Success with MVPs in E-commerce – Insights

Florian ArmbrustJune 2022

Origins of the MVP Concept

The Agile Manifesto is something everyone in digitalisation has seen before. It describes four values and twelve principles for better software development. The lean startup methodology developed by Eric Ries and published in 2008 is also very well known in the digital community. Unlike conventional go-to-market product processes, Ries described the goal of creating a “minimum viable product” as quickly as possible.

The term “minimum viable product”, however, has been around for longer than this. Frank Robinson coined it in 2001 in the context of requirements-driven incremental product development. Robinson stressed the ideal point where there is a high return on investment for minimum effort and minimal associated capital risk.

So much for the theory. But how about our e-commerce practice? And what determines the success or failure of an MVP? We have outlined our three key factors for you.

1. Customer-centric Mindset

The development of an MVP starts with the mindset. First, the project team needs to develop a clear understanding of what “minimum” means in terms of MVP and where “minimum” ends.

The “minimum” describes the point from which a potential customer would consider the product as a problem solver for their needs and would be willing to pay for that. So, on the one hand, we need to know their needs and requirements – or what people in target groups need in order to master their challenges. On the other hand, we need the requirements for the future product that describe the target groups’ expectations. These requirements form the foundation for later implementation.

One thing is indispensable for design thinking: The future product concept must be prepared with the help of strong user research, ideally a direct analysis in conversation with later buyers. Suitable methods would be the value proposition canvas by Osterwalder, Pigneur, Bernarda and Smith or Jobs-to-be-Done, which takes a closer look at the jobs required to satisfy the needs and demands of the target groups. What both methods have in common is that they don’t just look at functional aspects but also consider emotional and motivational psychological factors.

The diagram shows the MVP as the central object within a circle. Starting from the MVP, the energised project team and, in terms of effective implementation, the company can be seen. The target group with its user-centred mindset is depicted as the central starting point.

2. Effectiveness and Efficiency in the Company During Implementation

The nature of an MVP is: We cannot be sure that our later product will actually take off. We are working with hypotheses that need to be tested with our target groups as quickly as possible to get closer to the truth step by step. With an ever-changing environment (and thus target group behaviour), a product is “never really done”.

That is one of the biggest threats: A product must generate value for a company – and the same goes for our e-commerce solutions. That is why the product team needs to be aware that the current prototype may only partly work, or may not even work at all.

This is surely not as big a threat in e-commerce as it is in product design for consumer products. But still, we also heed the principle that we should have indicators or even proof of the likely success of a feature before we invest in the implementation.

For (almost) every software developer, code is an art form and coding is a passion. But sometimes, art and business are mutually exclusive, in particular in the implementation of MVPs. That is why this requires iron-clad discipline and a deep understanding of the customer. The goal is to produce high-quality code without overshooting the mark. Again, design thinking is a good approach here: We separate the collecting of promising ideas and inspiring solution design from the implementation of the released features. Timeboxing is key, because it helps you manage time (and resources).

In the end, the customer decides what works and what doesn’t, and we find out via validation and product testing. As the German saying goes: The bait must be attractive to the fish, not the fisherman. For MVP, it is enough for the bait to be viable.

3. The Soft Factors: Energising the Team

Last, but not least: There is no MVP without a professional team. At Unic, we are self-organised under Holacracy, so we are used to organisational agility. This makes it all the more important to make sure we bring the product designers on board for whom agility is not their usual order of the day.

Within the team, we work to generate the special, transformative energy that it takes to design a market-ready product. The collaborative spirit within the project team is our fuel for success – and it also makes the mission a lot more fun.

Our speed record so far for the successful development of an e-commerce MVP from sprint 0 to go-live is 140 days, which was for the Spryker solution for ALDI SUISSE.

Conclusion: As with all project methodologies, there are various factors in an agile environment that are critical to success. The combination of a deep understanding of the customer, a smart and established process and, of course, the human dimension is of key importance. This also applies to the development of a successful MVP, with the focus shifted to a fast, value-creating release date.

Recommended Reading:

For a more in-depth understanding, we suggest looking into the academic discipline of critical rationalism. Karl Popper, “All Life is Problem Solving”, published by Routledge in 1996.

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