How to Co-create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Outline in an Innovation Sprint
Last month I designed and facilitated an innovation sprint to create an MVP outline for a data automation innovation.
Lots of people ask me about my workshop design process, and we also provide exceptional creative facilitation training and resources, so in this article I thought I would take you behind the scenes to share some insight on the role of the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) in new product development, and activities you can use when you are facilitating this stage of the innovation process.
If you’d like to learn more about creative facilitation, get a free copy of my DIY Away Day toolkit here, a great resource for facilitators.
What is a Minimal Viable Product (MVP)?
In product development, the minimum viable product (MVP) is a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers, and to provide feedback for future development.
The idea is that rather than waiting to perfect and polish every aspect of a product before it gets tested, or goes to market, the MVP helps entrepreneurs and corporates alike be more agile, ship their concepts much more rapidly, and get customer feedback that helps them to continuously improve the product to make it better, stronger and more attractive more quickly.
Waiting until the business has developed the ‘perfect’ product often means wasting time and money, and in some cases allows the competition to get there before you do.
It’s essential to remember, for every innovation task or project, that it’s important to invest just the right amount of time and effort to get the target outcome. Any more is a waste. Any less is failing to deliver.
For some things it means really pushing to do the most amazing, ‘delight-ing’ and stellar job possible because the target outcome is to blow people away or have a really high-end product or service.
At other times, quick, decisive action is more important, and it’s better to create something simple that’s good enough to test, fail and learn fast and with minimum expense, tweak and then test again.
When is an MVP needed?
The concept of creating an MVP in new product development of apps and other technology solutions is common because user feedback can be collated, bugs can be fixed and improvements made comparatively quickly, easily and cheaply, sometimes even in real time.
The MVP principle is also very relevant, though, for any new product or service development.
Ideally the MVP will be built when the concept for an innovative product or service has been validated with target customers or end users, although you might not always be able to do this.
Why it’s a good idea to have an MVP outline
To be commercially successful, it’s essential that your new product or service idea genuinely solves a problem for your target customers. Creating an outline, or MVP specification document, is invaluable for helping you to think through what value your idea has for the end-user, why the end-user would want to buy your new product or service, and what features will give your innovation the competitive differentiation it will need to stand out for all the right reasons.
As well as product or service features and benefits, it’s important that you also think through how your target customer will use your innovation, mapping out the likely process from start to finish to make sure that the user experience flows well.
Once you have a well thought out MVP outline, you will be able to do a much more efficient and focused job of mocking up or building a first generation version of your innovation, as long as you stick to the brief you’ve created for yourself. Not only will this be cheaper and quicker, but the simplicity of MVP thinking will help you to identify and hone in on core issues that have a material impact on the end-user’s experience.
Key features of an MVP outline
Your MVP outline will be a focused list of all the features and benefits that you want your new product or service to offer your end user.
Working through the list, ask yourself:
- What is the single-most important action that you want your users to accomplish? (This will become the main feature).
- What other features do you want to offer?
Categorise every feature you’re thinking of building into your MVP as:
- Must avoid
Someone separate from the project should be able to pick up your MVP outline and get a really clear idea about what you want to build.
Even when your product or service innovation is a non-tech solution, you should be able to use your outline to shape a really simple physical prototype, or early working concept, either in 3D, perhaps using junk modelling materials, lego, play doh, plasticine or other materials, or in 2D through doodles and sketching. These methods can lead to surprisingly insightful ways of understanding your MVP, as long as you don’t need a high fidelity visual or interactive prototype of course.
It is super-important that you create your MVP prototype from the perspective of the target end user of your product or service.
Remember – your MVP is simply an experiment designed to test your concept with customers before you invest more time and money in developing a more detailed, elaborate or sophisticated solution.
Ways of Prototyping your MVP
When you’re ready to prototype your MVP, here are a couple of quick, easy and less technical ways of testing your idea from the Design Thinking innovation process.
Wizard of Oz Prototyping
In the classic story of the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her friends go to see the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz only to discover that he’s a fraud with no real magic.
Wizard of Oz Prototyping means creating a user experience that looks and feels very realistic, but is an illusion created to test an idea and generate a lot of really useful feedback very quickly and early on in your design process. The approach also means that you avoid incurring the cost of having to build the real solution.
A storyboard is a method used by film makers to depict how a storyline will unfold, scene by scene.
Using the Prototype Storyboard technique is a great way of testing the linear flow of how the user is likely to experience your new product or service, including any problems the user is experiencing and how they are likely to overcome those problems.
Storyboarding puts the person at the centre of the innovation development, and it’s a really low cost and simple way of presenting your ideas to your target audience for testing.
You just need some pens and paper, and don’t even have to exhibit any artistic flair whatsoever, as long as the stages and actions are clear.
To create a great prototype storyboard…
- Be character-driven: Characters are a great vehicle to express deep human needs and generate empathy and interest from your audience.
- Have dramatic action: Your story should have 3 components: Action, Conflict, and Transformation.
- Action: What is the character trying to do? What are the actions she is taking to achieve it?
- Conflict: What is in her way? What questions linger beneath the surface?
- Transformation: What is the big insight? How do the action and conflict resolve?
Be as detailed as possible.
Co-creating an MVP outline – Creative Facilitation Process
Here is a creative facilitation process that works really well for shaping an MVP in innovation sprints, design thinking and product development workshops. The process consists of activities designed to identify:
- Target state
- MVP features
- Useful solutions
1. Target state
This creative activity helps delegates to start with the end in mind. Doing so is really useful because it creates context and focuses delegates’ thinking on the goal.
Allow about 30-45 minutes for this technique.
You will need old newspapers and magazines, glue sticks, sticky notes, pens and scissors.
Brief your delegates along these lines:
The ‘target state’ means your vision of how things will work and what the benefits will be once your MVP has been created.
Work in your groups to use the materials provided (you can cut or tear out images and headlines and stick them down) to create a visual / poster that shows your vision of the target state for your MVP specification. Spend about 15-20 minutes or so on this.
Then ask delegates to work together to write a description of their MVP to include:
- Descriptive title
- Scope (what is in and out of scope)
- A short ‘elevator pitch’ statement
- Why you have chosen to focus on this
- Who will benefit and how?
2. MVP features
Ask delegates to have a team discussion (in small groups) to agree and write down the specific features of their MVP, to include:
- The single, most important feature that it MUST have
- Additional features that you want to be included, categorised as:
- Must have – and why
- Would like to have – and why
- Must avoid – and why
3. Useful solutions
In the context of the MVP brief that delegates have developed, ask them to consider the technology and solutions that could help to create the MVP, and that are currently available, and plot each of them onto this grid. You might like to re-create this grid on a flipchart and use post its.
That’s it – at the end of these activities, your delegates will have created their MVP outlines, enjoyed the collaboration process and achieved some great work! They will also have a clear view of the tools and solutions available to them to help create their MVP.
I hope that this has given you some ideas for your own events in the future. If you’d like any tips, ideas or advice, do feel free to contact me direct on +44 7879 631270 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
We also provide exceptional creative facilitation training courses and programmes. If you’d like more information to help you run your own events, download my free DIY Away Day toolkit. It’s a great resource and contains an agenda, instructions for all the creative techniques I suggest plus my top tips for successful creative facilitation.
If you’re interested in accessing our creative facilitation training online, why not come and join our Idea Time programme for facilitators? I’d love to work with you to help you become the best creative facilitator that you can be.