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Defining Your Minimum Viable Product for a Mobile App

According to Statistica, world mobile app revenue for 2015 was nearly $35 billion dollars. The number of apps downloaded in 2015 was 102,062 million, with a predicted increase to 268,692 million downloads in 2017.

Further, the Apple App Store reported that as of June 2015, more than 100 billion apps had been downloaded from the store.

Incredible statistics, right?

With the fast-paced world we live in, mobile apps are literally being created left, right, and center. Given this fact, if you have an idea, you’ve got to release it fast; though, at the same time, you also need to have a quality product to present to users.

Before making a full-fledged launch into major mobile app development and undertaking a huge marketing campaign, there’s a critical first step you’ll want to take that can help reduce your risk, cut your costs, and measure your viability of going big.

It’s called building your minimum viable product (MVP).

This is the step you’ll need to take before you do anything else related to mobile app development. It’s the step that tests the idea and gives you an educated guess as to whether or not it’s really going to work.

Let’s face it, there are plenty of good ideas out there - even the great ones can crash and burn. If you go all-in and invest without testing, you could end up greatly disappointed.

What is an MVP?

When you start with an MVP, you basically go ahead and build a product with only the minimum number of features required.

Everything else that you might eventually want to include is stripped away – the MVP contains only the core features that provide value to potential buyers, offering you the opportunity to test whether or not your app is going to gain any traction.

Sven Lenaerts puts it quite simply on Tutsplus:

“Define the core of your product. Build that first set of features and test it on the market.”

That’s the short, concise explanation of an MVP. But it doesn’t give you much to actually go on if you’re looking to build a mobile app yourself.

The reason we’re here today is to talk about how you define the core idea for your MVP in order to execute on it. The process is made up of a number of different stages that, if followed, will better position your mobile app for success.

Determine the value proposition

First, you’ve got to determine what it is your app brings to users; what it’s value proposition is that makes it stand out from other existing solutions.

Peep Laja, from ConversionXL, provides some great examples of value propositions and also offers a useful definition, saying:

“The best value proposition is clear: what is it, for whom and how is it useful? If those questions are answered, you’re on the right path. Always strive for clarity first.”

Having your value proposition clearly defined enables you to better understand the market you’ll be releasing your MVP to. It’s also the first point for exploring the offers and value of your competitors so that you can get a good grasp on what people are looking for and determine how you can do it differently (or better).

From your value proposition and competitive research, you can collect user requirements and collate a list of possible approaches you might consider using in your own app.

Create your roadmap

Your roadmap is your mobile app ‘features architecture.’

This is basically a written list of all the features you’ll include in your product, covered in great detail.

Think of your roadmap a working document that includes every feature you envisage the app might eventually include, along with the technical scope of each feature that must be created.

This step is not about limiting your ideas to what’s possible in the short term, but rather about mapping out your entire vision, from which you’ll draw the features required in your MVP.

If you’d like to look at a working example, here is one that Sven Lenaerts from TutsPlus provides:

MVP featureset.png

Drill down to the core features

Once you have your roadmap, your next step will be to rate each feature by necessity.

There are three ways of looking at this that can help you really hit on your necessary core components:

  1. Must haves / Nice to haves – While you might like to have some things included at the outset, they may not be necessary for your MVP. The ‘nice to haves’ are the types of things you add later down the road, once you know you’ve got a product worth investing in.

  2. The Scale of 1 to 10 – Taking into account product importance, complexity, and added value for the user, rate each feature from 1– Least important, to 10 – Most important.

  3. And lastly – Rate features as ‘Essential’, ‘Nice to have’, or ‘Moderately important’ – similar to the two examples above.

These three are all essentially the same thing, but the different wording often inspires different people to get their heads around the concept.

What you want to do at this stage is really drill down and strip your features architecture back, narrowing it down to the core product – only the features that will provide the most value in the short term.

You’ll end up with a list of what will be in your MVP right now, as well as another list of the features you can work on adding as the app takes off.

For example, say you want your app to allow users to take photos and post them instantly across social networks by having user-defined preferences and the ability to post photos with just one tap of a button. The main value proposition here is the speed and convenience of sharing.

There’s a whole variety of possible additions to this app, such as the ability to edit photos, add effects, add text, create custom albums, and even post videos. These ideas all go on your features list.

But, for your MVP, you need to strip back to the core product. Start listing the features in order of priority – your MVP should only include the must-haves at this stage.

Examples of MVP Core Features

Want to see a few examples that crystallize the whole concept of an MVP mobile app? Here are a few, provided by Kelly Drill of SitePoint:

  • Instagram allows users to share beautifully enhanced photos with friends

  • Groupon offers daily discounts for local products and services

  • Amazon is a one-stop shop for online purchasing

Each of these products has grown to include many more user features, but they all started as a single, unique concept.

If you can do one thing really well and solve a specific problem, that’s going to be your ticket to a winning app.

Ultimately, a strong, singular, unique concept is much more valuable to a user than an app that tries to include too many things - and winds up doing them all poorly.

Even better, as a long-term proposition, doing one thing well also reduces costs and streamlines your internal processes. It’s a win-win for your mobile app development process.

Review your feature set

There is, of course, a balancing act that exists between user experience and the essential functionality required to test your MVP app. And sometimes, keeping a balance between these two needs is challenging.

After you’ve drilled down to your core elements, go back and review the feature set and evaluate whether each feature is not only necessary, but also achieves your key value proposition.

Make sure you question whether the needs of users have been prioritized and how the balance rests between the two areas.

This review process is also a great time to get a second opinion and gain feedback by talking about your idea with as many people as you can.

Always question: Can I go back and make the MVP even simpler?

Research technicalities

Before going ahead and developing your app based on the MVP you’ve isolated thus far, do your due diligence on technicalities and possible shortcuts.

For example:

Although there’s ample evidence to show that mobile app development has huge market potential for any company, you shouldn’t go rushing into it.

Start small, be clear, go through the necessary paces, and create a good MVP plan before moving into development. Only then will you be ready to put your app out there for testing and to begin marketing your app to consumers.

Once you have some real data to go off of, then you can refine or expand your idea and make it realistically scalable. But only if you start with your MVP can you be sure that you’ve got the right idea to run with in the first place.

And, should the worst come to pass and your MVP fails to take off in the marketplace? You’ll have saved yourself the time and money needed to move forward with your next great idea.

What other tips do you have on planning and building an MVP mobile app? Share your best recommendations by leaving a comment below:

Image: Flickr

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