The Lean Startup concept of Minimal Viable Product is getting a lot of attention at the moment. It’s good to focus on a MVP, even if you’re not working on a Lean Startup. You want to start learning as early as possible.
You can also apply MVP to software development projects, for example by defining the smallest set of user stories that can teach you something about what a succesful product will look like.
How do you determine a Minimal Viable Product for a scrum project? This is something many people struggle with. “I can’t define a shippable minimal version of my product. My customers want everything.”
Roman Pichler posted an nice article called The Vision, the Product Backlog and the Minimal Viable Product. In his post he discusses what the Lean Startup concept of Minimal Viable Product means for Scrum and the product backlog. He suggests that the top user stories on your product backlog should enable you to validate your product vision.
The problem with visions is that they are usually rather big. “World domination”. “Organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Big visions are hard to validate with a MVP.
In his book Crossing the chasm Geoffry Moore suggests an approach for developing a successful product which is quite similar to the minimal viable product approach. His approach consists of becoming the number one for a small niche and then grow your customer base to another niche, and so forth.
This means that you start small, but with something good enough to become the most succesful product in a small niche. After succeeding in one niche it’ll become easier to succeed in the next.
You can also apply this to the minimal viable product you are building. Product usually grow big because they want to be useful to many types of users. Every product has different types of users with different goals.
These users can be modelled using Personas. When defining your minimal viable product, try to focus on a single Persona. What is the minimal set of requirements that you need to build to make this Persona a happy user? If you focus on a single user, it’s easier to see what a MVP needs.
Defining personas will also help you understand which users are critical to validating your product vision. This will help you sort the user stories on your product backlog.
Make sure the persona you describe is satisfied with your product. Happy users are the best marketing you can have. The key is to release something that is going to make someone happy. Not everybody, one or a few happy users will be enough. What’s the smallest amount of functionality you can release that will satisfy some users?
Focus on a few happy users, forget the rest.