The difference between making your product viable or lovable and why you should care

Since the beginning of time – ok maybe not that long, but for a long time – digital product delivery strategies have been defining their operations, workflows, and iterations around a simple term: “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP).

This trend has been changing slowly to focus on a wider and more complex concept known as “Minimum Lovable Product” (MLP). What’s the difference between these two terms? What are the steps to transition from MVP to MLP? In this article, I will answer these questions and give you a glimpse of this new product development strategy. 

MVP 101

The MVP can be seen as the first version of a new product (or feature within an existing product) that includes the bare minimum functionality required to solve the user’s problems and, hopefully, be viable in the market. 

Let’s start with a simple scenario. Imagine the following: after a delicious and pleasant lunch, you’re craving for your favorite dessert, a cupcake. Luckily, you found a nearby pastry shop and you bought one. You take the first bite and discover that it’s undercooked, a little bit salty, isn’t fresh and, on top of  that, it doesn’t have any frost. Does it fulfill your basic need for a cupcake? Yes, it does. And that’s an MVP in a nutshell: the minimum value required to satisfy your need.

Furthermore, on teams using agile methodologies, MVPs are used as a way to deliver the product to users as fast as possible and, at the same time, test for business viability, receive feedback from users, and learn what needs to be improved in the product over time. Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup and creator of the term, defines the MVP as the “version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about a customer with the least effort.” And this is the reason why it has been so popular: it helps organizations to quickly learn during the early stages of the development process with the minimal investment of money and resources, instead of building a complete product taking the risk to see it fail. Less risky, higher chances of success, it’s a no-brainer! Well, no.

MVPs can be highly unsatisfactory products, might generate frustration in users, and most likely won’t create any kind of loyalty. Building a product with only the necessary features for deployment might result in something that works, but doesn’t delight. Nowadays, users are much harder to please than before and just don’t want their problems to be solved by using the product, they want to love it; a minimal offering is not enough. The cupcake you ate satisfied your need of your favorite dessert; but most likely you won’t get another one from the same shop and you will look for a new option next time.

MLP for beginners

Let’s get back to your after-lunch scenario, and assume that you discovered a place one block away from the first pastry shop. You entered and found yourself surrounded by a huge variety of recently made, fluffy, and spongy cupcakes. They offer you various frost flavors that you can apply to your cupcake. Also, they write down your name with a compliment, and give you a courtesy for being the first customer of the day. You feel delighted and well served. Your needs have been fulfilled in both shops but it’s more likely that you return to the latter because you really love what you got. Can it be better? Sure, it could have chocolate chips on top and be filled with chocolate. But what you got is the minimum for you to love that cupcake. That’s where the idea of a Minimum Lovable Product (or MLP) comes in.

MLPs are similar to MVPs but they are built with the idea of making people fall in love with the product, instead of tolerating it. The latter was created to solve a problem; the former was built to stick in the user’s mind and generate an “I really want to use this again” kind of reaction, leading to long-term engagement, and loyalty. MVPs focus mainly on functionality and solving a specific problem, MLPs care much more about the whole product experience, including factors and variables such as reliability, usability, and design.

But, building MLPs is not simple and that’s where most companies fail. It’s not enough to have a nice UX/UI with a bunch of fancy features thrown into the MVP. To build a MLP, companies need to deeply understand what customers care about, the needs they have, and how to make their lives easier. Under this MLP mindset, companies need to invest additional effort on researching what users love and find valuable, and this is not an easy task. Jiaona Zhang, Product Management lecturer at Stanford University, defines it concisely: “If you don’t have a firm grasp on how to put an MLP into practice, you can waste a lot of time building a product that you think is lovable, but ultimately isn’t.”

The table below highlights the main differences between a MVP and a MLP:

mvp mlp cuadro

Transforming your MVP into a MLP

Well, there is no magic formula or recipe (we are not talking about cupcakes anymore), but here you can find some tips we have found useful after years of experience:

  • Start with a clear “Why?” for your users. Identifying this “Why?” can be tricky and hard but a stronger understanding of users’ needs will result in more lovable products. Your product must be built with a purpose. To do so, we recommend starting with the Product Vision Board and come back to it whenever you need to.
  • Gather data directly from your users – but be careful. Brainstorming sessions, workshops, and interviews are very useful when you try to gather qualitative and quantitative data from your audience. However, asking the wrong questions will point you in the wrong direction. Never ask questions like “What do you need/want?” rather ask “What do you find painful about X?” Always try to ask open-ended questions that lead you to understand your audience's pain points and needs.
  • Once you have gathered all the data (doesn’t matter the technique), start defining the problems you identified and choose the one you think will solve the bigger pain point. Propose solutions to this problem and select the one that’s both usable and lovable. 
  • Create prototypes as soon as you can, and get them back to the users. Listen to their reactions  and don't answer any questions. If they ask you things like: "Would this work offline?" just ask them back: "Do you think it should? Why? At the end, choose whatever you think they love the most. As Zhang recommended: “You want your users to say, 'Oh my gosh, when can I start using it?' That's when you know you've struck a chord.” If none of your proposals worked, try again.
  • Don’t try to enforce whatever solution you think is best on your user. Companies and product teams need to detach themselves from what they think is needed and clearly define the desired experiences of the user. 
  • Remember the M in MLP. You still need to launch the minimum in case you need to change something. The secret here is to find a balance between investing too much (and wasting your time) or investing too little (and not doing enough to stand out).
  • Never stop collecting data from your end users. Work with your marketing team to create and flourish a healthy community. Once you have this, try to create spaces where you can ask them for their feedback. 
  • Stay Agile. Now that you have feedback, iterate and add value each iteration. Don’t lose focus and follow the same process and tips from above. 
  • Build your team considering you will be creating this MLP for some time. Everyone must be onboard. 
  • Finally, include the Design team from the start. It’s easier if they are involved in the conversation from the beginning than throwing at them an ugly product waiting for a miracle. Also, bring in early all key stakeholders to the discussion: marketing, sales, support, etc.

In conclusion, even though MVPs are valid strategies for startups with limited resources, companies should align their processes and delivery strategies aiming at MLPs. The product-user relationship is more transactional than never before: one bad experience could mean not using the product again. Thus, thriving for a MLP will increase your chances of success in today’s digital market. However, this will require a bigger investment in research, understanding the user’s needs and actually building what they want, and the willingness to take the risk and launch a new product that seems disruptive and original whilst improving its chances for success.

If you are looking for help building your MLP, or if you have any questions about the process, don’t hesitate to contact us. Our team of experts will be more than happy to help you get started – or answer any questions you may have. Thanks for reading, and we hope you found this post helpful!

About the author

Matteo's been working as a business analyst for 2 years. He's responsible for prioritizing and defining project requirements to ensure successful execution as per stipulated timelines while also handling competing priorities skillfully!