A Minimum Viable Product is an Object for Learning

Part 5 in The Lean Startup Series

Pretotyping Manifesto

The idea of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is frequently misunderstood. From the name, people often think of it as a prototype, but really, it’s a learning object.

Here’s an example from our first Lean LaunchPad program. The ASPIRE team was in that group – and they’ve recently launched their platform. Here is how they describe it:

ASPIRE is an online marketplace which intelligently matches your business with potential purchasers or recyclers of your waste by-products. It saves on your disposal costs and cuts the amount of waste going to landfill. ASPIRE is run by the CSIRO in collaboration with local councils and business networks.

Register your outputs and inputs to find a match.

That’s a pretty clear statement of their value proposition. How did they test it? Their first thought was to build the website, but they had neither the time nor the money to do that during the LLP program.

Here’s what they did instead:

ASPIRE Concierge MVP

The hypothesis that they needed to test was:

We believe that small manufacturers in Victoria will value a service that helps them recycle waste streams.

To test that, they got 58 people in the room from 32 small manaufacturers. Then they did on paper what they proposed to do with their website – list the industrial waste streams they produce, along with the process inputs that they need. Then they looked to see if there were any matches between firms. And there were – 62 of them, in fact, nearly two per firm!

Now, obviously, this is a very primitive version of the platform that they ended up building. The launch version has a lot of smarts built into it to do that matching automatically.

But this is a great example of an MVP. They didn’t build a small version of their final product, they built an experience that validated whether or not people had a genuine need for it. The results were an overwhelming “Yes!”

This is a low-fidelity MVP. The Investment Readiness Level scale includes steps for both a low-fidelity MVP (IRL 5) and a high-fidelity MVP (IRL 7). A high-fidelity MVP is something like a prototype.

I think that the best way to think about a low-fidelity MVP is a pretotype – and pretotype.org has a bunch of great resources to help you test and validate your ideas quickly and cheaply. That Resources page includes free .pdfs of two books on the topic, and they are both excellent.

The Pretotyping Manifesto includes a great set of principles to help you build your low-fidelity MVP:

Pretotyping Manifesto

Here are some more resources to help you build and test an MVP:

The Lean Startup approach is based on the Build-Measure-Learn loop. When you combine hypothesis testing with low-fidelity MVPs, you get into the Build-Measure-Learn loop very early in the process.

It’s a great way to learn if you’re really delivering value for your customers. The best way to think of an MVP is an object for learning.

Note: Over the past year, I’ve been running (with help, of course!) a bunch of Lean LaunchPad programs with the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) aimed at increasing the impact of all the great research that they’re doing. This is part of a series reflecting on what we’ve learned through the course of six programs involving 40 research projects and more than 250 people. The other posts are:

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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