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10 September 2014

Shipping Your MVP (Minimum Viable Product)

Often, clients come to me with an idea for a brand, a project or a website that they want to launch within the next 6 to 12 months. They want the planning to be just right and the launch date to be set, marketed and publicised. Think about it. 12 months from now. Where will we be? What could you have learned about your clients, website users, or customers in the 12 months it’s taken you to get your project live? The answer is “an awful lot.” An awful lot more than you’ll have learned from opting to delaying in getting something out there.

Enter: The Minimum Viable Product.

“What is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?” Simply put, it’s what it says on the tin. The bare necessities of going to market with your latest idea. If it’s a brand identity, maybe it’s a basic letter form version of the logo that you build upon at a later date. If it’s an app, maybe you launch an alpha or beta with certain features and gather customer feedback, adding to it as you go.

The MVP is easier to explain using a website as an example. You can achieve your MVP in your very first meeting, either as a client, or as a designer. Think “what do we need to go to market right now?” You could even use a tool like Bootstrap to get the MVP launched while sitting right next to your client.

So, if you own a restaurant, and you’re working with a web designer to build your site, think about these things:

  • What do I think my customers want?
  • How could what I think differ from what my customers really want?
  • Can I get something online right now, and start getting feedback within the next week or two?

You might think your customers want a flashy animation with auto playing music and fancy text, but as a web designer, I’d put money on you being wrong. Work with your web designer to draft up a logical solution to your immediate problem. Use forums such as Reddit and websites such as Quora to gather quick answers about what people want from your restaurant’s website.

On researching customer requirements, I think it’s safe to say that the following things should feature quite prominently;

  • Your opening hours
  • Your contact details, featuring a click to dial phone number
  • A map to the restaurant that opens in Google maps
  • An easy to read menu

And that’s it. Seriously. If you have those things up on your website, you’re ready to go. Now, I’m not saying go in all “unbranded and gung-ho.” Obviously, style it and think about how your brand shows through. But for the love of humankind, please don’t add auto playing music and Flash videos.

Once you’ve got your website launched, you can start gathering feedback and making amends to suit. You might find that clients are contacting you asking for your prices because you don’t have them listed. That’s when you expand out. Make a menu page. Get into some of the finer details. Maybe the phone never stops ringing with people asking your opening times. That would indicate that they’re not prominent enough on the site.

You could be learning this information now. Why sit waiting for that idealistic launch date to come rolling around? Chances are, you’ll miss it anyway.

The MVP is a hard concept to explain to clients. It requires a change in mindset and model. Many clients expect to sign off on a lot of different Photoshop mock-ups of their website, and when presented with a different approach, are slightly taken aback. Don’t be. Remember, Photoshop files and homepage mockups don’t show interaction, and after all, you want your customers to interact with your website.

Ross Chapman has a great article about Using MVP in Client Projects, and he points out that;

  • The internet is not a printing press
  • You tweak and improve
  • You don’t deliver once, you constantly deliver
  • You hypothesise, test, and release

Try looking at your website as an investment over a longer period of time rather than a “hit and run” job for both yourself and your designer. Maybe pay a retainer to your web design agency for 12 months and measure your results. After your website is a platform for selling your business, if it’s not making sales or generating leads, it’s wasting money.

There are lots of great case studies about split testing (A/B testing), that show how companies have launched with one version of their site, and over time, they’ve tested, tweaked and changed it to suit the needs and desires of their customers.

One thing to bare in mind is that you, as the website/business owner, are not the customer. So, how do you learn about your customers behaviour and patterns?

There are lots of great tools for tracking your site visitors. You can test using an A version and B version  of your site using a tool like Optimizely or Visual Website Optimizer. You’ve also got things like Heatmaps and Clickmaps which Crazy Egg does to perfection. Moz Tools is a great tool for testing too. Quicksprout provide a “competition analyser” that lets you see what your clients are doing and how active they are across the web.

Then, you’ve always got the “golden hub” of Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools. Between these two programmes, you can garner a huge amount of information. By setting up goals and funnels, and examining the “Behaviours” section of Analytics, you can see how a user travels through your website, where they drop off, and where they head to next.

With so many options available for gathering useful data earlier in the process than ever before, it is absurd to set a launch date way in the future, and wait. Don’t hesitate. Get the basics right and get them out there as early in the process as you can.

Creating minimum viable products means earlier return on investment, speedier delivery and better value.

And that’s that. Ship early, test, react, repeat.

We also now have a podcast about Shipping Your Minimum Viable Product with Ross Chapman. Why not take a look and leave a comment?

3 Responses

  1. Great stuff, this is definitely the way forwards. A businesses website and general web presence is so important these days, and something that’s only going to become more so as time goes on.

    Not only that, but web technology is changing so much, and so often, that what you can achieve on the web right now is going to be considered trivial this time next year. This means that there are new problems which, among other things, your website can solve.

    For example, I’m still seeing many, many restaurant websites using PDF menus, presumably because they believe it’s just simpler and there’s no reason not to. In fact that has a massively detrimental affect on your websites ability to rank highly in local areas because the search engines cannot read the content contained within a PDF. It also just doesn’t look very professional, and there can be difficulties viewing it on some devices.

    With a CMS (such as WordPress) it’s now very easy to maintain a menu that is displayed on a web page – your site, and brand, will reap the benefits.

    So, it’s obvious from my perspective that MVP needs to be utilised, but I do wonder what the best payment structure would be for such a service, and how willing people will be to sign up to something potentially indefinitely, for something they consider to be a one off payment?

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