Product Management

Minimum Viable Product

Agile Product Managers operate with the understanding that unreleased software depreciates just like a tangible asset or an inventory of product in a warehouse. Software loses value every day that it sits on a dev server instead of in the hands of users. While tangible assets lose real value, unreleased software depreciates in a passive way by foregoing revenue or by foregoing added value to users. Sometimes, the user’s perception of that value depreciates if the feature or product releases too late. If BB10 launched in 2011, would Blackberry have retained more market share? Eventually, users tire of waiting and move on to other products that meet their demands.

What does MVP really mean?

Agile methodologies focus on releasing software rapidly and iteratively. They hedge against software depreciation. Conceptually, MVP captures these principles and applies them to the marketing side of software. A product manager focused on MVP builds the features necessary to provide value to a niche group of users rather than waiting to launch a product that does it all. Likewise, the goal is to provide meaningful value to a small group of users instead of a large group. A minimum viable product launch targets niche users with high value functionality. The software releases quickly and the product manager tests the market early then uses the quantitative data to direct the strategy of the product and to learn where profit opportunity exists.

Original-facebookWhen Facebook launched at Harvard, it allowed users to connect with other students in their classes. This limited piece of functionality would propel Facebook into the limelight of social networking. Every student across the globe sought an easy way to talk with other students in their classes. Facebook simplified this task. Imagine Facebook without apps, without a News Feed, without a Timeline, without videos, without status updates, without Pages. Facebook’s minimum viable product was nothing like what Facebook is today. They discovered a niche group of users (college students) and catered to them with a simple but valuable feature which slowly grew into a global social network for anyone, anywhere.

How minimal is minimum?

Take a much fresher case, Instagram. Their minimum viable product consisted of photo filtering and photo sharing. Break it down and notice that Instagram built two main pieces of functionality – a basic photo editing tool and a watered down social network based on images. Releasing a product based on each feature individually would likely have failed. Many photo editing tools, much better than Instagram, already existed. Similarly, photo sharing wasn’t a unique feature. However, the combination of the two created Instagram’s minimum viable product. The combination separated Instagram from other companies. This standout combo of features defined the word ‘viable’ in minimum viable product.

Since proving their value, Instagram expanded their feature offering to include video. While Instagram may ultimately kill it’s competitor video app, Vine deserves notable mention for being first to market with their video functionality. They found their MVP and made it to market quickly.

Building a minimum viable product requires a huge amount of focus by the product owner. Feature creep morphs a simple, focused product into an unfamiliar creature that often turns out to be too confusing to users. Additionally, adding features beyond the initially determined minimum viable product lengthens development timelines. Scope changes are the enemy of Agile and MVP. Maintaining a clear product vision and product roadmap guards against scope and feature creep, but understanding the revenue and cost consequences of delaying product launch strengthens the case for MVP.

What about a Minimum Viable User Interface?

Traditionally, software launches focus on functionality, so very little work goes into designing beautiful looking products. However, mobile changes the game. Users now expect beautiful interfaces and an intuitive user experience. This attention to design reflects in a minimum viable product. Users seek out pretty apps and while a beautiful interface will not make up for poor functionality, a hideous app certainly has the potential to turn users away very quickly despite the functionality.

Product Management

A Product Mission Statement

I manage products like I manage a business. Every business starts with a business plan, and that business plan starts with a mission statement.  It may sound cheesy, but a mission statement provides valuable focus. When CloudChow began, David and I wrote the following mission statement:

To create a global marketplace for mobile food ordering.

This mission statement became the filter we used when deciding what features to launch with. Does developing a rewards system help create a global marketplace for mobile food ordering? Not really. It is a great idea, just not necessary for a first iteration. So we scrapped it. We focused attention on the most impactful features. As CloudChow evolved, so did our mission statement. We redirected focus to developing custom branded restaurant applications. And so our mission became:

To allow any restaurant, big or small, to build a low-cost mobile food ordering app.

This became the new filter we used when determining what features to launch with. For CloudChow, our business is our product, but more often than not, a company will have many products that it offers. In this circumstance, there may be some divergence between the big picture goal of the company and the goal of each product. At ViSalus, we create micro filters for each product I manage. The ViSalus mission statement is:

To impact life, health, and prosperity around the world.

However, I use product mission statements that cater more closely to the audience using each software, not necessarily toward the entire ViSalus audience. For our Promoter facing application that assists with business monitoring, we use the following mission statement:

To help a Promoter grow their business.

When considering adding new features, or making UX changes, and even completing certain bug fixes, I use this as a filter to weed out the non-priority tasks. I prefer these filters to be concise, but have the power to inspire. After all, a mission statement is only as valuable as the ideas it will ignite. For our customer focused application, we use the mission statement:

To provide technology that assists Customers in completing their Challenge and weight-loss goals.

While ROI matters, there are certain features that provide high value to users without having a clear path to ROI. These mission statements help me groom the backlog with a focus on my users. As Product Managers, we walk a fine line between driving revenue and driving user value. It is important to be able to take a step back and look at the mission of your product without getting caught up on monetization.