Executives who have been in product development long enough probably have heard of the minimum viable product (MVP) and might even have incorporated the concept into their work. In recent years, businesses have embraced the MVP to accelerate product development. The MVP has served its purpose well. But forward-thinking brands have adapted the MVP into something even better: minimum lovable product (MLP).
Why the MVP Has Flourished
The MVP is defined by entrepreneur Eric Ries as “[the] version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” The MVP is part of a larger product development framework called the Lean Startup method, as discussed in Ries’s book The Lean Startup. With the Lean Startup method, businesses rapidly develop product ideas, validate them against customer feedback, and revise those ideas in iterative fashion. The goal of Lean Startup is to develop products faster and with ongoing customer feedback in an agile fashion. Entrepreneur Steve Blank, (known as the father of the Lean Startup) wrote a popular Harvard Business Review article in which he discussed the MVP in context of the Lean Startup:
The emphasis is on nimbleness and speed: New ventures rapidly assemble minimum viable products and immediately elicit customer feedback. Then, using customers’ input to revise their assumptions, they start the cycle over again, testing redesigned offerings and making further small adjustments (iterations) or more substantive ones (pivots) to ideas that aren’t working.
The MVP concept liberated businesses from the tyranny of perfection. Its adherents discovered a new tool to outhustle their competition by launching products faster and with a reasonable amount of customer feedback. By breaking product development into iterative chunks, businesses could make more efficient use of their resources and chalk up results sooner.
A Better Way: the MLP
Having applied the MVP concept in many client settings, we’ve learned that it has shortcomings. Most importantly, the MVP by definition can undermine the launch of truly blue-sky, innovative ideas. Applying the words “minimum” and “viable” to an innovative idea is like popping a balloon. By launching the rough draft of a product with the least amount of effort possible, businesses dilute the original idea — and, even worse, they take to market iterations that are based on a watered-down version of the original vision for the product.
Businesses can be more effective by thinking MLP instead of MVP. Instead of asking, what’s the minimum viable product we can launch with the least amount of effort and expense?, they ask, what kind of new product can we launch to create customer love with the least amount of effort and expense? We like the way Laurence McCahill, cofounder of The Happy Startup School, compares the two ideas:
- MVP: The version of a new product that brings back the maximum amount of validated learning about a business’s customers with the least effort.
- MLP: The version of a new product that brings back the maximum amount of love from a business’s early tribe members with the least effort.
The differences between MVP and MLP are more than semantics. Creating an MLP means involving one’s customers from the start in the concepting and design of the product. Adherents of the minimum lovable product rely on tools such as customer personas and journey maps to understand customer wants/needs and all the potential touch points a customer has with a brand, ranging from connected digital products to in-store experiences. By necessity, a business cannot create effective design tools like journey maps without involving the customer in the design, which means talking with them and listening.
And as noted in the UX Studio blog, creating an minimum lovable product also means defining customer problems a business want to solve and testing a proposed solution to those problems with customer insight, all before the business create the minimum product the team believes it can launch.
Here’s what we discuss with our clients: the difference between MLP and MVP is that a business launches a minimum lovable product with its customers, not at them.
Benefits of the Minimum Lovable Product
Developing an MLP brings about a number of valuable outcomes. For instance:
- A business is more accountable to its customers. The product development team is more customer centric and empathetic. When a business thinks “lovable,” it focuses on the customer. When a business thinks “viable,” it focuses on the business, budget, and internal processes — all of which are important but only in context of being accountable to customers.
- A business removes friction from the customer journey. Creating a minimum lovable product means designing a digital product that delights customers amid all the micro-moments where customers interact with a brand.
- A business becomes more accountable to the strategic vision for the original product. Because the business involves customer insight into the product ideation, the business is always vetting its idea by being in the customer’s shoes before the initial product sees the light of day. Either an idea flourishes the way it was intended with Version 1 or the team never gets to Version 1, period.
With the MLP, the development team still enjoys all the benefits promised by the MVP, notably getting products to market faster with a higher degree of confidence and certainty. But the team does so with customer love built into them.
There is no single methodology for developing a minimum lovable product, nor is there a universal snapshot of what an MLP looks like. That said, Brian de Haaff, CEO of Aha! (provider of a product roadmap software), identifies some useful attributes of MLPs:
- At least one person tells you it’s never been done.
- Customers visibly smile when you describe it to them.
- Someone swears when he hears the idea (in delight or disgust).
- You dream of using it and all of the features you could add.
- Only your CTO or top architects think it’s possible.
- People start contacting you to learn about what you are building (old school word-of-mouth).
- The top industry analysts are not writing about it.
We also believe a business knows it has created an minimum lovable product when customers say the product has identified a need they didn’t know they had. But deep down they knew. The business simply got the insight of customers like them to identify that need as the product was developed.
How to Get Started
One question clients often ask me is, but how does a team get started adopting the minimum lovable product mindset? To be clear, we’re not talking about reengineering a company around the MLP. Here is what we suggest:
- Identify a few champions in the organization who are willing to own the idea and create a business case for the MLP.
- Get an executive sponsor who will free up the resources and time to map an approach.
- Decide on an idea to test — not a bunch of product ideas, but just one for a pilot.
- Develop a workshop to map out the process.
At Moonshot, we embrace the proven design sprint process (as articulated by Google Ventures). In workshops, development teams agree on their approach, including important steps such as identifying all the team members needed, determining the customers to involve in ideation, and developing a roadmap.
We use our own service offering to adapt the process for clients that might otherwise encounter obstacles to developing minimum lovable products — such as the difficulty of securing dedicated time and help from people who are accountable to other departments outside the purview of the executive sponsor.
We do so by providing subject matter experts from specific disciplines (e.g., technology) who act as an extension of the client’s team. Our resources bridge gaps that exist when the executive sponsor attempts to assemble an interdepartmental team and encounters obstacles such as politics, resource availability, and budgetary complications.
To learn how we can work with you, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to help.