If you work in the online space long enough you run across the idea of “minimum viable product” (MVP). The MVP is the minimum product design/functionality that you can launch with that will give you the learning you need about your customers with the least amount of time and resources poured into the project. It’s an important concept that stresses speed to market, agile development, and iteration on the learnings to build toward your ideal product.
Eric Ries (who I can’t recommend reading enough) has an excellent description of the MVP:
The idea of minimum viable product is useful because you can basically say: our vision is to build a product that solves this core problem for customers and we think that for the people who are early adopters for this kind of solution, they will be the most forgiving. And they will fill in their minds the features that aren’t quite there if we give them the core, tent-pole features that point the direction of where we’re trying to go.
So, the minimum viable product is that product which has just those features (and no more) that allows you to ship a product that resonates with early adopters; some of whom will pay you money or give you feedback.
The problem with the MVP is that too often companies launch the MVP and then don’t build the roadmap to come back and take it to the next level. The business demands leave you with a string of unfinished, unpolished products. And while they meet the basic requirements of the early adpoting users they hamstring you trying to jump the chasm to the mainstream audience.
If you don’t have a road map in place to come back and continue to iterate on your MVPs you create a series of unpolished products which stop meeting the demands of your audience as more people outside the early adopting crowd try your product or service.
As you’re running you end up with an island of misfit toys which ultimately frustrate your customers.
While the MVP is a great concept, and keeps you from waiting too long to launch (and overdesigning for a non-existent audience) it can come back to bite you if you don’t consciously build a road map to improve it after the launch. So if you’re launching a new online service or product and you’re using the MVP approach do you have the time line, road map and resources lined up to take it to the next level once you learn what your customers really want?
More on the MVP here, here, and here.