Thinking beyond Minimum Viable Product

Rich explores some alternative ways of thinking about minimum viable variants.

An illustration of an alarm clock with MV:?? on the face, on an orange background

Minimum viable what?

I bet you said product. How many times have you started a project where the stated end point is an MVP? Loads. The product gets pushed quickly through the discovery phase, this is often because a stakeholder has a ‘vision’ and wants to get something out of the door. You don’t know whether it will work or not, but you’re committed to a potentially costly MVP.

Before the MVP gets delivered, time often starts to run out. The scope gets reduced because waiting technology teams need a list of functions and features they can build to get something to market, but with no real understanding of ‘why’. The MVP is then delivered with no defined approach to measurement or link to what you were trying to find out in the first place. In the meantime, success has shifted from delivering something valuable to getting something launched.

This breeds a culture of everything is an MVP to meet targets. This means many MVPs die; frequently becoming the Only Developed Product – meaning, nothing else ever gets shipped or developed beyond the MVP because there was never a roadmap or a measurement reference point. Given this, what if we asked the question - is an MVP the right starting point?

In product leadership, guiding a product to success is not only about functions and features for technology. There are other "minimum viable" variants that Product Managers need to consider depending on the specific context of their project, the problem they’re working to solve and the value they’re looking to create. Let’s explore these other foundational Minimum Viable variants of; Outcome, Data, Output, Product and highlight their significance in reframing how we think about product development and our plans.

Minimum viable outcome (MVO)

Defining the Minimum Viable Outcome is fundamental to the success of any product initiative. However, it’s often forgotten about or focus on it is lost. It represents the desired business and customer outcomes that the project needs to achieve to prove product success. As a product leader, articulating clear and measurable outcomes provides a shared vision for the team, aligns efforts, and means you can prioritise resources – what to deploy, when and where.

When defining the MVO, product leaders should focus on identifying tangible business objectives that tie back to the overall strategy. These objectives should be specific, achievable and time bound. This will help provide a clear roadmap for success. Prioritising customer-centric outcomes that connect to the business objectives ensures that the project delivers value to its intended audience while keeping business stakeholders happy.

Establishing metrics for measuring progress towards the MVO means you can track performance and make data-driven decisions. Regularly monitoring and analysing progress enables product leaders to identify areas for improvement and adjust strategies accordingly, this improves the likelihood of success overall.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Once the MVO is established, the next step is to define the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The MVP represents the core set of features and functionalities necessary to achieve the outcomes you need. It serves as the initial version of the product, allowing product leaders to validate assumptions, gather feedback and iterate based on real-world usage.

When determining the MVP, focus on identifying the essential features that address the needs of the target audience. This involves studying the market, understanding customer pain points, and committing to features based on their potential impact. By prioritising and limiting the MVP to essential features that align with the MVO, you can speed up the development process and focus on delivering value to customers.

Furthermore, the MVP should be scalable and sustainable, laying the groundwork for future iterations and enhancements. The MVP should be as limited as possible to provide measurement for the Minimum Viable Outcome while being scalable enough to support continued growth and development.

Minimum Viable Data (MVD)

With the MVP identified, the next consideration is determining the Minimum Viable Data (MVD). Data plays a crucial role in product development. With AI, identifying what the minimum data is and where to source it is a critical first step. Even without AI, data guides decision-making, validates assumptions and measures success. The MVD represents the essential metrics and insights necessary to use intelligence models effectively and measure progress towards the MVO.

When determining the MVD, product leaders need to think in two directions. Firstly, they should start by defining clear objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs) aligned with product goals. Leveraging both qualitative and quantitative data sources to do this offers comprehensive insights and validates assumptions. Secondly, product leaders need to identify the minimum data and the data sources to use within any AI models they want to use across the customer journey.

To set your product up for a data enabled future, data needs to be taken seriously and product leaders must keep data privacy and security front of mind. This means complying with relevant regulations and maintaining user trust, especially for AI as a fundamental part of the product experience. Respecting people’s privacy and protecting sensitive information in this way helps build credibility and fosters long-term relationships with customers.

With regulation and legislation changing continually in AI management, product leaders should ensure they understand exactly what they need to support or structure teams in a way that this is baked into the way they think about product development.

Minimum Viable Output (MVOU)

The final consideration is delivering tangible outputs that support the MVP and the MVO. These outputs could include prototypes, wireframes, design mock-ups, or early versions of the product itself. Collaborating with cross-functional teams so that outputs align with product objectives, meet customer needs, and maintain quality standards is essential. Agreeing the outputs and the entry and exit criteria for each stage of product development will reduce wasted time and cost.

By prioritising the delivery of minimum viable outputs, product leaders can validate assumptions, maintain stakeholder communication, gather feedback and iterate towards achieving the desired outcomes. Iterating on outputs based on user feedback and market insights is also essential for continuous improvement and long-term success.

Additional Minimum Viable Variants

While the Minimum Viable Outcome, Product, Data, and Output are core elements of product development, Product Managers may also consider other forms of "minimum viable" to address specific aspects of their project and to maximise the likelihood of success.

Minimum Viable Experiment (MVE): Identifies the minimum requirements for experimentation to validate hypotheses and gather insights about customer behaviour, market dynamics or product features. This is at the core of continuous discovery and can reduce investment risk based on the data received.

Minimum Viable Segment (MVS): Focuses on identifying and serving a minimum viable segment of customers with distinct needs or characteristics. By developing data-based personas and an understanding of the marketplace Product Owners can identify target groups that will provide insights into the scale of customer participation.

Minimum Viable User Journey (MVJ): Optimises the user journey for simplicity, efficiency, and user satisfaction. The minimum rarely requires every potential aspect of a journey to be available. Using incomplete sections of journeys are equally valuable in identifying interest from customers.

Minimum Viable Pricing (MVPri): Experiments with different pricing strategies, tiers, or models to identify the minimum viable pricing. It’s a core part of the standard marketing mix, identifying your market entry pricing and further experiments to understand breakeven, entry, growth and other pricing implementations helps you meet the MVO.

It’s always about more than the Minimum Viable Product

Addressing the range of minimum viable options and considering additional variants means product leaders can establish a clear roadmap, align efforts with strategic objectives and improve their chances of success. The components and variables that I’ve highlight enable product leaders to validate assumptions, mitigate risks and move towards achieving their desired outcomes more effectively.

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