If a new software client knows anything about software at all, they generally mention an “MVP” in the first meeting. The Minimum Viable Product is seen as a semi-mythical thing that’s “good enough” to put out there, to get funding or user feedback as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, many organizations set out to build an MVP that’s either so hard to build it never gets released, or it’s terrible at impressing investors or users.

One of the common problems with building (or even defining) a minimum viable product is ignoring the last two words. It needs to be an actual product, and it needs to be viable, and those are both terms that people generally don’t have definitions for.

Your mileage may vary, but here’s a reasonable definition of a product: It needs to have functionality, reliability, usability, and emotional design.


Now, if that’s what a product is, then what’s an MVP? Well, an MVP is just a product. It’s just the smallest product you think you can get away with building right now.

So, it’s not this:


Notice where the red line is - that’s where the team finished before the release. Now that’s not an MVP, because that’s not a product: it doesn’t meet the definition above. It’s just an … artifact. We’ll Call it the MFA, for Minimally Functional Artifact. I’ve encountered a lot of these in my time, and they are only good for … well, honestly I’m not aware of anything they are good for. But the tech industry sure builds a lot of them.

An MVP is this:


You’ll notice it contains all of the essential elements, and also in the same ratio as the “big product.” In fact, this drives home the point that an MVP is just a product. A real, shippable product, that’s properly tested and ticks off every tier on the pyramid. So, the MVP is either actually 1.0 … or it’s not a product, and shouldn’t be released!

Now, what about “internal releases”? There are lots of versions of this chart, and all of these have some value, to somebody. But have your team sit down and figure out who the audience for each version is - and if it’s worth building at all!


This image is available as a printable PDF