Minimum viable product mutants

4 min read
Jennifer Aldrich
  •  Nov 9, 2015
Link copied to clipboard

Over the course of the past few years, minimum viable products (MVPs) have begun to mutate. I’m not talking fun, turtle power mutations—I’m talking product-stomping, Godzilla-style mutations.

People are completely skipping over the “V” in MVP.Twitter Logo But why?

True MVPs

The MVP concept took off in the tech industry when Steve Blank and Eric Reis started talking it up.

The basis: an MVP is a way to get the most bang for your buck when you’re marketing a new product concept. So, you invest the least amount of money and effort possible to give your product idea a market test run in order to see if your target audience is even remotely interested.

“The point of an MVP is to sell a concept to the market.”

Twitter Logo

If they aren’t interested, no harm no foul—you only made a small investment. But if they are interested, you get the green light to invest more time and cash to build out a more substantial version of the product.

Thankfully MVPs aren’t required to be partially developed versions of a product, because quite a few companies can’t afford that kind of investment.

There are tons of MVP options out there, but I’m going to talk about 4 of my favorites.

Types of MVPs

The type of MVP your company should select depends on resources (staffing, time, and finances), your audience, and the scope of the project.

The most common types of MVPs:

1. Wireframes
Wireframes are a great MVP choice if you’re short on time and cash, and you’re presenting your MVP to a tech-savvy, creative audience. If you’re targeting people who can really visualize the awesomeness that will come to be, wireframes are a safe bet. If you’re presenting to a group of clients who don’t fall into that category, you may want to invest in a more graphically enhanced MVP type.

2. Mockups
Mockups are a little safer if you’re working with an audience that doesn’t have much practice mentally visualizing abstract concepts. Kick out some beautifully executed mockups in a program like Sketch to get your point across. Think of them as a guide that gives a tour of what’s to come. For some stakeholders, a picture is worth a thousand wireframes.Twitter Logo

3. Rapid prototypes
Sometimes people just need to see something that moves—with buttons they can push and eye catching pictures and colors to draw them in. You have to clearly explain to some audiences that they’re not seeing or working with the actual product so they don’t get overly distracted by functionality, but rapid prototypes are great for an audience that needs even more assistance in the area of visualization.

“For some stakeholders, a picture is worth a thousand wireframes.”

Twitter Logo

4. “Lite” product versions
This MVP type is where the recent mutation issues have really taken root. If you’re solidly funded and staffed, you may get approval to create a small-scale, developed MVP. It’s not going to be a fully featured masterpiece—it should be more of a cleanly executed version with only a few key features integrated that can serve as a foundation if the project gets enough market buy-in to proceed. Adding some bonus mockups to tell the rest of the story rounds out this style of MVP.

A few years ago, I worked with an amazing team to bang out a beautifully polished mobile app “lite” MVP in a matter of weeks, and it was a fantastic success.

After we tested the market with it and realized it was going to be huge, we used the “lite” app as a firm foundation and jumping-off point for all of our future app enhancements. We were fortunate to have the staffing and the funding available to make this a possibility.

At the end of the day, the point of an MVP is to sell a concept to the market.Twitter Logo So let’s talk about what an MVP is not.

What MVPs are not

Some folks only focus on the “minimum” in MVP and skip right over the “viable” piece.

Due to this misrepresentation of the concept, for some people MVPs have become synonymous with sloppy, hideous product representations.

Releasing half-baked features smashed into a poorly constructed version of a product is not an MVP. It’s a trainwreck, and it’s counter productive.

Using a poorly executed MVP to test the market will likely mean you’ll get negative market feedback, regardless of how awesome your concept really is.

The whole point of an MVP is to sell the concept to the market, not to scare people away. That’s why selecting the appropriate type of MVP is so important. If you select an MVP that you can execute well, that falls within your budget and hits the sweet spot with your audience, you can get a far more accurate feel for the market landscape.

“Your MVP shouldn’t scare people away.”

Twitter Logo

Don’t get in over your head with your MVP. If you don’t have the time or budget to create a polished, key-featured, partially developed version, then kick out a polished mockup or rapid prototype instead.

When it comes to MVPs, appearances aren’t everything, but they’re pretty damn important.

Why you should give MVPs a shot

When executed properly, MVPs are incredibly powerful. Rather than spending obscene amounts of money designing and developing a product, only to find out after release that no one wants or needs it, you can create a well executed MVP. If the MVP tanks, you’ve only invested a minimal amount of money and effort. If you get fab feedback, you have the validation you need to throw more time and money at the project.

Basically, well executed MVPs are a win-win opportunity regardless of the market results. They either save you boatloads of what could have been wasted cash, or they give you the market confidence you need to let your product soar into the next phase: full-on design and development.

Header photo by Eugene Flores. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic. This post was originally published on

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard