Journey from Vision to Minimum Viable Product

#Article
#Software Development
#High Tech
October 11, 2016 7 min read

Many startup entrepreneurs are under pressure for resources and time needed to create their own product, whether it’s a gaming app, an online service or else. How to develop a product idea into a real minimum viable product or at least a prototype? There exists a certain framework for that, divided into several stages.

Grasp Your Idea

The first stage is to understand and formulate the real essence of the vision you have. You need to progress from a raw idea to a structured understanding of how it can be perceived by the audience. You can brainstorm by yourself but surely better with a team, figuring out the main directions for development. One of the key points of this process is to choose a potential target audience, formulated in detail (including its habits, fears, dreams, etc.), but consisting of relatively abstract users. These are pre-personas who will engage with your “system” to solve their problems. You frame the concept, determining your users and the ways your product helps to relieve their pain. Be aware that your personal perception of user problems and desires may be faulty, you need to find at least 3-5 people who match your “pre-persona” and talk to them in more detail. Obviously, this lucky group must not include anyone from your team.

Your fieldwork can be tremendously fruitful, as face-to-face communication provides you with a lot of insights on user pain points and expectations from “the system” you are creating. Usually, it goes in the form of an interview, but the main possible drawback here is questions with predefined answers when the interviewed person is unintentionally “forced” to give the desired response. I would advise to listen more than talk, use open-ended questions, and focus on the user vision and problems. The wrong question: Would you use this app? The right one: Please tell me what did you do to solve this problem last time. After you gathered all information needed, you can finally get your user personas (roles) polished to perfection.

Cut the Fat

After you’ve described your users and analyzed personas, you will (at least, you are supposed to) understand a real problem or a set of user problems to solve with your system. It’s high time to start forming a list of features. The problem is the only one you need to focus now. You might feel you want to add some beautiful and “really important” frills to the system functionality, but please send these thoughts away! Your user stories (Agile alert!) will help you create a simple prototype (without full processing mechanics or a final design) and then an MVP (Minimal Viable Product). If you can avoid creating a complex product or service mixing different tasks in one package, avoid it. Focus! Solve one primary task at a time. You need to envision a common scenario of using your “system”, as it forms a user flow. A user flow is a simple concept, but a tough in implementation. You start listing the actions required for your persona to reach his desired goal. More details you have over your users, the better you can grasp their intentions.

MVP

Let’s consider the example. We are making an application which allows you to order your pizza. From the start, we need an ideal scenario: a user launches his app, chooses his pizza from proposed options, in half an hour a pizza delivery man rings the doorbell, the user confirms the payment. Digging into detail, we may see that our app must offer a pizza choice matching the user’s expectations: his taste preference, potential delivery time, and maximum cost. Here a technical guy in our team understands we need to execute preliminary steps to make this scenario possible. Apple Music works in a similar way, this app asks you to choose genres and artists you like, when you join the app. It’s a logical step, as your first reaction to the app would be negative without it. In our case, we have toppings and crusts instead of favorite artists. The user will need to choose from the list of ingredients he likes, the type of preferred pizzerias (low-end, high-end) and price limitations to help us form a pool of suggestions. After pizza selection, we would ask for location confirmation, as we can detect it by GPS. This user flow is the base for our prototype or a minimum viable product, as we’ve reduced all unnecessary actions. Account creation is not required as the device remembers you, card credentials are not mandatory for this version as you can pay by cash on delivery, favorite delivery addresses are fine but not critical at all. All in all, we’ll need to take into account all technical measures to make it real to order your pizza just in four steps (launch the app – select your preferences – select your pizza – confirm your delivery address).

It’s not a problem if you don’t have an engineering guy in your team who can help you with technical requirements. Outsourcing is to assist you here, but it’s not a panacea for all ills. You will need an external team specializing in similar launches, who can facilitate the whole development process and prepare the first Minimal Viable Product. Likely, you’ll show this minimum viable product to your “connected” users to gather more initial feedbacks or present it to investors. You can certainly bring it to the market to start forming your client base. On this stage, you’ll receive real user feedback to clearly understand the direction to move on. This is a starting point for gradual product or service development, as you get yourself into areas of user concern.

Improve the world or global domination

As a startup entrepreneur, you’ll need to understand your personal goal, whether it is improving the world or global domination. This one affects your MVP strategy. The first strategy is the fastest launch and monetization at the expense of cash flow from the “system” itself (product or service). In this way, as a startup entrepreneur, you don’t get any income at first, you spend your savings on the minimum viable product. If your product triumphs, you reinvest earnings on further software development. Be aware that you’ll have a minimum time slot to polish your product, match it with user expectations and remove all apparent discrepancies. You are to estimate your MVP expenses and cost of tweaking to match the market. Here comes the solution to proceed or to make a pivot. The second strategy is pitching to investors. It’s highly problematic to pitch a raw idea nowadays, as investors want to see what you can actually do just to lower their risks. In this case, you may sacrifice showing real traction but focus on a bigger audience coverage and additional capabilities of your system. Don’t get it wrong, you need monetization for sure. If you don’t see how you get your money, you’d better stop and think again.

“What generates money?” is the next key question you need to ask yourself. Even if it’s your social project, and it’s not about actual money, you’ll get something instead: reputation, image, fame. All of them can be converted into money indirectly. Another important line of questions is related to the entrepreneur’s focus, time and passion. To which extent can you focus on your product? What part of your life would you sacrifice to get something instead? If you’ve got an idea, but you’re not ready to invest your time in its implementation, the project is not likely to be completed in a proper way. If so, you can find a dedicated partner or a domain expert instead.

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So what’s next?

The time on minimum viable product development may vary. It can be done within a week, but consequently, it will be very limited, not flexible, ugly, yet solving just one specific problem. In real life, it’s just rare like gold dust. The average duration of MVP development takes around 1.5-2.5 months. If you see your minimal viable product is in development for 6 months, it’s not a minimum viable product, it’s the first version. You need to stop, retrospect and analyze what is done. In such a way you want to minimize your further expenses. Naturally, high-end projects require much more time, so here a prototype is more appropriate. In this case, outsourcing companies may conduct architectural technology research and develop micro-apps to test the concept.

If a client has a good technical background, sees a certain technological solution, but doesn’t envision the scope of work, Innovecs is here to help. We are facilitating the development process, identifying the project vision, articulating tasks to arrange their flow. Features prioritization is on a client – as a project sponsor. Being your outsourcing technology partner, Innovecs works not just with the product vision but also focusing on architectural nuances and conditions that may drastically impact technology choice and full functionality. In many cases, such “hidden” architectural decisions are invisible to an entrepreneur and a final user, but picking the right ones is very crucial. And so, that’s Innovecs’ objective to estimate the complexity of your project and development time.

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