Is Your Minimum Viable Product Truly Minimal? Avoiding Feature Creep

September 7, 2020

You know it, that lightbulb moment. You have a brilliant idea for an app, service, or software that offers a unique solution.

Now what? Build it, and they will come?

Not quite. There are several critical steps that you should take before you write a line of code.

Research, Research, Research

Asking essential questions will help collect information around crucial data points to help provide clarity during the development process.

  • What problem will my software or application help to solve, and how?
  • Who are my users?
  • What persona category do you believe has the greatest need for your product? Focus there and realize that you cannot be everything to everyone initially, but can grow to address other persona needs in future iterations

Create defined personas focusing on the following:

  • Age, gender, geography, devices used, income, profession, etc.
  • Add as much detail as possible

Are there similar solutions?

  • How many?
  • What are their advantages and downfalls?
  • What are customers raving or complaining about?
  • How is your product/application different?
  • What additional value does it provide?
  • How does the competition monetize?

Define Your Use Cases

Usability.gov shares that a use case is a written description of how customers will perform tasks while using your software or mobile app. From a user's point of view, it outlines a system's behavior as it responds to a request. Each use case is represented as a sequence of simple steps, beginning with a user's goal and ending when that goal is fulfilled. Hacker Noon notes that use cases “clarify behavior, break down features in small chunks, tighten the scope focus, and help you simplify.”

Feature Freaks - Stop the Spread

“Feature Freaks” are the “just one more” advocates in startups who often unwittingly enable the spread of a disease with many names; feature creep, feature bloat, or creeping featurism. In his well known TedTalk, Simplicity Sells, David Pogue shared an iconic image of what happened when he opened ALL of the features available on Microsoft Word. The screen was filled with menu bars, making the word processing functionality almost unusable.

Feeders of the “Creep”

There are many ways the “creep” happens; just a few are:

  • Inability to distinguish between “needs” and “wants”
  • A large potential customer requested the “it” feature
  • The belief that more is better
  • Your competition doesn’t have ‘it,” and you believe that will be your advantage
  • Fear that someone else will add “it” first

Costs of the “Creep”

  • Increased financial costs
  • Decreased simplicity/usability
  • Increased development time
  • Slower time to market
  • Opportunity cost - lost revenue/market share

How to push back against “Feature Freak” inclinations?

Focus On Your Minimal Viable Product

A minimum viable product (MVP) is a concept coined by Eric Ries of Lean Startup. It is the basic version of a product that addresses users’ primary needs. Ries defines an MVP as the version of your product that enables your team to collect the maximum amount of learning about customers with the least amount of effort. Agile Alliance notes that "a key premise behind the idea of an MVP is that you produce an actual product (which may be no more than a landing page…) that you can offer to customers and observe their actual behavior with the product or service."

MVP Success Stories

Amazon

Thinking big is a critical part of the tech startup lifeblood, but starting lean will ultimately offer you a better chance of success. Jeff Bezos’ goal of building “The everything store'' was visionary and obviously has come to fruition. However, in the mid-1990s, he realized that there were challenges to achieving his grand plan. E-commerce supply chains did not exist for most product categories, the adoption of the internet was not widespread, and many consumers did not even have personal emails.

His first offering was selling books online. It was a simple concept for the public to grasp. He built a site where customers could source a low-risk product and have it shipped directly to them. Building on what they learned from the MVP, Amazon iterated, learned from their successes, expanded, and grew their capabilities and reach.

Twitter

Twitter came into being as an internal use product at Odeo, a short-lived podcasting product derailed by Apple. Twitter was a text-based platform for the development team. Jack Dorsey saw how the team also used it for social interaction and envisioned a much larger potential for its application after Odeo closed its doors. Twitter was introduced to the public in 2006 and has become one of the world’s most popular social platforms.

Uber

When Uber launched in 2009, it was called UberCab. The app only worked on iPhones or via text, and the service was only available in San Francisco. It was a means to access not just a ride, but a certain kind of experience. Its target audience was professionals that wanted a cost-effective alternative to high-priced car services. Since ride-sharing was a foreign concept to most, Uber’s MVP proved that there was a market for the service. Feedback and data gathered from the MVP helped Uber scale to become the leading ride-sharing service in 80 countries worldwide.

Advantages of Developing a True MVP

Creating an MVP lets your team test ideas, collect feedback, accelerate the development pace, minimize costs, and ultimately get to market faster, increasing the chance of beating the competition and growing revenue.

Easier to Test

A more streamlined application, software, or website provides for ease of testing. When making a good first impression with customers, getting it right the first time is essential. Save the feature-laden version for future iterations, so that you can initially focus on creating a great user experience.

Streamline Gathering of Feedback

Providing users with a simplified product enables you to gain more specific observations in less time. You will gain insights into the product's functionality from a user's perspective. This information can also help you focus future development efforts on features that will satisfy the customers’ needs, avoiding unnecessary missteps.

Saves Time

When only core functionalities are included in the minimum viable product, your team can concentrate on a clearly defined set of features, integrate feedback sooner, and launch faster.

Reduces Costs

For cash-strapped startups, controlling costs is critical. An MVP enables you to quickly validate consumer needs and ensure that your original concept hits the mark. Based on users’ input, you'll know what the next features should be and where to place effort. Also, a shortened development time will ultimately save your organization financial resources.

Provides Market Recognition

The accelerated launch of the initial version of your product also gives you brand recognition and the opportunity to “plant the flag “ in the competitive landscape. The revenue that you initially receive from product early adoption may not be earth-shattering, but it will provide valuable resources for future development. More importantly, it will provide your organization exposure and prove your credibility to potential investors who can play a significant role in the future of your growth.

A Delicate Balance

Make sure your “minimum” is still viable

While it is important to keep early versions of your product as streamlined as possible, focusing on the “minimum” should not hinder a great user experience. Your product must offer superb usability to be successful. Viability means providing potential customers with enough unique value that they are willing to try your product. The trick is to find a balance between creating an elegant user interface, providing inherent product value, and staying within scope and budget.

How does your small team create your MVP while also trying to juggle customer acquisition, investor relations, and out-developing the competition? A tech partner with MVP development experience can help your team validate your idea in the marketplace, gather feedback from your target audience, and structure your product to achieve the best fit.

Choosing a Most Valuable Player For Your MVP

When evaluating software development firms, there are four key areas to investigate before choosing your tech partner.

  1. Experience in building MVPs

    Your tech partner must have development expertise and know-how to guide you every step of the way - from selecting the technology solutions for your project to launching your MVP.

  2. Opt For Value vs. Price

    The lowest cost software development option may be affordable, but not cost-effective. Working with tech partners that offer the lowest prices will often result in your organization spending 2-3 times more during multiple iterations on your way to an MVP.

  3. Development With A Business Focus

    The development team that best serves your organization will have specific experience and expertise to assist you with technology solutions AND the full execution of your project. True tech partners not only provide designers and developers able to recognize features that are necessary for your MVP to achieve the best performance and will embrace your vision of the application and help you position it correctly in the market.

  4. Defined Processes and Tools

    A transparent and efficient development process is key to the creation of a working MVP. Be sure that your tech partner uses agile software development methods such as Scrum. Its industry-standard framework allows teams to work efficiently to deliver maximum value. An additional crucial factor is transparency and open communication. Look for a development company that utilizes a defined project management system to plan and report on progress AND provides you access to these resources. This will enable you to track your project's progress and communicate with the team through collaboration tools.