Agile product management is all about iterations and proving the value of your team’s work with the smallest investment possible. Although applications of the Minimum Viable Product typically focus on startups looking to achieve product/market fit, I think every product manager should think about her next iteration as an MVP. You should always test your next riskiest assumption and build the next iteration to be minimally more valuable than your last.
This is why I think every product manager needs to understand the minimum viable product concept. You should always aim to prove your hypotheses as quickly as possible and hopefully with minimal development effort. In larger organizations with established products, it may start to feel like MVPs are unnecessary because you have the engineering and design resources and assets to support building new features and technology. This is a false luxury. You should hold yourself accountable for finding the minimal functionality required to test your hypothesis. You may think you know what your customers want or need, but it’s not until you actually test it should you feel comfortable with your choices.
At Arkad, we tested our product hypotheses with fancy mockups that looked like real product changes. At NewsCred, we set goals for ourselves on each iteration and try to hold ourselves accountable for reaching those. Recently, we wanted to test if our clients would use a new feature. Rather than building it, we manually gathered data and gave it to our customers. Although we thought it would be extremely valuable, the customers who received the information barely used the data. One customer did, so we’ve spent time asking why they found it valuable, so we’re not giving up and are testing a new solution. The test gave us a very reliable data point at a minimal cost to our engineering organization. It took only two weeks to get this information back when the functionality may take 2 – 3 weeks of several engineers time to develop. Sometimes, as Spotify does, you’ll have to choose when to make a bet, even if your early tests aren’t going well. Checkpoints, customer interviews, and conviction will help you justify making investments even when the MVP doesn’t work, but I believe these should be rare.
If you’re interested in learning more about product management, please check out my Udemy Course on building products at startups.