Building a Better MVP: How to Say “No” to the Wrong Things So You Can Say “Yes” to the Right Things

How to say "No" to the wrong things so you can say "YES!" to the right thing.

May 11th, 2018   |    By: Keith Shields    |    Tags: Product, Design, Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Most products start out as a response to a problem. An inconvenience is slowing people down, a situation is diminishing quality of life, and either no solution exists or the one that does exist is insufficient.

Something new is needed. So creative people come up with an original or improved way to fix the problem.

All product development teams start with the problem. But many become so enamored with their solution that they lose sight of the problem they’re solving during the development process.

Product design and development

They come up with new ideas to work into the product and functionality that’s “cool,” and they build the product the way they think users want it.

But the end result is a product that, while mostly meeting the need they set out to fill, misses the mark for the intended audience. The team said “yes” to the wrong things while neglecting some essential right things.

Where Product Development Teams Get Derailed

The traditional model for minimum viable product (MVP) development is Build, Measure, Learn. You quickly push something out into the marketplace that’s based on your best guess about what the market wants. You then measure how it performs, and then iterate based on what you’ve learned.

The problem is that measuring performance doesn’t really provide you with the information you need to iterate effectively. If you start with an MVP that doesn’t really match up with what the market needs, you’re left floundering. Measurement tells you what isn’t working, but it doesn’t tell you why it’s not working.

Stay Focused on the Problem to Build an Ideal Solution

Product development teams can avoid this dilemma if they stay focused on the problem throughout the process. Before development even starts, dig deep into the problem your product will solve.

What consequences result from the problem? What ancillary problems are created by the main problem? What factors affect potential solutions?

The best way to fully understand the problem is to talk to those who deal with it on a regular basis. Interview people in your target market.

Find out as much as you can about the problem from their perspective:

  1. How do people in the target market describe their problem?
  2. What frustrates them the most about the problem?
  3. What have they already tried?
  4. What are must-haves that they can’t function effectively without?
  5. What’s not imperative to them?

Through the interview, you’re looking for qualitative data that you can’t get via quantitative measurement.

You’re looking for nuances, how target users feel, what they see as most important.

A New Model for MVP Development

Without first building a foundation (of thoroughly understanding the problem), measurement and iteration will be insufficient to create a successful product. I recommend tweaking the traditional model of MVP development:

Interview > Build > Measure > Interview > Learn

The interview process is essential at the beginning in order to build an MVP that can later be iterated into something successful. And it’s essential after the MVP is released, so you know what and how to iterate.

Post-Mortem Revelations

In post-mortem evaluations of over 100 startups, CB Insights discovered that the primary cause of startup failure (in 42% of cases) was “no market need.”

Almost half of these startups built a product before they understood the need for it or talked to the people they thought would buy it. Only running out of cash (the cause of 29% of failures) and not having the right team (causing 23% of failures) come anywhere close to downing as many startups.

When CB Insights asked startup founders to evaluate where they went wrong, the founders overwhelmingly said that they were more focused on solving an interesting version of the problem, rather than solving the real problem as it existed.

The team at Patient Communicator wrote, “I realized, essentially, that we had no customers because no one was really interested in the model we were pitching. Doctors want more patients, not an efficient office.”

The only way to find out what your target market really wants is to talk to them.


Also worth a read:

  1. An MVP is not a Cheaper Product, It’s about Smart Learning
  2. 5 Ways Your MVP Can Help Your Early-Stage Startup Succeed
  3. Build And Validate An MVP With This Toolkit
  4. How to Launch Your MVP Faster and Smarter
  5. The Secret to a Successful Product Launch Strategy

About the Author

Keith Shields

Keith Shields is the Co-Founder and CEO of software development company Designli. Designli maintains a focus on building beautiful, transformative digital products for startups and enterprise clients.

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