How the Minimal Viable Product gets teams into trouble

The Lean Startup methodology postulates: Build the minimal viable product (the MVP) necessary to collect critical data to confirm your market hypothesis. It pushes teams to avoid falling in love with an extensive feature set and instead to build the simplest version of the product that can establish if the market needs it at all. 

That’s a fair principle. However, we frequently find teams use the concept of the MVP as an excuse to build a product and delay market feedback that they can gain without it. This is a costly mistake. Spending money for nothing and the customer feedback could be free! (Yay Dire Straits!)

Many situations don’t require a product at all to collect critical data. 

Here are alternatives for getting market feedback that are cheaper than building even just the MVP:

  1. Tell the story: “If I build this product, will you buy it?”
  2. Create a mockup: “Look at this what-looks-like-my-product. Will you buy it?”
  3. Fake the product: “Look at this product (where we are faking the functionality). Will you buy it?”

The story can be a description, a slide deck or even a drawing on a white board. 

The mockup can be an image, wireframes, an animation or a demonstration shape.

The fake product can be a “dumb” UI where the processing is actually done manually in the background, a painted over version of the wrong materials, an edited video, etc. 

Anything is allowed to create a compelling visual that transports the vision of the product to potential customers to get their feedback.

To fake the product, some outside of the box thinking is required. In the vast majority of cases, lots of work can be saved and information gathered instead of proceeding with the MVP. 

Instead of aiming for the MVP, entrepreneurs are best served when they work backwards from their hypotheses. 'What are the critical things that must be true for me to succeed and that I am not sure of?' If it’s customer feedback, then look for the shortcut to get it – mostly you don’t need to build the MVP. 

By Carsten Boers