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Friday, September 6, 2013

Minimum Viable Product: Why Small Developers Need Them

The concept of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is very popular in small start ups and software development. It helps us determine at a minimum what we need to accomplish, while also determining what our customers really want. There is no science to this, it is based on judgement and knowledge of your customers and product. The MVP can be confusing, and it may take some time to make sense of it all.

So what is a Minimum Viable Product anyways?

To state it basically, your MVP is your product with only the features that are required to complete the job it was designed for, and only the features that will get people interested and talking about your product. For the most part, your MVP depends on the product you are trying to sell. If it is a service, your MVP could be as simple as a Google Ad or a webpage, if you are creating a game or a sitcom, you may want to create a basic prototype first. The goal of the MVP is to make sure people are actually interested in what you are producing, and to catch it early if they aren't. The worst thing you could do is spend 6 -12 months of time and money developing a service, only to find out that absolutely no one is interested in your product.

Keep in mind that your MVP is just the core functionality or core idea behind the service or product you are trying to ship. The last thing you want to do is ship something broken and say that you will patch it later. You are trying to get people to talk about what you are offering, so leaving them with a broken and buggy service is going to lead people in the other direction.

You also want to remember that you're MVP is out there for you to get constructive feedback on your product. Only feedback. The MVP is not an open source methodology, you aren't asking for people to contribute to the project, and you aren't asking for people to change the story or core functionality of your product. The vision of the product stays the same, but as you receive feedback from your early adopters, you iterate, improve, and develop the service or product that people are looking for. If you get a dozen iterations in and your customers are still not happy or people still aren't interested, that's when you decide that your idea may not be a viable product at all, and its time to move on.

Hopefully by now you can understand why this is important to developers, big or small. There has been quite a few times that I've seen people say that they are going to go out and create a game that will revolutionize the gaming industry and change everything. The problem with these people is that their idea appeals only to them, and they haven't checked to see if it really is what people want in a game or product. Two years later they are still working on the same project, they are nowhere close to finishing, and they still don't know if the world is ready for their Massively-Multiplayer-Online-Real -Time-Strategy-First-Person-Shooter-Role-Playing-Card-Game (MMORTSFPSRPCG).

You need to remember that creating games takes a lot of time, and a lot of resources, especially if you have big ideas. Your best approach is to fill out a Game Design Document (GDD), which I will cover later, and figure out the minimum amount of features, and minimum amount of story you can get a way with without losing what your product is really about. This way you can prototype, iterate, see if this is the game that your audience really wants. You don't want to spend years of your life creating something for yourself, assuming that everyone else is going to love it.