June 10, 2022

Step-By-Step Guide For Making a Successful MVP

In the last article, we shared a big-picture strategy and guiding principles to help you stay on the right path as you create your minimum viable product (MVP). Your Lean Model Canvas, prototyping, and market research work together to form the groundwork. So, how do you put it all together and take meaningful action?

While there are MVP best practices to follow, your parameters for experimentation form the bulk of your MVP development process. From defining a scope for the MVP and writing your Market Requirements Document (MRD) to determining how to measure its value and refining for further testing, each step to building an MVP requires methodical testing and experimentation—it is critical for evaluating your MVP.

Without clear requirements of the market and intentional goals, it’s easy to justify any results as “good” or “helpful” by default. However, when you clearly define what you’re testing, and build customer feedback into the MVP process, it’s easier to prioritize the most valuable features for your MVP. Ultimately, by ensuring you follow all of the steps of building an MVP, you can ensure a successful product and rollout in the end.

In this article, we’ll provide you with practical advice on working through the MVP best practices for planning, evaluating, and iterating to create the best possible product.

Step 1: Define a Scope for the MVP

Planning your MVP and finding market opportunities go hand in hand. It’s vital to complete your Lean Model Canvas early on. This critical step allows you to have the data to create your MRD. In turn, your MRD will outline the high-level market requirements for your MVP to test so you can ensure a slam dunk.

Experimentation gives you valuable data to highlight the best parts of your products, as well as insights into features that are unnecessary, complicated, or take the product out of a viable price point. We’ll dive into that further in this article.

Before you get to the MRD, however, the first step in building your MVP is to define why you’re building it in the first place:

  • What is the purpose of your MVP?
  • What do you hope to accomplish with your MVP?
  • What is your top priority for the MVP?
  • What do you think the user flow will look like?
  • What obstacles may be standing in your way?
  • Who do you think will use this product?
  • Why do you think they’ll like it?

Answering these questions early on will help you in the rest of the MVP process.

Step 2: Write Your Market Requirements Document

As we mentioned earlier, your MRD is a significant portion of the MVP process and one of the most important steps in building your MVP. An effective MRD is only as complete as your research and should include:

  • data about your target market
  • your competitive positioning
  • your sustainable competitive advantage
  • user personas
  • buyer personas
  • data from user interviews

Why Buyer and User Personas Are Different

When it comes to buyer and user personas, it’s vital to keep them separate.

Buyers are the decision-makers for purchasing the product, so their concerns are rooted in value. On the other hand, the user is the one interacting with your product. They care more about the features and capabilities that make the product a success.

According to Forbes, “The buyer of a marketing data platform is likely a CMO concerned with how it will drive sales. However, the users, likely campaign owners or data scientists, are more concerned with usability.”

Both personas and their problems should factor heavily into your MRD. Gaining user input is an essential part of the steps for building an MVP because this information helps you to prioritize which features are the most valuable while also helping you uncover potential hiccups or problems. How do you keep it cohesive and easily implementable?

Actually Writing your MRD

When it comes to actually writing your requirements document, the Pragmatic Institute offers this advice: “The trick of writing good requirements is to convey the critical information in a form that developers and designers can embrace—enough detail to provide context without too much detail that overwhelms the reader.”

One of the best ways to determine if a requirement is sound is the method of SMART goals, a framework that improves goal-setting. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Specific Requirements should clearly state the intended goal.
  • Measurable The requirements should provide a metric in order to determine if the goals are met.
  • Achievable The requirements should be feasible and achievable within budget, timeframe, and capabilities.
  • Realistic The requirements should be realistic with respect to the resources that are available.
  • Time-Bound Requirements shouldn’t be open-ended; rather, they should conform to a schedule.

SMART goals set you up for success and allow you to gain realistic progress as you go.

Plan for Customer Feedback

Make sure that you have a plan to gather and analyze the user experience using both direct and indirect feedback:

Direct feedback is gathered by interviews, surveys, and asking questions of people at different points in the customer experience. Feedback from real people validates what works and what doesn’t while ensuring that the end-product delivers on buyer and user satisfaction.

Indirect feedback is gathered in the form of behavioral analytics. Sources like heatmaps and clickmaps reveal issues customers might not bring up during interviews, but that still influence their experience with your MVP. Other sources include sentiment analysis, social listening, and market trends.

Step 3: Decide Which Features to Prioritize

Research is a significant factor in every step of building your MVP.

Michael Rabjohns, UX Practice Leader (US) at 3Pillar Global, explains the process, “We often start out with a Discovery research engagement (3 rounds of research performed by 2 UX designers over 6 weeks). The first round of research is highly likely to include a feature prioritization exercise, as determining the scope of the MVP is crucial.”

So how do you prioritize what to do next based on the data you’ve gathered? Do you put more focus on features, implementation, or an excellent user experience? There’s no right answer, but there are prioritization methodologies that address each scenario. A few include:

  • The MoSCow Matrix: This involves dividing all proposed features into 4 groups: Must Have, Should Have, Could Have, and Won’t Have This Time.
  • Effort and Impact: This method examines features based on implementation effort as it relates to the impact a given feature will have.
  • The Kano Model: This model divides features into three attributes. Basic threshold attributes are expected; performance attributes contribute to overall satisfaction, and excitement attributes are unexpected features that will delight users.

