The Right-Sized Approach to Digital Product Development

It hits you suddenly. Maybe when you’re in the shower, or just going to sleep, or driving to work. That moment of inspiration, when an idea for a digital product simply enters your mind.

Everything seems to make sense. You have a vision in your mind that’s profoundly clear. You know in your gut it will enhance your business, make your customers’ lives easier, and if you play your cards right, it will scale up to be its own profit center.

We hate to be the ones to tell you this, but don’t trust your gut!

There is too much you don’t know yet. Too many variables you haven’t considered or even identified lurk around every corner. Do you really know how customers will use your product, or even if they will use it? Does it solve a problem for them? Is it the right problem? Is it even a problem at all?

Don’t get us wrong. A gut instinct can be a great start to an idea. But without answering the above questions, and many others, your digital product could be doomed to fail before you launch it, but not before you commit untold resources to developing it.

There’s only one group that can give you definitive answers: the people who will use your product. Your customers. So it’s imperative that you get your product into their hands as soon as possible. 

And one of the best ways to do that is to develop a Minimum Viable Product, or an MVP.

A faster, cheaper way to validate an idea

We’ve written about the MVP before, and for good reason. It’s one of the most efficient means of obtaining user the feedback crucial to validating an idea for a digital product, and scaling it to meet user needs.

Too often, companies assume they need to spend months or even years thinking through every last detail of a product, build what they assume to be a full-featured version, and unveil it to the market. This is a lengthy and expensive process with uncertain results at best, as user acceptance is far from guaranteed.

By contrast, an MVP is a quick, inexpensive approach. Our typical MVP process takes 90 days, and the cost is a fraction of conventional, full-featured product development. We don’t build the “complete” product because it’s not necessary or even advisable. The features and functions that will resonate most with users are still unknown.

The MVP helps us discover what features are most useful, how customers actually use the product, and how likely they are to adopt it on a large scale.

Minimum Viable Product Framework

Four Steps to a Successful Minimum Viable Product

1) Define

The purpose of an MVP is to test a hypothesis that a digital product presents a compelling solution to a customer problem, or fills an unmet market need. So the first order of business is to define exactly what that problem or need is. A clear understanding of the question at hand is crucial if we are to find the right answers.

Having defined the problem, we then work with clients to prioritize what features to include in the MVP. This requires some restraint, as we don’t need to identify every last feature the product will ultimately contain, just the ones that will have the most impact in the testing portion. At this point, we also define the product architecture so the MVP can be built quickly and scaled later. Using the right “innovation stack,” we can focus time and resources on developing core features and use existing technology for supporting functions.

2) Build

With the product defined, we can start building. Precisely what gets built can take many forms, depending on the target platform(s) and the user experience we’re trying to deliver. It’s here that the importance of following an agile process comes in. Learning is inherent to the MVP process, and when working with new technologies, unforeseen opportunities, ideas and obstacles will likely present themselves. As a development team, we need to be able to pivot, leveraging new information to incorporate it into the product.

Knowledge of solution architecture is also important in the build phase. As mentioned above, we identify the right innovation stack upon which to build the product early in the MVP process. This makes it easier, faster and cheaper to build standard functionality, such as messaging, mapping and search. Thus, we can then focus on the aspects of the experience that need to be unique or special.

3) Launch

This is where the real fun begins. Get the product out the door and let users have at it! It might be a beta version, or launching to a specific market, or an awareness campaign to let people know the product is available. The important thing is to start watching — through analytics and other tools — to how users interact with the product, so you can…

4) Learn

Through the analytics and user behaviors you observe after the launch, we will obtain a great deal of information. The key to learning is to look deeply at the data. Not just surface-level data about if users are adopting the product, but how they are using it. We want to track individual events that show how people are moving through the product, and how that compares to expectations and assumptions.

It’s rare that anyone gets it right on the first try. That’s why the MVP, and our define, build, launch, learn approach to it, is designed to be an iterative process. Multiple iterations are crucial to finding the right formula for a product that users will embrace.

Reducing Risk

We get it. Building an MVP and putting in front of users to get their feedback feels like a risky proposition. Typically risk-averse, corporations may default to the familiar process of conducting extensive market research, followed by months of planning, design, and development, to create a product that ticks all the right boxes.

That process feels safer, but in fact it’s inherently far more risky. It commits a great deal of time and resources to developing a product that, in the end, may not resonate with customers. In the time it takes to develop that product, the market may shift and render the product obsolete, a competitor might be first to market, or technology may evolve to shorten the product’s life cycle.

By contrast, an MVP is a far safer bet. It offers a tool for learning what will make your product successful in a shorter period of time, at a much smaller investment. Success, of course, is never guaranteed.

But an MVP can be the right-sized approach to giving you a better chance of turning your moment of inspiration, your gut instinct, into a scalable, sustainable, profitable product.