Business PracticesTechnology

When MVPs go bad!

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

What is a MVP and why can it be be a problem for companies?

Over the past few years it has become more and more common for business and technology leaders to use the phrase “minimum viable product” (or “MVP”) when discussing product development. It has become fashionable to think in this way as it can speed up development and a product can be taken to market quicker. However I think business leaders have lost their way and sight of the longer term scalability.

What is an MVP?

Originally this was a way that new startups could create products to take to market and collect feedback to learn how the product should evolve. It is the idea that you collect as much feedback as possible with the least amount of effort.

Examples can include something simple like a landing page for a product which appears to provide an automated service but is in fact very manual behind the scenes.

Another example would be using a CRM system as simple database to replace spreadsheets.

This all sounds a reasonable way to get products and projects off the ground.

What’s the issue?

More recently it seems that businesses view an MVP as way to get a product to market (or to internal teams if it is an internal system) as quickly possible to generate income. This sounds appealing. However in many cases the MVP has become a long-term un-scalable product.

Watch MVP

Let’s pretend that you want to start an affordable watch company on a tight budget, what is the MVP? This depends on how well thought out the MVP is, it is either:

  • A shop or market stall, assuming the budget can stretch that far.
  • Standing on the street corner selling watches out of a suitcase.
  • A website where a customer can purchase a watch which looks automated but is in fact you’re boxing up and sending products out your bedroom.

I think you get the idea, but let’s explore each option.

  • The shopfront approach will rack up costs quickly which means that your MVP will quickly become less about gathering feedback and more about generating revenues.
  • Standing on street corner will give you the ability to gather feedback and at a very low cost. It might even generate income quickly. However, you will only have a finite amount of time (your time) and this approach is un-scalable. You may also find yourself in trouble with the police if you don’t have the correct license to trade!
  • A basic lightweight website offers you the opportunity to gather feedback from customers whether it be via a feedback form or by analyising site traffic and click data. Whilst this carries a cost it is significantly less than a shop front. Once the product develops you can scale your new business on the platform, create automation and link ordering with distributors.

So the feasibility of scale is key to deciding what the MVP should be.

Are there any other MVP pitfalls?

When working at a large business I saw system and product decisions made with “MVP” in mind. In reality the business wanted products delivered quickly. Rather than creating an MVP with future success in mind it usually led to more technical debt. This was due to the lack of forward thinking and not allowing developers  time to refactor code support the new requirements.

In the end many companies end up starting quick but when they are ready to scale they struggle and development slows down.

So how should business think?

MVPs should be scalable, think of it as a MVSP, “minimum viable scalable product”. Don’t act too fast, consider all your MVP options before you start and choose the one that gives you best chance of future success. Find a balance between something that has low effort but that allows you to scale quickly once you’re ready. Taking this approach allows you to collect your feedback, drive some early revenues and scale quickly. This approach maximises the chances of success.

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