The Value of the Minimum Viable Product

The minimum viable product (MVP) is the bare feature set needed to prove out a hypothesis.

Debunking Lean UX Myths

A lot of people have an opinion about Lean UX. Some are based on knowledge and facts, while others seem to appear out of the blue. In this series Jeff Gothelf debunks some of the myths.

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The MVP brings tremendous value to a team’s Lean UX practice but it’s critical to understand what “value” actually means and how context changes that meaning. Value for your usability test participant is different than value for your a/b test subject as it is for your product owner or CEO. Your MVP must vary as you move through the validation cycles from each of these consumers of that MVP to the next. The shorter those cycles can be, the less time you spend refining the wrong solutions and the more time you spend refining the more accurate hypotheses.

Laugero makes a strong case for the MVP in his article “Lean UX is Dead, Long Live Lean UX” with this line, “As a discipline, we UXers don’t typically think too much about cost and benefits. We’re not typically held accountable to profits-and-losses. But MVP’s are a good discipline for us — they make us think about how to cost effectively make good decisions. They reduce product strategy to its fundamentals — what features move the business forward, fastest. That’s not typically the way we think. [emphasis added]”

There’s a clear reason why many UX practitioners don’t often think this way. For years, we’ve been focused on delivering documentation as opposed to product experiences. These have been the measuring sticks by which we’ve been evaluated, hired and compensated. The strategic value of UX is hardly ever revealed in the depths of a design specification. We’ve not been afforded the opportunities to engage in conversation at this strategic level because most of our customers see us a pixel-pushers.

By bringing the validated learnings that come out of the Lean UX process to our teams and leaders we begin to shift the perception of UX design from a tactical craft to one that provides strong strategic insight and value. That value can be communicated in many forms. These communication deliverables are transient artifacts and should facilitate knowledge transfer when person-to-person conversation is not an option or is not sufficient.

That being said, getting caught up in the production of these artifacts buries the UX discipline under the label of document-creators. Instead, as each young UX professional learns the craft and begins to master the design of compelling, useful and usable products and services the strategic value of these outcomes quickly outweigh the actual pushing of the pixels. Lean UX provides today’s UX practitioners with a framework for becoming more agile in their practices, focusing their tools with targeted depth so as to minimize wasteful work, and create short feedback cycles that drive towards validated design concepts that solve big, hairy business problems. It is through these repeated, strategic successes that our discipline will become even more valuable to our organizations than it is today.

Jeff Gothelf

Jeff Gothelf has spent a 14 year career as an interaction designer, Agile practitioner, user experience team leader and blogger. He is one of the founding partners of Proof and one of the leading voices on the topic of Agile UX and Lean UX. In addition, Jeff is the author of the upcoming O'Reilly book (2012), Lean UX: Getting Out of the Deliverables Business.

One comment on this article

  1. Richard on

    Great article Jeff! I couldn’t agree with you more. However coming from a deliverable focussed profession, I see lots of designers struggle because in their heart they would rather make maximum viable products (Just made that up). Do you have any thoughts on how to change that attitude?