How to design a successful MVP

By Ben McKeown on

What is an MVP?

The first stage of many digital products is to prove their worth, with a limited amount of budget (and time). This usually takes the form of a minimum viable product (MVP), which is the simplest version of the product that shows its key functionality and helps test and validate your concept. It’s phase one, and it needs to be a successful MVP for there to be a phase two, three, four and so forth.

The biggest threat to product delays, receiving feedback too late, & seeing if ideas have any legs in the real world is having the discipline to ship a small, well done version of the bigger thing you’re working on & just seeing what happens to minimise confounding variables.

Suhail Doshi – Founder MightyApp + Mixpanel

We created a lot of digital prototypes at the early stages of a startup’s journey. This inevitably leads into working with them on their MVP. We’ve developed a set of design-oriented techniques from working on these MVPs, and we’ve found they dramatically increase the chances of an MVP progressing to its next stage.

So how do you design a successful MVP?

Work backwards

The success of the MVP will ultimately be decided by someone who isn’t you or on your team. This could be an investor, who needs to see a certain number of sign ups to your digital product. It could be a revenue target from those sign ups, which shows your product’s value to a market segment. Either way, it won’t be you (unfortunately).

If you can identify who this person or group then you can visualise a scenario where they’re happily engaging with your MVP. From here you can work backwards, and know what you need to demonstrate with your MVP. What will be impressing them? What isn’t important to them? You should identify what they specifically care about and build the strategy for your MVP around their unique preferences.

Get the right scope

You have limited budget, or limited time. You will need to make decisions about what is important for the MVP, and what isn’t a priority right now. Focusing on less will allow you to design and build your MVP to a higher quality. You don’t want to invest time on features that aren’t important to your target audience. Especially when that time could be spent on the feature that will sway their opinion, as we have often seen.

You want to be confident that you’re making decisions purposefully, that you’re creating the “minimal” scope that produces the necessary elements, and nothing unnecessary. The key to this is appreciating that this isn’t your scope, this is someone else’s scope: your target audience’s. Involving designers during the scoping process will help you to set your scope from the audience’s perspective and validate the scope’s rationale.

Create the successful MVP’s principles

There are two major issues with scoping: setting the initial scope, and scope creep. Setting your scope is important to start off in the right direction, however scope creep is the biggest danger to a successful MVP. The early stages of a project are ripe for creativity and new ideas, and we’ve seen MVPs fall over because extra things have been bolted on by enthusiastic and well meaning team members. Maintaining scope boundaries and the focus on the target audience is essential.

Creating a set of MVP principles is a key strategy we use to minimise scope creep. The MVP principles are a short, digestible list of non-negotiables that have been identified as truly critical to the target audience, and therefore to the success of the MVP. They’re not necessarily specific features, but form a framework that lets you make cutthroat decisions about anything new or different from the initial scope.

For example…

  • If your target audience is an investor who wants to see 500 users signed up, then you need to ensure that the sign up process is easy and complete.
  • Your target audience may be most concerned about saving time. Any feature that doesn’t save their time isn’t going to matter to them.
  • If your point of difference is a better way of showing data that no other app can do, then make sure that your MVP demonstrates that, and it’s easy to find.

So why is this important?

Phase two doesn’t happen without a successful phase one. Your project won’t progress without a successful MVP.

Creating a successful MVP really comes down to two key aspects of scoping: getting the scope right to start with, and then remaining focused on the scope throughout the MVP process. There will need to be a practical, universally agreed rationale that lets you make the hard decisions to keep things on track: the MVP principles.

Given success of your MVP depends on your target audience you need to make sure they are centred in every aspect of the product’s design. This, combined with an understanding of digital product design, is where designers can expedite the process, maximise efficiencies and help you navigate a complex problem space with ease.

Ultimately, this clarity and discipline will be noticed by your target audience. By maintaining focus you’ll be able to create an effective, successful MVP, and your project will move onto phase two.

Ben McKeown

Co-founder of Blitzm Design, Ben has a more than 15 years experience designing and leading digital projects. His experience working across all stages of the digital process has lead to a focus on digital prototyping and general product design strategy.

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