De-risk Software Development the MVP Way

Article summary

There’s a lot of discussion and misunderstanding around the concept of MVP (Minimum Viable Product) in software creation. Many disregard it due to its ambiguous definition. However, when I wear the product owner hat, building to an MVP seems to be the fastest, risk-adjusted route to success. So, I’m not willing to let it go, yet. I intend to make a case for it in this post.


In software development, an MVP is the release of a product embedding only the necessary features needed to test a central hypothesis about its value proposition. Namely, “We believe this product is valuable to this user because it can perform Y.” The MVP is the simplest software we could create to realize this value.

This applies whether you’re bringing a new product to life or scoping out a new feature. It might involve more manual processes than preferred or lack a certain polish, but that’s okay. The goal isn’t to stop once we’ve rolled out the MVP, but to de-risk the project and provide the team with more critical insights.

Building an MVP doesn’t mean compromising on features or ignoring the larger project’s vision. On the contrary, an MVP helps teams gradually introduce complexity into the system. This builds confidence that we’re crafting the right product to satisfy stakeholder and customer expectations.


Teams are most ignorant about the problems they’re solving at the project’s outset. However, as features are added and users spend more time with the software, the team garners more insights which helps mitigate risks as they aim to improve the software.

Choosing an MVP allows us to plan the complexity we need to build, spotlighting the software’s main value. Agile methods offer a chance to build, test, and gather feedback, speeding up our learning curve and facilitating value and risk reduction.

We use spikes to directly tackle risk. These time-boxed tasks have varying goals — from understanding the problem’s scale to creating more tasks for the team to dig into later. These sequences allow us to tackle the project’s more daunting aspects, such as complex integrations.

When you blend these approaches — defining the minimal scope and adopting an iterative development — you provide the team with critical feedback, contributing to learning. This is especially crucial at the project’s onset.


So, you’re aware of the MVP approach’s key benefits, but how do you transform an idea into an actual software product?

Firstly, it’s imperative to know what you’re making and for whom. What makes your software stand out? What can it provide users they can’t find elsewhere? Preserve this list; it will be instrumental later on.

Next, envision what your product will eventually look like — all the features and integrations it will comprise. Sketch your ideas or itemize them. It might be beneficial to work with a designer to experiment with some concepts before you dive into coding. A “Product Backbone” can act as a roadmap as you begin creating your product by picturing what the software needs to capture the value we previously identified.

Now comes the challenging part. We have this grand vision of what the software will resemble and everyone’s excited, but we need to recall we’re still in the learning phase. We must prove the product’s value and reduce its risk first. Here’s where the MVP approach shines, but it’s not an easy path. We must pare down the product to its core before building it back up. But don’t worry: the work you’ve done won’t go to waste.

At this point, construct a “User Story Map” based on your “Product Backbone.” This aids the team in determining what is part of the MVP and getting a grip on the system’s complexity. You’ll relegate all non-initial complexity to another section, leaving you with just what you need for users to find value in your product. The team may need to reconsider and rewrite some stories, asking themselves if there could be a simpler or more manual approach to a feature. This is your MVP. You’ll possess just enough functionality to commence the build and start learning if you’re on the right track.

As feedback comes back to the team, adjust your “Product Backbone” and “User Story Map,” refining and adding detail to your plans and preparing for the next stages of your product.

The MVP Approach

This process kick-starts the team’s iterative approach, concentrated on creating value and reducing risk. It aims at finding value for the business and its users. The MVP approach is an indispensable tool when considering risk factors during software product development.


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