One of the biggest challenges in our job is in figuring out the best way to bring a new product to market. And in agile product development, we strive to take smaller packages of features or development to market to quickly gather feedback, validate and iterate. An aspect of this process that can be especially confusing is the difference between an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and a prototype. Not only do they sound similar, but they both serve the same goal of gathering feedback on a product idea. It’s no wonder why many product managers get the two confused!
A prototype is an early stage version of a product that is used to test the design and communicate functionality. An MVP is a version of a product that has the minimum set of features to test its viability in the market.
In this blog post, I’ll clarify the differences between an MVP and a prototype, and share some insights on when to use each approach effectively. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out in product management, I hope this article will help you navigate these two crucial tools in your product development toolkit.
What Exactly Is an MVP?
An MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is a version of your product that has the minimum set of features necessary to test its viability in the market. The goal of an MVP is to validate your product idea with a small group of users, gather feedback, and iterate on the product based on that feedback.
There are three key elements to creating an MVP. Any more and it might be a sign that it can be further reduced to be more agile. The three elements are:
- Minimal: An MVP is stripped down to its core features, with everything else removed. This allows you to focus on the most important aspects of your product and gather feedback on them.
- Focused on a single key feature: An MVP should focus on the single key feature that sets your product apart from your competitors. This will help you gather targeted feedback on what matters most and determine if your product has potential.
- Testable: An MVP should be testable, meaning that you can gather feedback on it and iterate based on that feedback. This is crucial for refining your product and ensuring that it meets the needs of your target market.
Let’s better understand this definition by looking at some real-world examples of established products that started out as humble MVPs.
|Slack||It’s MVP was a landing page that explained the concept and allowed users to sign up for an invite. The landing page generated a lot of interest and allowed the founders to gather feedback and validate the demand for their product. Today, Slack has over 10 million daily active users and a valuation of over $20 billion|
|Airbnb||The founders of Airbnb started by building a simple website and reaching out to friends and acquaintances to list their properties. This allowed them to test the concept and gather feedback without a huge investment of time and resources. Airbnb has since scaled to more than 4 million listings in over 200 countries and a valuation of over $100 billion.|
|Dropbox||Dropbox’s MVP was a video that demonstrated the concept of a file-sharing service that worked across multiple devices. The video was shared online and generated a lot of buzz, which allowed the founders to gather feedback and validate the demand for their product. Dropbox has over 500 million registered users and a valuation of over $10 billion.|
|Zappos||Zappos, the online shoe retailer, started as a simple MVP with a focus on a single key feature: a vast selection of shoes. The founders initially sold shoes out of their apartment and used a simple website to take orders. This allowed them to test the demand for their product and gather feedback before investing in a full-scale e-commerce platform. Since then, Zappos has been acquired by Amazon for $1.2 billion.|
In each of these cases, the MVP allowed the companies to test and validate their product ideas, gather feedback, and iterate on their products before making a larger investment. This allowed them to achieve significant growth and success in their respective markets.
What is a Prototype?
Now that we’ve covered MVP (Minimum Viable Product), let’s turn our attention to prototype. A prototype is an early stage version of a product that is used to test design and functionality. It is not meant to be a fully functional product, but rather a way to gather feedback and refine the product before it is released to the market.
Lets go over the three key elements to a prototype:
- Early stage: A prototype is an early stage version of a product, typically created during the design and development phase. It may not be fully functional or polished, and is meant to serve as a proof of concept.
- May not be fully functional: A prototype is not meant to be a fully functional product, but rather a way to test design and functionality. As such, it may not have all the features or capabilities of the final product.
- Used for gathering feedback: A prototype is used for gathering feedback from users, stakeholders, and other team members. This feedback can be used to refine the product and ensure that it meets the needs of the target market.
To be clear, a prototype is not meant to be a fully functional product, but rather a way to gather feedback and refine the product before it is released to the market. Oftentimes, prototypes are more clearly understood in the context of hardware products, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be used in software products as well.
When to Use an MVP vs a Prototype?
Deciding whether to use a prototype or an MVP during product development depends on your goals and the stage of development your product is in. Here are some general guidelines to consider:
Use a prototype when:
- You are in the early stages of product development and need to quickly validate your product idea.
- You want to get a better understanding of how your product will work and how users will interact with it.
- You want to gather feedback from your design and engineering teams.
However, because a prototype may not be a fully functional product, it may not provide a realistic representation of the final experience.
Use an MVP when:
- You are ready to test your product idea with a small group of users.
- You want to gather feedback from users and iterate on your product based on that feedback.
The risk of using an MVP over a prototype is that it may be more resource intensive to create over a prototype. For a faster feedback loop, a prototype might be worth utilizing.
Ultimately a prototype and an MVP serve the same purpose, but a prototype might be an even faster, low cost solution to getting quick feedback. In order to use MVPs and prototypes effectively, it’s important to have a clear goal in mind and to choose the right tool for the job. By understanding the differences between these two concepts and using them appropriately, product managers can create products that are more likely to succeed in the market.