No matter which prioritization methodology you choose, Donald Hiles, User Experience Solutions Consultant at 3Pillar Global, advises that you keep a few things in mind: “Look at your user research data. Which features address high-profile problems your users have versus nuisances they encounter? What requests did you hear most often? When in doubt, ask your user, utilizing your established research cadence!”

By stripping your MVP to the simplest version that still gets the job done, you can avoid bloat—or too many features. This step of building your MVP is about minimizing the bells and whistles and maintaining your focus on delivering the best product.

And with this prioritization in hand, you can start outlining MVP roadmap, which provides a high-level overview of your MVP strategy. As you go through the rest of the steps in the process, you’ll update and refine the roadmap to include which features are top priority and those that you’re developing down the road. The focus is heavier on “now vs. later” chronological order and an estimate on how long features may take.

Step 4: Define and Measure Value for the MVP

Although we’ve outlined the basic steps to build an MVP, keep in mind that the whole MVP process is essentially an experiment to test your hypothesis that your product is viable—your primary goal is to evaluate features and functions to see how the market reacts. Running a successful experiment means setting yourself up to learn, which starts by carefully defining the parameters of your experiment.

The Instigator Blog elaborates, “In order to know if an experiment has failed or succeeded, you have to have a measurement for success (anything else is failure). Without a clearly defined target/definition of success, you’ll likely end up in a wishy-washy middle ground. You may be running an experiment and collecting metrics, but you can’t really interpret the results without something to compare them to. The missing definition of success leads too easily to a positive justification of the results, after the fact.”

Some of the metrics to consider include:

  • Churn rate
  • Customer acquisition cost
  • Monthly recurring revenue
  • Lifetime customer value
  • Revenue per user

Step 5: Define Your Next Steps After the MVP is Executed

After you execute your MVP strategy, you’ll have a great deal of data to drive how you proceed. Your first step after execution is determining whether or not the product is viable by comparing metrics and actual results against your measurements of success.

If it’s not viable, you can either scrap the project as-is and repeat the steps of building an MVP based on an aspect that might be viable. Remember the story of Slack, where the now billion dollar company got its start as a feature in an online gaming system. And if none of your product is viable, you’ve saved a boatload of money in the development process.

If it is viable, take the following steps based on what you’ve learned:

  1. Refine your hypothesis and measurements of success for future releases.
  2. Be careful about how many things you change at once. You want to be able to clearly ascertain the impact of those changes.
  3. Refine your product vision and feature statements.
  4. Reprioritize features based on MVP results: What features did people use? Were there features people didn’t care about? Were there features people needed that you didn’t include? Etc.
  5. Create an initial product roadmap based on the MVP roadmap.

Execute Your Plan with the 3Pillar Global MVP Checklist

At this point, it might seem like all your work is done, but it’s really only the beginning. Once you have a strategic plan for your MVP process, it’s time to execute it. We’ve created an MVP checklist to help you ensure you don’t miss any of the steps for building your MVP.

  • Determine a scope for your MVP: Why are you creating the MVP, and what do you hope to accomplish? These questions will help you remain focused through the MVP process and will make other steps more straightforward.
  • Write your Marketing Requirements Document (MRD): Your MRD outlines the high-level market requirements for your MVP.
  • Prioritize Features: Armed with customer feedback and user input, you can prioritize the feature or features that will deliver the highest value.
  • Create a testable hypothesis: Your hypothesis statement describes the assumption you’re going to test in the form of your MVP. What do you assume to be true that you can “experiment” to validate with your MVP?
  • Define your measurements of success: Defining your measures of success will be your north star. These metrics will give you a good indication of customer adoption and, as a result, viability.
  • Determine pass/fail: Compare metrics and actual results against your measurements of success. If you’ve passed and the product is indeed viable, you can continue forward. If you’ve failed, go back through the steps to build an MVP.
  • Refine based on your findings: Solidify or tighten your hypothesis and measurements of success for future releases. With that said, be cautious about how many things you change at once and keep prioritization methodologies in mind.
  • Clarify the vision: Refine your product vision and feature statements. At this step for building your MVP, you want to “renew” and update any previously held assumptions—if necessary.
  • Reprioritize features based on MVP results:
    • What features did people use?
    • Were there features people didn’t care about?
    • Were there features people needed that you didn’t include? Etc.
  • Create an initial product roadmap: Based on the MVP roadmap, you should be in a good place. Get ready for what’s to come in the next initial testing stages before officially releasing your MVP.
  • Continue iterating to get the best possible product: The most important thing to realize is that your product is never done—unless the MVP process indicates it’s not viable and you move on. Instead, the MVP process—and to that end, software development—is all about setting benchmarks to improve and rolling them out after testing as you strive for continuous progress.

Methodical Planning Leads to Greater Success

Creating a methodical plan that follows these steps to build an MVP means that your product is more likely to be successful. Even if you learn that your product idea doesn’t have legs to stand on, the MVP process is valuable because you have a minimal investment.

A successful project means that you defined the scope for your MVP and learned from the testing phase. And if your hypotheses are correct, you’ll have a data-informed framework in place that guides future iterations of your product.

To learn more about 3Pillar Global’s services and how we can help you create, test, and validate a Minimum Viable Product and write your Market Requirements Document, contact an expert today.

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.