is not their strong suit.
Now that your MVP release has launched, you will want to have a laser-focus on quickly learning what to change for your next release. Several key sources of information include:
- User Analytics Data Did users do what you expected or planned for them? Is their behavior aligned with business objectives or do you need to rethink?
- Application Performance Data Did application performance impact user tasks or retention?
- App store reviews (if public) or user interviews (private) What do users love (or hate)?
- Target KPIs Impacted as planned?
Be advised that mobile has a unique set of concerns; some level of mobile governance will help your new product meet objectives over time.
How Magenic Can Help
At Magenic we believe helping our clients discover and develop their promising mobile opportunities is mutually rewarding work. Turning a new product vision into a successful mobile application product that deliver real business value is what we live for!
Defining MVP release scope and functionality—as well as clearly identifying what hypotheses will be tested—is an important part of a winning product introduction.
As a best-in-class enterprise mobile development leader, Magenic can help you plan your MVP release. We offer:
- Strategic consulting engagements that facilitate mobile opportunity identification and prioritization.
- Development of strategic and technology mobile roadmaps that start with MVP.
- Iteratively-designed user experience-driven proofs of concept and prototypes.
Interested in learning more? Contact us and we can show you how Magenic’s Mobile Practice can help you take the right approach to developing your mobile initiatives.