It can be tempting to try to design the ‘perfect’ website when looking to upgrade your existing site, or increase the scope of the project during the build by wanting to incorporate the latest new and innovative functionality on the market. However, by attempting to construct the all-singing, all-dancing platform, the organisation risks prolonging distraction from core business activities and delaying delivering a return on investment back into the business.
Businesses who instead work out what their Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is for a first release and build further functionality into a well-planned road map can deliver significant benefits back to the organisation faster than if they try to deliver something with all the latest bells and whistles at launch.
Here I will take a look at the importance of MVP and explain how getting it right can significantly benefit your business in the long term and share advice on MPV from three of our eCommerce experts we recently spoke to for our replatforming magazine.
To find out more from our experts and read their interviews in full, view our magazine: Replatforming: The Good, The Bad & The Downright Ugly.
But before we get stuck into the whys and wherefores of MVP, it’s probably a good idea to explain the concept and examine its implementation in eCommerce.
What is Minimum Viable Product?
Minimum Viable Product is essentially an exercise in restraint and insight that emerged as a by product of the lean startup movement. In a startup environment that often depended on carefully managed iterative product releases to build slimline budgets into scalable online businesses, necessity was frequently the mother of invention. By channelling purposely (or, in many cases, necessarily) limited resources into the ‘leanest’ viable version of their product, these startups reasoned that they would gain invaluable insights into the viability of the product before committing serious resources to it. Additionally, when it comes to important KPIs, many businesses are evolving towards adopting a ‘time to market’ (TTM) measurement as opposed to TCO. Which essentially means: the quicker they can deliver a product to market, the quicker they can make money on it!
MVP is effectively a concept that advocates experimenting with your product’s core functionality and feasibility – and acting on early feedback – by releasing a stripped down version of the product before committing resources to something more fully fleshed-out and ambitious.
How can MVP be applied to eCommerce?
MVP is more than just a vehicle for thrifty, risk averse product development. Ideally your MVP should be focused on delivering customer value as quickly as possible and, crucially, nothing more. This definition is neatly captured by the following Eric Ries quote:
“A Minimum Viable Product is the smallest thing you can build that delivers customer value (and as a bonus captures some of that value back).”
In essence, when applied to an eCommerce platform, this means that, before embroidering your platform with bells and whistles, you should succeed in ascertaining whether the core, unalloyed version of your product delivers customer value, and the minimum amount of time and investment it takes to achieve that objective. In doing this, if everything goes to plan, you can achieve returns at the earliest possible juncture while establishing a solid basis for a scalable business model.
“Time is money.” states Nadine Sharara, eCommerce and CRM Director of luxury drinks brand Moet Hennessy. “An agile process based around minimal viable requirements will get you to market faster and enable a process for change and continuous development but it needs to be carefully managed and embraced by the wider business. Don’t try to include too much or risk losing out to more nimble competitors when you finally realise you’ve taken your eye off the ball”.
The new British Home Store website is a perfect example of this; the new website was launched in 8 short weeks with core functionality and a streamlined product offering, with enhanced functionality being added on an incremental basis.
There are times when the MVP approach might seem almost counter-intuitive, maybe even a bit of a cop out, but in most cases the MVP concept is a sound principle to adhere to when replatforming. It’s easy to be seduced by the enticing vision of a platform that incorporates advanced functionality from the get go but it’s important to focus your initial efforts on developing a platform that delivers customer value – and effective return on investment – in its most basic form.
MVP in practice
When applied to an eCommerce replatforming project it’s important to recognise that, despite the concept’s emphasis on pared-down functionality, your MVP may not be that simple. If your existing platform is already relatively complicated there’s an obligation to maintain its functionality in a way that doesn’t disrupt or diminish the existing customer’s experience. Continuity is all important, as Stuart Rowe, Co-Founder of Elro Digital, explains:
“One of the problems with replatforming is that your Minimum Viable Product (MPV) is not necessarily simple and basic. It may be that your MPV is actually already a very complicated piece of software that your customers are used to already using, so you’ve got to be really careful that what you give the customers is as good as before. So your project may need to be more sophisticated than you initially thought.”
With this is mind, timing is another significant factor when replatforming and should be factored into your MVP. After all, it’s likely that you’ll be running two systems simultaneously. It’s also important to ensure that there’s a firm understanding, shared by all stakeholders, of what the MVP looks like and, crucially, to stick to it.
And finally: keeping to budget and timescales
Over the course of a complex and drawn out replatforming project it’s not always easy to protect the integrity of your MVP and keep the budget under control, especially when you’re operating in a fast moving industry. Try to keep in mind the principle aims of your MVP, establish KPIs, collect as much data and insight as possible and remember to retain a strict focus on learning. As Phil Ward, Head of Experience and Development at Carphone Warehouse, told us, holding true to the original scope of your project is crucial:
“We had to be firm with our stakeholders regarding scope. The programme of work lasted two years and maintaining focus on core deliverables protected budget and timescales. We had to manage expectation; what you ask for today may not meet all future business and customer requirements in such a fast moving industry. It was very tempting as new ideas and innovation flowed through the business to include them into the programme. We held true to the original scope, but we recognised a level of change would be required.”