Minimum Viable Product. A Product Management Concept

The other day, I spoke with an alumni of Northwestern, and told him about an internet project I’m working on. I told him that I was looking for a designer and developer, and that I had big plans in mind with the project.  That I wanted it to change the world and to do it quickly.  He loved the idea. But he re-introduced me to a concept that’s big in the entrepreneurship community. The idea of making a Minimum Viable Product.

In the product development function, the Minimum Viable Product (also known as MVP) is a strategy some people in the tech industry think about when creating websites. It’s for people that want to put up fast sites while also testing the market quantitatively to see if the concept sticks.  The idea is that an MVP has just those features that you need to get the site up and running. It allows you deploy the site and get feedback from an initial set of viewers.  Those viewers understand that it’s testing mode, so they not only forgive errors, but some will try it again when you’ve iterated.  And in the end, that feedback will allow you to make updates and refine your targeted customers. It will also help you to avoid building products that customers do not want.”

Great concept!

But one question I had, was does this concept always apply? What about a product that’s meant to be a beautiful multimedia experience and not one where people come to buy products and services. That when you land on the site, you have a point of sale. That you either stay and experience the site or your bail, and spend your time elsewhere.

Let me explain. On one hand, you have companies like Groupon and Dropbox (where the term originated). These companies not only need great sites, but they also have things you come to use or purchase. These sites aren’t up just to provide an experience. Instead they provide an experience while you make your way to do something else. The call to action is to purchase something. On the other hand, you have sites that are made to give you an experience. Sites that tell stories. Sites that allow you to interact with people and with features. And on those sites the call to action is something different and less commercial.

And thus, the quest for creating a world class website can be tricky. You can create a masterpiece from day one and get a lot of initial viewers. But if it’s not what they are looking for in the marketplace because you’re still refining your technique, then it may turn out to be less useful than what you envisioned. In that case, using the MVP strategy is very useful. On the other hand, sometimes you just have to go for it. Defy convention. Make something big right away.  Because the look and feel of the site are more important. And because you need to get certain features up right away.  Project after project and website after website show that this also happens. The question is, which works for you?

I don’t know what the answer is in my case. Stay tuned to hear more about it, once I do.

Thursday, November 17th, 2011 Business School

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.

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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect the views or position of Kellogg, Northwestern Law, the JD-MBA program, or any firm that I work for. I only offer my own perspective on all issues.
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