Minimum Viable Product. What is it, and why is it important?

In my career, I have developed products for a wide range of clients. Some are huge, multinational corporations, others are established mid-sized companies, and others are start-ups or entrepreneurs. One thing they have in common is the desire to innovate and develop the right products to propel their businesses forward.

What that “right product” is, however, is not always entirely clear. There is often a temptation to keep adding features, to continue developing, and to continue optimizing the product concept until it is “perfect”. As a veteran of product development, I can testify that there is no perfect product, and that chasing perfection in a single product launch is costly, unfruitful, and detrimental to business success.

An alternative approach I take is to encourage my clients to think about the “minimum viable product” or “early viable product”. What is the minimal feature set that the product must have to be successful in the product launch? What are those core differentiators that will separate the product from competitors, and allow for a slice of market share? Note that the question is not ‘what feature set will allow you to sell the most products?’, or ‘what feature set will address the largest market?’

​A “minimum viable product” can be the “most valuable player” for a product startup.

My goal is to get my clients to think about success from a business standpoint. I want their program to become revenue positive as efficiently as possible, and that means actually getting a product on the market on time, and on budget. Waiting on the product to be perfectly designed with every conceivable bell and whistle costs valuable time in the market, delays revenue, and eats a lot of development budget.

Once the minimum viable product is defined, we can certainly add non-essential features and benefits strategically, but I encourage my clients to only add those non-essentials that can be achieved with minimal time and development cost. Once the first product (let’s call it Generation 1) is on the market, we can already be working on Generation 2 and beyond to add more features and grow market share. This strategy forms the basis of a healthy product pipeline, and helps a company avoid being a ‘one-hit-wonder’.

When this approach is executed well, the client has a range or products that can become self funding. Generation 1 funds Generation 2. Generation 2 funds Generation 3, and so on. But, if we don’t launch Generation 1 until it has all of Generation 3’s features, then there may never be a successful launch at all.