How should we define MVP?

A million dollar question every product manager faces, “how should I define Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?” As a PM, I always like to think about how can I design my product so that I can make it Most Valuable Product with minimum efforts?

I face following questions when I think about MVP every time:

  • There is a higher bar for quality now than ever before. It means I can not compromise on quality and performance. If that is the case how should I consider quality, performance and all functional requirements in a given timeframe?
  • Dictionary meaning of ‘Viable means: capable of working successfully; feasible. But what does ‘Viable’ means in MVP? Is its development cost, is it possible to build the product or is it usage by customers?
  • What are the essential requirements should I consider?
  • Is there a way I can capture customer feedback before I build MVP?

Eric Ries coined the “MVP” term first time as a part of Lean Startup. Eric Ries defined MVP as

A version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.

However, Wikipedia provides a slightly different definition.

A minimum viable product (MVP) is a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers and to provide feedback for future product development.

Lately, I met a few business school students who want to pursue product management once they will graduate and they asked me, “how will you define MVP?” As per my habit, I started providing them pointers such as

  • Who your target customer is?
  • Think as a customer
  • Why are you solving this problem?
  • What will be your success matrix?

One of the guys interrupted me and said, “we all know this. However, we do not understand how should we apply it as we do not have any hands-on experience?” I realized that is the same issue I had faced before I started as a PM. I started thinking, what exactly have I done to overcome the above problem?

Following steps, I had followed, when I was preparing myself for the Product Management role:

Step1. I have used CIRCLES method defined by Lewis Lin while preparing for product management interview questions.


Reference: Quora

Step 2. I have considered few product design questions from cracking the PM interview book and started applying above framework.

Step 3. I have used a product example and designed a search engine for kids less than 14 years old.

Comprehend the Situation
I started asking questions to myself

  • What am I trying to achieve? – Design a search engine. Is it text search? Is it image search? Is it voice search?
  • Who am I designing for? Is it for all kids less than 14? Can I bucket them into age group? Assuming starting from 3 years old can use a mobile device in this century. 3-6 age group, 6-10 age group, 10-14 age group and blind kids in each age group?
  • Why do they need it? Is it required at school? Is it needed at home? What will they do with it?
  • What constraints do we have? Do we have any existing product on the market?
  • So finding answers to above questions, in the beginning, will help us to get a clear picture of what exactly are we doing and there’s no way we can build the ultimate product that does everything for everyone.

Identify customers

  • We can divide customers into various segments using age group
  • Assuming starting from 3 years old can use a mobile device in this century.
    • 3-6 age group
    • 6-10 age group
    • 10-14 age group
    • Blind kids in each age group
  • Let’s assume we are not building this product for kids who can not read or type. We will be assuming, this product will be used by kids who can type or read.
  • So our goal is to design search engine for kids between age group 6-14 and kids who can read, write and type on a computer.
  • Now, usually, there could be another persona who will use this product. For example, teachers will use this product while teaching to kids and parents will use it at home while helping kids with their project reports or homework.

Report the Customer’s Needs
Once we’ve identified the customer, it’s natural to report the customer’s needs, requirements, or use cases.

  • As a school kid, I want to find content for my project report
  • As a school teacher or parents, I want to find content for my project report

Cut, Through Prioritization

  • Prioritization is always a critical part of the product manager’s role.
  • In our previous step, we have built a significant backlog. However, we have limited time in our hand. So we can not build everything. In this case, which features should engineering tackle first?
  • There are various Prioritization Matrix available, and every product manager use a different matrix to prioritize features
  • A matrix I have used to prioritize the above ideas

List Solutions
Based on the above prioritization framework we will build the following solution (Created JIRA Stories)
In Scope for MVP:

  • As a user, I want to perform a keyword search so that so that I can find content for my project report.
  • As a user, I want to see images related to my keyword search on search result page
  • As a parent or teacher, I want to block all adult content from this search engine results
  • As a user, I want to see images with title and description on every search result page instead of only showing title and description
  • As a user, I want to see multiple search result pages for my keyword search (Pagination)
  • As a user I want the homepage to be very simple with a textbox to do a keyword search
  • As a user, I want you to correct my spelling mistakes in the keyword and display me appropriate results

Not in Scope for MVP:

  • As a user, I want type-ahead functionality as I will be typing my keyword in the search field
  • As a user, I want images to be part of type-ahead feature so that users can visualize results and get to a right result
  • As a user, I want to see videos related to my keyword search
  • As a user, I want to see the first link as Wikipedia link as it will be helpful for me to capture content for my projects

Evaluate Trade-offs

  • It is critical to evaluate existing solutions in the market and compare your solution with those.
  • It will allow us to find differentiating factors between your product and other products.
  • Socialize your solution openly with other stakeholders in the organization who has more industry knowledge and gather analytical data points to make better decisions.
  • In the above case, there is an existing kids search engine in the market “Kiddle” power by Google.
  • We have evaluated it to come up with differentiating factors, such as it is not required to show page URL on search result page, we want to make more kids friendly design for a web app, and we want to block adult content.   

Summarize Your Recommendation

  • In the end, it is important to summarize your thought process to engineers and give them a bigger picture of a roadmap so that when they will do technical designs, they will make better decisions.
  • I have used the following approach to explaining my recommendations:
    • Features we would recommend for MVP
    • Recap on what it is and why it’s beneficial to the user and company
    • Explain why we preferred this solution vs. others

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