User Research
An MVP is a Communication Tool in User Research

This article is written in partnership between Chloe Sharp from Snap Out, a user research consultancy based in London, and Frances Brown from Fowlam, a user research consultancy based in Nottingham.

As user researchers, we are often approached by startups that have already built an MVP and are curious to know how user research can help them.

User research typically comes before building an MVP, where user needs are explored. From these insights, businesses can generate ideas for solutions to meet these needs that are eventually turned into an MVP.

But how does user research fit-in when an MVP has already been built? We believe that the MVP can be used as a communication tool in user research.

An MVP for ‘Smart Learning’

A Minimal Viable Product (MVP), is a concept by Eric Ries, the author of Lean Startup. It is the “version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” Steve Blank advocates the benefits of MVPs in ‘smart learning’ — it is a tool to get lots of user feedback for future iterations and design from a very basic version of the product.

SpikeLab

“Validated learning about customers” can be done in the ‘Customer Discovery’ stage, using user research to challenge assumptions that the MVP was based on. User research can take a step back to look at the wider view and where and how natural behaviours occur. User research can also test product concepts and the usability of the product itself. The insights from the user research will lead to iterations, sometimes major iterations of the product if it is not meeting user needs.

By understanding the user needs, user researchers understand current behaviour and the user’s environment and decision-making process through observations or qualitative research. This can demonstrate what they ‘do’.

Typically, people will ‘say’ that they love and would use the MVP, especially when it is designed well. This is why talking to users about the MVP alone will not yield realistic or useful insights.

User researchers can spot the gaps between what people ‘say’, what people ‘do’ and what they ‘say they do’ as they have an understanding of their current behaviour and views to underpin user needs and a view toward the MVP within this context.

Testing Assumptions Using an MVP

As user researchers working with startups, we often find that Minimum Viable Products are built before any research is done. An MVP built without research is likely to be influenced by a lot of assumptions about what users need rather than insights from conversations with customers.

Sometimes, businesses create an MVP based on the assumption that the basic concept of the product is valid and correct, and that all that is left to do, is to get the layout and functionality of it right. This goes against the Minimum Awesome Product, which is an MVP that has been heavily invested in, in terms of its design and usability. The MAP would come after the first or second iteration of the MVP.

When we work with companies who have already designed an MVP without user research and we explain the process, there can be a feeling that the time and effort put into the MVP was pointless, especially if it looks like the research is going to point the need for an entirely new design. However, while we always recommend that user research is done before any sort of product is built, an MVP built without research isn’t useless.

Ten Reasons Why An MVP is a Communication Tool

The MVP could also be used as a communication tool that teams use to demonstrate their idea. It is a line in the sand. An interactive way to demonstrate what the business wants to achieve. It turns the abstract into something concrete to speak to users about.

Having an MVP built before research is done can still be useful in that it creates a visual, tangible representation of the how the key stakeholders of the business envision the product. It can be a valuable tool for pinning down what exactly the company believes in, is trying to achieve and feels is possible. For user researchers, who are trying to get a balance between the goals of the business and the needs of the customers, this information is vital.

In this context, an MVP, when used correctly, can be an extremely valuable tool for shaping and informing the subsequent user research.

Ten reasons why an MVP is a communication tool in user research:

  1. A way to receive user feedback on a ‘quick and dirty’ version that is not invested in too heavily.
  2. It is a learning experience, businesses can approach user research and user testing insights with an open mind.
  3. The MVP shows users what the product or service can look like, businesses can expect it to change a lot after speaking to users.
  4. The MVP is a tool, there will be a number of iterations and updates, businesses cannot expect the MVP to be the final product.
  5. It is a tool that shows how the product or service could fit into one market, but user research can identify new market opportunities through understanding and empathising with users.
  6. The MVP can be updated and refined and tested again through one or two rounds, before investing too many resources in the final product.
  7. By communicating the service or product through an MVP, user research can test if the product is on the ‘right track’ to targeting a profitable market and highlight if it is addressing a smaller, niche market.
  8. Using an MVP as a communication tool, the feedback from users allows businesses to take a step back, away from the product development process and see the product from the user’s perspective. It gives businesses a fresh perspective.
  9. The user feedback from the MVP can go toward validating and challenging assumptions that the product is based on.
  10. Businesses can see the communication and feedback from the users by observing the process, to enable the team developing the product to see first-hand what hear users say about how they feel about the product.

The Snap Out Team and The Fowlam Team 🚀