What is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?
Before we dive into what a Minimum Viable Product is, let me ask you this: What do the familiar apps Instagram, Uber and Groupon have in common?
Their earliest versions were much simpler than the apps we see today. They’ve matured. They have benefitted from years of development and large amounts of resources poured into them. They didn’t just come into existence as the well-developed apps they are today.
It’s a great metaphor for the concept of the minimum viable product (MVP). The MVP concept is big in the startup community where it means: a version of the product which comprises only the features that allow you to release it to market, that solve a core problem for a set of users. The aim is to deliver immediate value while minimizing development costs.
In his bestselling book The Lean Startup, Eric Ries said:
“The minimum viable product is that version of the new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about the customer with the least efforts”
The most common illustration for how to properly build an MVP is the vehicle example.
But I quite like the example Ravi Vadrevu posits in this article. He distills the MVP process down to three steps:
- Start with a single, simple product solving a tiny sub-set of a Grand Problem;
- Keep iterating, while constantly solving bigger, related problems en route to solving the Grand Problem;
- Constantly communicate the vision of the Grand Problem that will be solved.
And then he extends those steps to a particular Grand Problem: Humanity needs cheap, effective lighting during darkness.
1st MVP: Fire. Humans saw lightning set trees ablaze and created fire themselves with sticks. But fire isn’t very portable, until…
2nd MVP: Oil Lamps, Candles & Gas Lights. Now humans can carry light with them. But candles and gas lamps aren’t bright, and wind blows them out, until…
3rd MVP: Incandescent Light Bulbs. Early light bulbs were powered by batteries and more reliable than a candle. But populations grew and there wasn’t an electricity grid, until…
4th MVP: Widely Available Electricity. Power plants and the grid make for widespread lighting availability. But the world’s electricity demand is growing too fast, until…
5th MVP: Solar Power. Low-watt light bulbs come into play and solar power becomes cheaper to produce. This is kind of where we are now until solar becomes more widely adopted.
You get the idea. So, this MVP concept is particularly useful to startups who operate in a very lean environment. They can roll out an MVP on a budget, test it, get feedback and add features that customers demand.
But a Minimum Viable Product approach can also work for already-mature products in the implementation of those products. Is it a sustainable approach for information management solutions? We think so. Here’s why.
How Can the MVP Approach be Applied to Implementing Tech Solutions (like Information Management)?
When I first heard the term Minimum Viable Product, the connotation was a bit strange. I thought, “Minimum product? Why would anyone want the minimum product when they can just get the whole thing?” It seemed like the end customer was being shorted in some way. But as I dove deeper into the concept, I realized that it’s just the opposite. The customer isn’t getting shorted. They’re getting exactly what they need with room to grow into the full product suite — all without having to pay for the souped-up Lamborghini right from the jump.
Let’s think about how an MVP approach could work for implementation of multifaceted technology solutions like an information management or document management platform. By that we mean this: a planned, phased approach where the platform can be rolled out to a certain group (like HR or Finance) to meet their needs and then expanded to other departments or company-wide later. Another way to phase it in would be to implement the platform in a smaller capacity that meets customers’ needs and then adding other capabilities, as needed.
There is a right way and a wrong way to do this. Rather than giving the customer just basic functionality, at the expense of usability, reliability and design, it’s generally better to give the customer a slice of all of them and expand as warranted.
Indeed, there are tremendous benefits to a phased progression for the customer. Read on for a few key advantages of an MVP approach to technology implementation.
Ensure the product meets your needs in real conditions
Rather than just envision how an information management platform might meet your needs after seeing a demo, the MVP allows an organization to actually use the platform in real-time and in real conditions. They can experience it and start to figure out if and how there might be more value to be gained with a more expansive rollout.
Focusing on the key features in the product
During the implementation, the team can focus on the features and capabilities that move the needle the most. They can start to build a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves. With a phased approach, the customer has the freedom to rank the capabilities they need and want and take the top stack, adding on as necessary. So, instead of squandering resources on features that no one would use, they can concentrate on vital features that deliver maximum value.
Reduce the product cost and time
Why would you buy a Boeing 747, when all you really needed to do was get to the grocery store? A bicycle would have been just fine. In the same way, a customer can solve some problems without a huge investment of time and money. If the product does what you need it to do, then you can phase in other capabilities or phase it into other parts of the organization. Customers can ultimately create business benefit within a realistic budget at the beginning. They can implement the platform without spending three months creating a massive plan that might be irrelevant by the end of the process.
Iterative process allows for phasing of the product at whatever pace suits the customer
By implementing an MVP information management product into a part of your organization, you can start to figure out what you like about it and where you may be able to expand use of it to other parts of the organization. It’s common for our customers to implement M-Files into their legal department, for example, fall in love with it and, before you know it, other departments are phased into the product.
Since a Minimum Viable Product implementation means the customer will get started with core features and functionalities, it allows them to identify the best user bases in their organization and hone in on the best use cases for them. The MVP approach allows for iterations of the platform — iterations that come from a more informed place. These future phases include things like:
- what other features to add
- which aspects will help increase ROI
- and exactly where budget can be allocated to get the most value out of the platform
Look, if a customer wants the full set of capabilities that come with M-Files, we’ll certainly entertain it with them and help them determine, in a consultative way, if that’s what they need. But, at the end of the day, if you’re reviewing information management platforms like M-Files — or any other multifaceted technology, for that matter — that promote a phased MVP approach, know that they have your best interest at heart. If a vendor wanted to sell me the most expensive version of a product with every single feature (that I might or might not need), I’d worry that they were after the big sale instead of looking out for my needs.