Do you have a great idea for a product but want to make sure there’s a market for it before you invest time and money? You need to start by building a minimum viable product (MVP).
A solution to this worrying trend is to build an MVP to assess your customer’s needs, what they want and what they don’t without spending huge amounts of time, effort or startup capital.
This is a much more cost effective option to creating a full featured product at the start.
The main advantages of an MVP are:
- it allows you to test your product
- attract your first customers
- you get feedback
You can then tailor your development work in the right direction.
In our previous article we provided the definition of an MVP. Here we’ll explain the critical steps needed to build a successful MVP.
An MVP will get your product in front of your target customers and get you feedback on what works and what doesn’t.
Here are the eights steps you need:
- List your MVPs features and decide on the core feature
- Assemble your MVP team
- Work out how long it will take
- Work out a projected cost
- Build your MVP
- Test your MVP
- Get feedback
- Analyze and refine
Before You Start MVP Development
You need to put a lot of thought, research and planning into an MVP before you start building it.
If you’re not clear about what it’s designed to do, who your customers will be, or what they need, then you may find you’ve wasted a lot of time and money heading down the wrong path.
If you still haven’t got your MVP planned out, then check out this article that will explain step-by-step how to plan an MVP
If you’ve read it and need a refresher then here are the main points:
- Identify and understand your business needs
- Know your target audience
- Set your goals
- Understand and plan the success criteria
- Map out users journeys
- Identify customers’ pain points
- Decide on the core feature of an MVP
- Set time frames
- How will you actually market your minimum viable product?
Deciding on the Minimum Feature Set and Your Core Feature
The purpose of an MVP is to learn what your target customers need and don’t need before you invent your time, effort and money into the finished product.
There’s no worse feeling than slaving for months on a product only to find no one is interested because it doesn’t do what they need it to.
Nearly half of businesses fail because they don’t understand what their customers want or need before starting their business.
That’s why your first step should be to list all the features you’d like your new app to have. You aren’t going to add all of these, but you need to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Once you’ve got your list, you need to go through it and prioritize. As you can guess from the name, your core feature is the one that your entire MVP is based on, the key feature that your MVP cannot succeed without.
Once you’ve decided on your core feature, look at the rest of the list because you’ll need some of them to create an MVP that works. Be ruthless though! The point of MVP development is to test the water and see what works and what doesn’t.
Stick to the basics for now, and once you’ve gotten feedback, you can add more features to later versions of your app.
Setting Up Your MVP Development Team
Once you’ve decided on your core feature and minimum features set, then the next step is to build the team that’s going to turn your idea into a reality.
A proper team will not blindly take orders and will share the process with you looking for the best solution. Make sure you hire the right people who have lots of experience in their field and are happy to share their views.
Building the team is as important as properly planning the product. There are several roles that are crucial to proper MVP software development:
The one in overall charge of the project.
Any good manager will have a fair understanding of many of the other roles on the project but not enough expert knowledge to perform them themselves.
The project manager will:
- Be in charge of making sure the job gets done
- Oversee and motivate the rest of the team
- Make day to day decisions
- Plan the roadmap of the MVP
- Decide on strategic decisions like pricing and design the marketing message
A good product manager should be able to bring out the best from his team and know how to delegate key tasks to the right people.
A product manager who tries to accomplish every task himself either doesn’t understand his role, or lacks the right team around him, or hasn’t earned the trust of his team.
A project manager needs to have a reasonable understanding of the tasks he’s managing. If not, the team may start to lose confidence and start leaving him out of the loop entirely.
User experience designers know how to build a product that will engage well with customers and encourage them to buy it.
They will design the framework and structure of your product and make sure it’s both usable and sticks to the list of features specified.
If a UX designer is good at their job, they will be obsessive about the functionality and overall experience. It may seem like they’re nit-picking at times, but a great UX designer will ensure your end product is something your customers will want.
The ones who will build your product. If you need more than one developer, then try to ensure they all have similar backgrounds in terms of the technologies they use.
You should also sit down at the start of the project with the developers and the product manager to ensure everyone is on the same page about how to build the MVP and which platform to use.
Assuming your product succeeds, you will need to build a bigger and more diverse team. Initially keep it smaller, so communication is easier. The full-stack developers have both front-end and back-end development knowledge.
Also known as testers. A quality assurance analyst will design and write test scripts and ensure that the product that goes to market works and does what it’s designed to.
They will test each stage of development and log bugs to be fixed by the development team in order of priority from critical to low. They will ensure that a stable working product goes out to your customers.
A content writer creates user manuals, product descriptions and, in some cases, can write your marketing material too.
You need a great writer to establish your tone and brand as it will be a big part of how successful you are. You can consider outsourcing this job, but it’s better to have someone internal who is embedded in your company’s culture and knows what you’re all about.
Once you’ve assembled your team, please remember that you need to respect their skills and opinions. No one can think of everything, so it’s best to listen to everyone’s ideas.
How Much Does It Cost to Build an MVP?
This is always a difficult question.
It depends on a whole range of factors, including, the scope of the project, the location of your team, their experience level and whether they are working on a fixed price contract or being paid per hour.
So, for example, a junior developer working in an Eastern European country where the cost of living is low might cost you $30 per hour.
A developer living a couple of hundred miles away in Western Europe may charge you over $100 an hour. You do need to keep an eye on costs as this is just an initial product. A reasonable estimate would be in the $20-30k area.
How Long Should It Take?
This will depend on a number of factors but you need to complete it in as short a time as possible. The longer you spend on development the more your MVP will cost. This can have a big impact on the success and profitability of your business.
Nachiket Patel wrote an overview
of the process based on over 100 MVPs his company was involved in on LinkedIn. He states that 2-3 months is a reasonable timeframe.
