June 29, 2022

Market Testing a Minimum Viable Product

Your minimum viable product (MVP) is basically a hypothesis about a valuable solution your audience needs. Whether it solves a problem that keeps your customers up at night or improves the user experience, your idea has the potential to drive a significant impact. However, before you go all-in on developing your hypothesis, the Scientific Method dictates that you must test it. So how do you design the perfect MVP test to validate your big idea?

The best MVP tests start by clearly defining a hypothesis about the value proposition your product may deliver to your target market. It should state what you believe about your product and its market and the assumptions you want to test.

Specific assumptions or questions deliver specific answers. In turn, those specific answers allow you to make relatively quick decisions about whether to hit the brakes, conduct further testing, or continue pursuing product development. Using MVP tests to develop and iterate on an incremental basis ensures that you only invest in developing products and features worth pursuing.

By creating a highly focused MVP test, you’ll gain insights based on your hypothesis and be able to draw reasonable conclusions about the feasibility of developing a mature product. To that end, you’ll know which features to prioritize to increase value and minimize time to market.

Because of your narrow focus, your MVP testing plan should be simple and tie into your long-term vision or your product roadmap. Following your MVP test, you’ll gain valuable information and customer feedback to refine, improve, and expand on your roadmap. Best of all, your MVP testing process should allow you to speed up the iterative process allowing you to continue maturing your product and its future releases.

Why is MVP Market Testing Important?

Before undertaking your MVP market test, you need to perform market research to identify the opportunities—and threats—and create a hypothesis of a product that solves a particular need.

MVP testing ensures that your product actually fills that need. You’ll gain a blend of qualitative and quantitative data that delivers valuable information about your product. Better yet, you’re also testing the market and its users.

Qualitative data is user feedback that explains how they feel about your product and their experience. Conversely, quantitative data refers to specific user analytics with empirical measurements. Both types of data are valuable and work together to give you a complete picture of what people want, expect, and value.

Steps of Setting Up Your MVP Market Test

Pioneered by Roman Pitchler, product vision boards are perfect for defining the parameters of your test. In determining how to test your MVP, you might set up your test in many ways. With that said, here’s a process that we frequently recommend and follow:

Step 1: Choose a specific audience or audience segment based on your Business Model Canvas (BMC).
The narrower your focus, the easier it is to identify specific people to help you with your test. More importantly, it’s easier to determine whether or not the problem you’re solving is their problem.

Step 2: Identify the hypothesis you want to test before releasing your product to said market.
As we mentioned above, specificity matters. Clearly defining your hypothesis and any assumptions you want to explore, it’s faster and easier to design an MVP test to reveal answers.

Step 3: Define your value proposition and go as simple as possible to make your test even smaller.
While this sounds easy, sometimes it can be challenging to strip your big idea down to its simplest parts. With that in mind, here are three companies that did this well:

Before Stripe, setting up payment processors took weeks or even months. However, after getting the idea for Stripe, brothers John and Patrick Collison took two weeks to create a few lines of code that allowed them to process transactions. This MVP has turned into a $9 billion company.

Another example we love is how Dropbox, the ultimate lean startup model, used a video clip to test their idea for file storage and sharing. After it generated a tremendous amount of interest, they were able to continue maturing the product to become what we know today.

Zappos started as a shoe store that wasn’t. Founder Nick Swinmurn photographed shoes from a mall and put the pictures online for sale. When people bought them, he went out to the mall, purchased the shoes, and shipped them directly to his buyers. Having proved his concept, Zappos was born.

Step 4: Identify your risks.
Because everything we do—including getting in our cars every day—comes with risk, it should come as no surprise that every product has risks. Understanding them helps you evaluate and mitigate them. Most risks associated with MVP testing and development fall under a few categories. You can identify many of them by asking a few simple questions:

  • Do people want this?
  • Is my potential audience big enough?
  • How can it work in reality?
  • What is your marketing angle?
  • How much profit is available or possible?

Step 5: Devise a test for each risk.
Now that you’ve identified the risks, think about how you can test your MVP against them and start prioritizing. Your first priority should be focusing on your hypothesis and how the risks can make it or break it. If any of the risks are irrelevant to the hypothesis, set them aside to focus on just one MVP test at a time.

How to Gather Data From Your MVP Test

After enacting your MVP testing plan, it’s time to gather qualitative and quantitative data. As we mentioned earlier, every test should feature a value proposition, the risk you’re testing, and how you can demonstrate it without going all-in on your idea.

According to GrowthMentor, “Your customers will feel more connected to you if you introduce a change based on their feedback. Asking for feedback better connects your product with its users. To get the best results, choose the questions that are most contextual to the user’s current stage.”

To that end, be sure to gather data and feedback from your users at regular intervals before, during, and after the test. Their answers will allow you to understand how they feel throughout the testing process.

We recommend using various methods to gather data, including user testing interviews and surveys, as well as data-driven behavioral analytics like heat maps and session tracking. Moreover, when it comes to user interviews and surveys, the best data comes from open-ended questions that invite long-form answers. These typically start with who, what, when, where, why, and how, also known as the 5W and an H. Some sample questions might include:

  • What is your main goal of using our product?
  • What were your expectations for our product?
  • How did we measure up to your expectations?
  • What were you able to do after using our product?
  • What was the most important feature—and why?
  • What could have made the experience better?

So when should you gather feedback for your MVP test? We recommend several intervals:

  • Before users opt in
  • After they opt in
  • While they’re using the product at set intervals
  • After the MVP test

During each phase, it’s wise to compare the qualitative data with your user metrics to gain insights into your MVP. You’ll learn whether or not it worked for your test audience, any shortcomings, potential opportunities, and how to continue developing your product roadmap for future iterations.

Even Failed MVP Tests Can Be Wins

If the data doesn’t indicate it’s wise to proceed, it may be tempting to feel upset that your idea didn’t pan out. However, a no-go means you’ve just saved yourself a boatload of time, money, and energy. Instead of throwing good money after bad, you can move on to the next big idea or hypothesis.

With that said, one failed test doesn’t have to mean a failed product. If you’re testing multiple assumptions, you can shift or pivot your idea. For example, Slack came from unexpected beginnings. Now one of the best-known names in business communication, it started as a feature for the online gaming world. Founder Stewart Butterfield quickly realized its potential and grew Slack into a $27 billion company before Salesforce acquired it.

What About When Your Product Passes With Flying Colors?

We’ve talked about what happens if your MVP test is a failure, but what if you win big? The next steps after the MVP test are to review the feedback and use it to prioritize features for future iterations. To that end, you’ll need to go back to your product roadmap and convert it into a maturity roadmap that outlines your plan for future releases and growth.

One of our favorite methods for getting this step right is Jeff Patton’s approach to story mapping. Patton says, “Building a user story map helps us focus on the big picture – the product as a whole instead of getting myopically focused on an individual story.”

When you get the user story right, you can make the most of your product by minimizing time to value and maximizing sales conversions.

Never Skip MVP Testing

The bottom line is that MVP testing is essential for product development. By testing at every stage, you ensure that you’re able to keep your process lean and your product’s value proposition updated to maximize ROI—ideally generating a recurrent audience for your products.

Have a big idea for a product and are ready to design an MVP test to determine whether or not to pursue future iterations and maturation? Contact 3Pillar Global today. Explore how we can help you design and perform the most effective tests to minimize time to value and maximize your results.

Special thanks to these members of FORCE, 3Pillar’s expert network, for their contributions to this article.

FORCE is 3Pillar Global’s Thought Leadership Team comprised of technologists and industry experts offering their knowledge on important trends and topics in digital product development.