MVP in Agile: What It Is & Why It’s Critical

Two business women in the office putting post-it notes on white board. Agile methodology, project management, MVP

The MVP is at the core of Agile development and has revolutionized how products are conceptualized, developed, and delivered to the market. In an age of continuously evolving consumer expectations and rapidly shifting market trends, harnessing and leveraging the MVP has become vital for organizations aiming to deliver successful products that serve user wants and needs.

In this article, delve into what MVP truly means, how it fits into the Agile framework, why organizations may be resistant to the concept, and how it benefits businesses and drives the success of their products.

Things to know about MVP in Agile:

  1. What Is Agile?
  2. What Is MVP in Agile?
  3. Why Does Agile Use MVPs?
  4. Why Are MVPs Important for Businesses?
  5. How To Determine Your MVP
  6. What is User Story Mapping?
  7. Common MVP Mistakes

What Is Agile?

Agile is a delivery framework typically used in software development that stresses frequent delivery of “working software” through an iterative looping process of 1-3 week increments called “sprints” or “iterations.”

Agile emphasizes collaboration and transparency, meaning that development teams and stakeholders work closely together so that everyone knows how delivery is progressing and can collaborate quickly on changing needs. 

Agile is especially applicable to product development where outcomes are unclear and subject to frequent changes as new needs are discovered.

What Is MVP in Agile?

MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is a version of a product early in the development process that has just enough functionality and features to test the product vision and gain feedback for future iterations.

The “minimum” part of MVP is especially critical. It should not be a fully featured product; instead, it allows you to test the basic concept of the product against the needs and desires of users to validate the direction your development is heading in.

Why Does Agile Use MVPs?

Agile/Scrum uses MVPs for two primary reasons:

  1. To get feedback from end-users and customers as quickly as possible. Human beings do a better job reacting to and providing feedback on something tangible rather than an idea or concept.
  2. To allow software engineers and software development teams to exercise the entire workflow of getting software into production. Particularly in consulting where we don’t control our own environments, getting working software in production validates that all the piping and automated testing that it takes to get software deployed is functional. It’s best practice in our industry to get something to production, even if it’s just something that says, “Hello, World,” as quickly as humanly possible.
Diagram of Iterative-incremental delivery by a scrum team using the MVP concept properly. By Paul Beckett, 2020

Why Are MVPs Important for Businesses?

In addition to the reasons listed above, MVPs enable businesses to start to prove value.

Businesses cannot risk making a substantial investment in software and waiting forever to see it. Building software is a significant investment for most companies, and organizations want feedback on the work they’re doing quickly to confirm it’s a worthwhile investment.

The days of spending 18 months to build a product or launch a project, and over the course of the 18 months the customer need has evolved, and you launch something that no longer matches the customer need – those days are over.

Those days were particularly painful for developers writing software for something people didn’t end up using because it was designed in a spec 20 months prior.

How To Determine Your MVP

An MVP must accomplish customer objectives. It can be helpful to view this through the OKR framework. For instance,

  • I have an objective to drive revenue, improve customer experience, save costs in this regard, simplify this user experience, etc.
  • By doing this I will save money, increase revenue through a funnel, drive more sales, or achieve some other result

The MVP must be robust enough that it solves the simplest variant of the objective and allows you to obtain feedback to evaluate if the objective is being met.

Product owners must ask themselves how to build the simplest possible solution that meets the established objective. They must then challenge themselves to simplify it. How can they cut out extra features that aren’t needed today to prove that this thing is worthwhile, but not cut so many that it’s useless?

Our teams at AIM are proponents of using user story mapping to determine the MVP and answer these questions.

What is User Story Mapping?

User story mapping is a visual exercise that helps product managers and their development teams define the work that will lead to the best user experience.

The exercise consists of ordering user stories along two independent dimensions. The “map” arranges user activities along the horizontal axis in rough order of priority (or “the order in which you would describe activities to explain the behavior of the system”). Down the vertical axis, it represents increasing sophistication of the implementation.

The highest priority, most essential features are the ones that are included in an MVP. Once product managers lay out the various features of their MVP, they can organize them into a sprint plan or release plan. Release one is often the MVP, then release two starts to add additional functionality and features, and it advances from there.

Common MVP Mistakes

There is a mistaken notion that you only get one shot at something and if people don’t like it, your idea goes down the drain. This mentality leads to people trying to pack too much into their MVP, which in turn costs more, takes longer, and slows down the feedback cycle.

Our teams at AIM Consulting consist of experts in product development, software engineering, and delivery leadership. We continually coach and guide our clients to recognize that the objective of an MVP is to get feedback from a customer and learn.

The sooner teams can do that, the better the project is going to be. On the contrary, when teams delay getting feedback by adding various, nonessential features, they cannot be certain whether they are investing time and money in building the right thing.

It’s critical to strike a balance between getting something out fast enough and ensuring it has enough functionality that people provide great feedback on it.

Sometimes, a team may get an MVP out and receive feedback like, “This thing is missing. Where is this functionality that should be there?” This can be incredibly validating for a product owner, confirming that functionality is the right thing to invest in.

When leadership asks a product team, “Why are you investing in this feature?” the team now has customer data, rather than just their gut or intuition, to confirm it is the right investment to make. In a world where data-driven decision-making is paramount, obtaining customer feedback on an MVP enables product teams and business leaders to strategically tailor their products based on data.

Ensuring Product Success & Satisfaction with MVPs

User expectations and market demands are in constant flux, and the ability to pivot swiftly and strategically is critical to success in today’s business environment. The MVP approach in Agile empowers development teams to quickly respond to changes and deliver a final product that accomplishes customer objectives.

The journey to realizing the benefits of Agile brings challenges and uncertainty, however, and requires deep expertise in the Agile framework and MVP approach, as well as technical skills and a strong understanding of user behavior.

Our teams at AIM Consulting are skilled in guiding teams in their software development and MVP journey, placing user needs and feedback at the heart of development processes and ensuring the delivery of value-driven, user-centric products. We partner with organizations to prevent wasted investment in features users don’t care about and to achieve a truly exceptional end product.

Need Help Embracing the MVP and Developing Products Users Love?

Our teams are ready to help you realize the benefits of Agile principles and products, enabling your teams to react quickly and create exceptional products and software. We’re passionate about your success.