Remember that an MVP is a basic, initial offering without bells and whistles. If you’re six months in and the end is nowhere in sight, then either your project manager isn’t doing his job properly, or your design is too ambitious.
Markets can change so quickly that all designs of new products are time-critical.
This is even more true in the world of app development. Hundreds of new apps arrive on the app stores every month so if you take too long someone else may launch a similar product first and scoop up a large portion of your target market.
An MVP Development Process
A lot of the steps to develop your MVP are included in the planning stage.
The key steps are:
- Understand your customers’ needs and the problem that they want you to solve for them
- Look at the work of potential competitors and make sure there isn’t an existing product that already does what you want your app to do
- Make a list of features and prioritize a maximum of 5 for your MVP
- Decide on your core feature, the one you absolutely must-have
- Assemble a great team will all the roles and skills you’ll need to complete the build efficiently
- Build the product, checking in with your design team, UX designer and product manager regularly
- Give it to users and pay attention to their feedback
Testing your MVP
As already explained in the team section, your Quality Assurance Analyst should conduct testing throughout as well as being the first one to test the finished product.
As they’re experienced in product testing, they know what to look for and should be providing detailed feedback.
At some point though actual users need to get their hands on it. Your next stage, or Alpha testing, can be carried out quickly and cheaply by giving your app to friends, family, and members of the team who were not part of the build. Ask them to play with it and give you their thoughts on what they did and didn’t like as well as any problems they found.
Once you’ve assembled, and possibly acted on, all the feedback from QA and Alpha testing it’s time to move to Beta testing on a larger scale.
There are a few ways to do this. Firstly you can hire people to do it. This does cost more, but at least it does guarantee feedback. There are lots of freelancing sites where you can advertise Beta testing jobs for as little as $10 per test.
Finally, social media can be a great way to get the word out. Select one or more platforms that you already have a strong presence on. Lots of followers means lots of views and, hopefully, lots of shares.
Another benefit of this approach is that even if someone doesn’t want to sign up, they’ve at least seen the ad and are aware that your app is coming.
Measure and Analyze Your MVP
1. Collect and analyze user feedback
This includes Alpha and Beta testing as well as any reviews left by users on the app stores. You can build a star system or marks out of ten for aspects like design, usability, how likely a tester is to buy it, etc.
2. Look at the number of downloads
This is easily done on the app stores but you can do it yourself too. Put a link to the download on your own site so you can measure how many people click on the link to the product description page. You can also track how many users go on to click the download button.
This differentiates between users being interested enough to go to the download page and those who actually download the app. Tools like Google Analytics measure this for you as well as things like bounce rates on your site.
3. Hire a company to do your MVP performance analysis
There are companies who specialize in carrying out MVP performance analysis for you. This will cost money but at least you can be sure you’re getting the data you need to improve and refine your product.
Improving Your MVP
Once you’ve performed the test, analyzed the feedback, and looked at downloads and user reviews how do you improve your product?
Simple. You listen to what users are telling you. Look for common themes such as pain points, favorite features and feature wish lists.
Compile them in a list and go back to section 1 - decide on features and prioritize. Consider how much interest there is in a new feature or how much pain a bug is causing.
Meet with your team to discuss timescales and costs to fix/implement features.
Decide on the top 3 or top 5 and then continue through the process. Develop, test, launch, evaluate and then back to the beginning.
With each iteration you’ll get closer to the full product you imagined at the beginning. A word of warning though... don’t try to do too much!
A maximum of 20% of each new release should be new features or bug fixes.
Moving Beyond MVP
Keep building! Once you know your product is viable, you can keep building it and working on expanding your business.
You’ll also need to consider changes you’ll need to make as your product grows:
- Costs to further develop your product
- How many extra staff you’ll need – developers, QAs, etc.
- Refining your development roadmap
- Whether you want to hire a visual designer to create a cohesive look for your brand
- Marketing strategies
Common Mistakes in MVP Development
1. Making a bad product
Some people see an MVP as less important because it’s not the finished product. No! It should be basic, yes, but it should still work.
Even more importantly, it should not annoy or put off your target audience when they try it. Don’t have buttons that don’t do anything or links that crash the app. Make sure everything works before it goes out to users.
2. Not making the scope tight enough
If you didn’t narrow down your features enough, then the product will stop being an MVP and start being a fully-fledged app. That’s not what an MVP is.
If you don’t keep it basic you could spend a lot of time and money making something no one wants. This negates the point of having an MVP to start with.
Make sure your features are absolutely essential and make sure that the development team understands clearly what they need to build. If not they may end up writing code or features you don’t need.
3. Not asking enough questions during testing
It’s understandable that you don’t want to ask too much of your testers, especially if they’re friends, family and your very first users. You do need feedback you can use to make the product better though.
Remember you’re looking for quality over quantity. As fewer but more specific questions to ensure the responses will be detailed enough to be useful.
4. Taking too long
This ties into the point about development time. The world of technology moves quickly so you need to get your product out there. Have a goal for your launch date and try to stick to it.
You don’t want to build a bad product, but you also don’t want to waste time trying to make it “perfect”. Perfection is impossible so stick to your list of features, fix any major flaws, and get it out there.
The Bottom Line
An MVP is a great idea as it’s a way to get a basic product made quickly that will let you test if it’s what your target group of customers want.
Make sure your objectives and the scope of the build are crystal clear before you start. Make a plan and stick to it, don’t be seduced into adding cool new features it doesn’t need.
Once you know what the project is, assemble a team you can trust around you and listen to their ideas. In some cases it can make or break your app.
Build the product as quickly as possible without cutting corners and listen to what your users say. If you do all these things you’ll be well on your way to a great MVP.