Creating an Innovation Molecule
Minimum Viable Product
What is an MVP?
While MVP is one of the more common terms you will hear related to innovation and is a concept that is widely used across many industries, the actual definition of an MVP differs quite a bit depending on who you talk to.
The definition ranges from, the version of a product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort (Eric Ries, 2009), to being, the smallest feature-set that customers will pay for in the first release (Steve Blank, 2010). Eric Ries and Steve Blank are two of the leading experts in start-ups and entrepreneurship so we will use their two definitions as a base and discuss the contrasts between them.
Let’s look a bit closer at the definition Eric Ries popularized with his blog startuplessonslearned.com and book The Lean Startup.
To fully comprehend his definition we need to first understand one of the main concepts of Lean Startup – the Build-Measure-Learn loop. The idea behind this concept is that we want to build a product, measure what the customers reaction is and learn what changes are needed or if can proceed forward as planned.
The MVP in this case is “the smallest thing you can build that lets you quickly make it around the build-measure-learn loop.”
In the very beginning, our MVP could be something as simple as a paper prototype that customers can interact with or a landing page for a website to measure the interest in our idea.
When we set out to build an MVP, what we are really doing is building something to test a hypothesis or assumption that we have, measure the result of our test and learn from it. By doing these quick and small iterations, we waste as little time as possible to find out if we are actually making something that customers actually want.
Similarly, Steve Blank’s definition is based on the idea that we want to put something in front of potential customers quickly and learn from their feedback while maintaining and communicating our grand vision. The main difference is that in his definition the MVP is something more tangible in terms of an actual product.
We will get back to what an MVP later, but first, let’s take a moment to think about why we would want to create an MVP at all.
Why does an MVP matter?
Regardless of which definition of MVP you subscribe to, the reasons for using it will be the same. The main idea behind creating an MVP is to reduce the amount of wasted time and effort (usually also meaning money).
We need to validate the customer demand for our idea but we don’t want to invest a years’ time in creating a product or service, that when we finally put it in front of customer, fails. To be clear though, failing is not the problem here, it’s the amount of time we spent before failing. In innovation, we will fail a lot and it’s not a bad thing because it will help us learn and improve our ideas, but with that in mind we want to make sure we fail as fast as possible (hence the popular phrase “fail fast”).
If we fail fast, we learn fast.
So how can we go about failing fast? Creating an MVP is a great way to do that. Putting something out in front of customers that they can interact with and give feedback on is crucial. The sooner we can do this the better which is why we don’t want to wait until we have built our whole vision before showing it off.
We use the MVP to validate genuine customer demand for our idea to find out if we need to alter it, continue as planned or abandon our idea altogether.
What level of work qualifies an MVP?
The answer to this question depends on the definition we use.
To get to a point where a customer is willing to pay for a product of course will take more effort than say a landing page or a paper prototype.
I want to clarify here that when we talk about customers in relation to the MVP, it’s really the early adopters and visionary customers we are talking about – the so called “earlyvangelists”. It’s important to remember that we won’t, and are not trying to capture the whole market with our MVP.
The earlyvangelists will be just as visionary as we are and not care about missing features, bugs, etc., because they understand the bigger vision we are working towards. These are the customers that we want to get the MVP in front of and give them something to react to.
So what level of work qualifies an MVP? Well, in general that is something you must decide for yourself depending on which definition you prefer.
In my opinion it doesn’t really matter how you define it, because the build-measure-learn loop is ideally the way that you will work to get to a minimum set of features that a customer is willing to pay for. The important thing is that those you work with have the same understanding of how you’re working, rather than what you actually call it.
MVP in Ericsson Innovation Awards
For the purpose of the Ericsson Innovation Awards, in the later stages when you’re working on your MVP, you will want to go through as many iterations of the Build-Measure-Learn loop as possible, getting you to or as close as possible to the MVP in Steve Blank’s definition – A minimum feature set that the early customers would be willing to pay for.
How to create an MVP (Summary)
- Figure out what assumptions you’re making with regards to your idea.
- Build the smallest thing you need to test your assumption.
- Let potential customers interact with what you build and gather feedback.
- Learn from the feedback and decide if you continue according to your previous plan or change something.
- Keep iterating through the build-measure-learn loop and work towards creating the minimum feature set that early visionary customers will pay for.
Article by David Henriksson
David Henriksson is a Security Consultant based in Finland and has worked 3 years at Ericsson. He is a former full-time innovation driver and a two time mentor in the Ericsson Innovation Awards.
Protect your intellectual property
As outlined in the Ericsson Innovation Awards terms & conditions, all students who submit ideas to the Ericsson Innovation Awards maintain intellectual property rights for their ideas. However, innovations that progress to the semi-finalist stage of the competition will be promoted externally, and it is always prudent to protect your idea with a patent.
A patent is a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor for a period of time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention. A granted patent ensures that others cannot make, sell, import or distribute a patented invention without the owner’s permission. Because each patent is awarded by a sovereign state, requirements can differ slightly.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) protects patents within WTO member states. But, requirements and costs for those patents change slightly according to country. We recommend searching the WIPO Directory of Intellectual Property offices to learn about processes, requirements and fees within your home country.