Let’s say you want to create a wedding cake for someone, but you’re not sure exactly what they want that cake to be. There are far too many variables involved to just jump into creating a full three-tier, fondant-covered, fully decorated cake, right? You’d have to choose what kind of cake, filling, and frosting, what colors should be on the cake, how the cake should be structured, and so on.
So how do we know what the customer wants, and how we can delight them with the perfect cake for their perfect occasion? It’s simple: We start with a cupcake. It’s small, easy, covers all the necessary bases, and confirms what the customer wants before we fire up the bakery and decoration team to create the final product. That cupcake is our wedding cake MVP.
The term MVP, which stands for “minimum viable product,” is widely used throughout the product development world. The term dates back to the early days of Agile product development and was coined in 2001 by Frank Robinson, now CEO of the product development firm SyncDev. It has since been popularized throughout the industry by such authors and thought leaders as Steve Blank, Marty Kagan, and Eric Ries. As such, it’s become somewhat of a buzzword — and like many such buzzwords, it is often both misused and misunderstood.
The basic concept of a minimum viable product is simple — it’s the smallest amount of work you can do to deliver something of value to your market. It’s something that can be used to validate (or invalidate) a specific set of assumptions, to derisk potential complications in your go-to-market plan, and/or to test one or more specific hypotheses about your target users. Keep in mind, though, that the more you’re trying to do with your MVP, the less likely it is to really be an MVP.
Understanding what an MVP really is and why it’s important is critical to the success of most startup businesses and for the career trajectory of someone who wants to be a product manager. Product managers must have laser focus and ruthless dedication to focusing their organization’s efforts of achieving its MVP before iterating on it, and ensuring that each subsequent iteration is itself an MVP.