Design & UX

Prototyping the MVP


Adriaan Fenwick

Adriaan Fenwick

I speak human. Helping man and machine get better acquainted through methods and principles of design. Designer @ Atlassian and aspiring mountain goat. Views & opinions on here are my own.


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Lean Startup

Prototyping the MVP

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There’s something that’s been bothering me for quite some time in how digital products are being made today. Far too often I see great engineering behind products, but with poor execution of how it works within the lives of people.

The Lean Startup movement and the buzz around a MVP (minimum viable product) has made the problem worse.

Maybe it’s time to stop developing or worse – building – MVP’s and just start prototyping? For years the interaction design community have been using prototyping to get to results early in the process, eliminating waste.

I came across an article The misconception about what MVP should be, which highlights the issue nicely:

When you have an idea you prototype it to see how people react to it. It’s not hard to comprehend. Yet, people and companies don’t follow through with those rules. The whole concept of MVP is to help improve a product before it’s even made; often times MVP is the actual product.

I strongly disagree that MVP should be the product, no matter how basic. MVP should be a prototype, a quick prototype, developed over the course of few days. If you are going from an idea to product conception, it is not an MVP.

I shared some of this frustration of these so-called MVP’s and how they only offer bland, mediocre, half-baked experiences in my talk at UX South Africa 2014.

The problem isn’t a MVP or the Lean Startup, but rather a mistake often made when using new product design/development methodologies where people misinterpret the principles and concepts; or simply use them as an excuse to defend poor product decisions…using the-methodology-made-me-do-it response.

The problem is that when a MVP takes the shape of a functional product, it stays in that bare bones state until it’s too late…or when there’s a big old feature debate when everything non seriously technical (like a friendly human error message actually tells a user what is wrong, set in beautiful typography) gets chafed off the block cause its not-MVP.

In Rian van der Merwe‘s article about product management lessons, he highlights how many of today’s MVP’s are missing the V in their product:

As a Product Manager, I understand the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) concept, decisions to de-scope rather than delay, etc. But too often MVP’s go out into the wild missing that all-important middle “V”, so you end up with, well, minimum products.

Don’t leave out the “V” in the MVP. I believe that Comcast didn’t launch a minimum viable product. Splitting the login pages into two screens is unnecessary and confusing to users. The MVP might be an incomplete product, but it should never feel incomplete to users. Users shouldn’t be able to notice that something is missing. There is clearly something missing here.

In another article, Software is sometimes doneRian wrote later he makes another good point that has me thinking:

But I also wonder if our obsession with the never-doneness of software — the inherent throw-awayness of our MVP and test-and-learn culture — is having a negative effect on the quality and lasting meaning of the software we make.

For me, the closest I can explain the effect that these apps are making on us after you’ve signed up, you feel hung over – or – like when you get to the coffee machine and there’s no coffee left…

All I’m saying is before you decide to create a MVP as the product:

  • Take your idea and create a prototype for it
  • Put your prototype in front of people you think will want to use it and take them through it
  • Based on what you learn from watching them make improvements on the prototype
  • Repeat this until you are happy that they will use it
  • NEVER stop this process

David Aycan describes using prototypes as multiple MVP’s to test and validate assumptions:

Sketching or mocking up experiential prototypes and then testing them with consumers or potential partners, while also explicitly jotting down your operating and business assumptions and using them to discuss the business with industry experts, allows you both to pick a promising route to invest in the development sprint and to pivot with confidence.

* Disclaimer: I really like the Lean Startup movement and how it works. The framework is one of the best I have seen for product development, but needs to be used with care and responsibility.

More Reading:
The misconception about what MVP should be
3 Product Management lessons from Comcast’s new sign-in pages
Software is sometimes done
Don’t Let the Minimum Win Over the Viable

Adriaan Fenwick

Adriaan Fenwick

I speak human. Helping man and machine get better acquainted through methods and principles of design. Designer @ Atlassian and aspiring mountain goat. Views & opinions on here are my own.