The world of product and service development (both physical and digital) has long been governed by the “minimum viable product” (MVP), but is that really what we want to design products for?
Without going into detail, an MVP is a primary and minimally usable version of a product that serves to start learning from users, a kind of sample of what it could be once completed, but which is far from the potential “final” product. The creation of an MVP is often a milestone and helps to avoid spending huge amounts of resources (both human and economic) in the development of a product or service and shortens deadlines for quick prototyping, but it should never be understood as a final product. It is simply a functional but archaic product arrived at through iterative systems using methodologies such as Agile, Lean or based on user data (to mention just a few). A product that will be constantly polished and to which will be added patches to solve the problems that are being identified, adding functionalities and improving the existing ones or simply eliminating those that have received negative feedback from the users.
In agile methodology, the theory of “skate > scooter > bicycle > motorbike > car” is always cited, according to which we start by building a scooter (MVP) and then, through iterations, improve the product in order to end up with a high-performance car (sic). The approach is appetising from the outset because it allows a basic product to be brought to life in an extremely agile way and earn a medal quickly, but the problem is that often, in order to reach this MVP, so much is given up and so little space is given to non-technical arguments resulting in a product that is unattractive and unconvincing. In the best case scenario, once you get into this dynamic – and as long as the product survives its launch – you will probably end up with a tuned-up “Flintmobile” rather than a high-performance car.
Why are many companies and startups fascinated by MVPs, and why do they expose themselves and their projects to the risk of releasing an archaic product that probably will not (‘yet’) engage the user?
Simply because an MVP is a great first step in building a digital product or service and allows you to get something tangible and minimally usable quickly even though the constraints of technical possibilities and tight timing. An MVP allows you to start moving the business with a tight investment, positioning it in the market before someone else does and helping to prototype and evolve the idea with a real user. Seen in this way, it is a great resource, but from the user’s point of view it should not be considered sufficient, as it is often not seen as a “dark side”: having to settle for a first version of a usable product that lacks any charm, a good user experience and with which the user does not connect emotionally, offering a product that is often too archaic and, in some cases, disappointing and frustrating. The eagerness for the result and the dazzle of a “supposedly living” product, ends up taking away ideas that are put aside for upcoming iteration rounds that often do not arrive because other things always come up ahead of them. A more strategic design vision is not taken into account, neither is an innovative experience sought, because the rush of the processes eats them up.
There is an alternative to the MVP: the “Minimally Convincing Product” (MCP), an improved version with which a minimal product is also obtained, but improving the overall experience offered to the user, also improving the results.
It is an equally minimal approach but with an extra layer of intent beyond feasibility, which emphasises that the product to be launched, however minimum, must be both compelling enough to be used and also have the potential to be integrated into the day-to-day life of the users. It is an improved approach to the MVP that takes into account that an archaic, poorly ambitious and technologically constrained product launch is a fatal waste of opportunity. A MCP looks to answer certain questions before launching this minimal version:
Is what we offer to the user clear, is it enjoyable and is it effective? Does it solve a problem, does it do so in a unique and memorable way, is it compelling enough to be adopted in day-to-day life, is the value and benefit to the user clear, is the minimum product we are launching possibly frustrating, and does it trigger an emotional response from the user?
These questions analyse whether the experience you are offering is adequate or, on the contrary, limited to the technical and temporal possibilities without taking into account that a user is a person and is driven by emotions. A MCP proposes that we think about the design of the experience with perspective, focusing on the final objective of the product and what we consider essential in order to offer a first version that, in addition to being usable, must be successful and emotionally satisfying for the user.
In certain areas of product development there is a belief – a mistaken one in our view – that products can almost design themselves through a never-ending iterative development process. A trial/error process in which improvements are constantly applied to patch up the leaks to avoid shipwreck, but which allows itself to be carried along by the current. That can hardly be considered design, it’s just something like Darwinism.
Does anyone really believe that the user can fall in love and receive good feedback from them by offering unfinished products that lack the slightest appeal and do not offer a good experience? In a consumer society where we are constantly being bombarded with proposals, products and services, where competition is ferocious and consumption is expressed even in personal relationships, who has enough time and desire to waste on a half-baked product that does not inspire the slightest interest and with which it is difficult to connect?
Each team will have to decide what “minimal” means to them, but what is clear is that the word “viable” will never be too “sexy” or inspirational for the ordinary user. It is clear that a more in-depth, ambitious and visionary approach such as a MCP requires more time and work to improve the user experience by applying strategic design, but the benefit to the product and for the business model itself is substantial and well worth the effort. If we want to create products that have a higher adoption rate and easily connect with our users, it is time to embrace building MCPs rather than MVPs, take them as the goal and break free from the straitjacket of what is possible. Offer to the users products that, despite being only the first step of a journey, already start to satisfy their needs, objectives and expectations, that are already compelling to them and that allow them to imagine beyond the primary version. It is a more respectful approach to the initial idea that seeks a positive connection and avoids causing frustration to the users and, consequently, damaging the business model itself.
People, who are driven by emotions and feelings, need a more human approach to the products we relate to and do not like to be ” ruled ” by them. If we were not able to imagine where we want to go and were simply driven by what is possible, where would there be space for innovation? A MCP presents the world with a functional product that has purpose, that is compelling, engaging, deep and coherent. A product that draws the user’s attention and connects with them from the very first moment, a more evolved starting point and one which also uses all the tools a brand offers to establish a positive relationship from an ambitious, broad and strategic design perspective, offering a memorable experience and value proposition, giving products an intention, a soul, defining the why and provoking greater trust.
Let’s finally give up the tyranny of what is technically possible and finally embrace MCPs, let’s show the world the potential of designing delightful products.