A Practical Approach to More Thoughtful MVPs (and MVTs).

Product design and development is a long and complicated process that can pose considerable risks for businesses, especially those just starting out. This is why most successful companies follow a tried-and-tested strategy for better product design and reducing the time and risk of introducing a new product to the market. 

Building and testing a minimum viable product (MVP) is an important step in this process. Essentially, an MVP is an early prototype that looks and feels like a simplified version of the final product. It should have the basic functionality of the planned product so that it can be testable by real-world users. MVPs create grounds for feedback and experimentation without the need for the product to be fully developed, which can be time-consuming and costly. 

While the term MVP is typically a buzzword in the digital product space, it’s important to note that this is not exclusive to software and technology — an MVP can be the quickest and most accessible way to test any idea.

Benefits of the Bare Minimum. 

It requires a lot of time, effort, and money to build the perfect product, whether it’s a physical item or software. Most businesses — especially startups — can (and should!) try to avoid risk and begin by releasing as early as possible a version of their product for testing before launching the final thing. 

There are a few benefits to doing this:

  1. Optimizing investments in time and money. Both physical and digital products can be incredibly costly to develop, not to mention time-consuming: selecting the right team, preparing resources, and actually building the product. Designing and testing an MVP allows businesses to gain feedback before releasing the final output to avoid wasting time crafting a shippable product and then (potentially) having to rebuild the entire thing after feedback. This can greatly reduce overheads and ensure the final product has features that users will actually need — which brings us to the next point.
  1. Better awareness of users’ wants, needs, and pain points. Sure, product teams can make informed assumptions about what the end-user will expect from their product and come up with ways to solve their problems. But, the keyword is assumptions. Instead, letting future users test the product not only helps gather early supporters and adopters but also generates constructive feedback and suggestions. Product teams will know exactly what their target customer’s pain points are that need to be fixed — and avoid building a product that users will hate to use!
  1. Having a clear development plan. Starting with an MVP can help ensure that all the product features are relevant to the market and the end user. It will also help product teams work on the development in iterative steps: for instance, if it’s a digital product, like an app, it can be released in batches, each time with updated or added functionalities. This will allow users to provide ongoing feedback with each batch. 

The plan can follow an inverse pyramid structure:

  • Need to have. Must-have features that the product/platform can’t function without — key service offerings.
  • Want to have. Features that add substance — non-essentials that help with service offerings.
  • Like to have. Extras that are not needed for a full product, e.g., animations, Easter eggs — features that make your product stand out. This is definitely favorable to add but is not always feasible in early versions.

But, there is another strategy: instead of building a basic version of the product and testing it in the market with actual users, it involves testing hypotheses about the market before attempting to launch the product. 

Minimum Viable Test.

When it comes to assessing something that is not a definite product, a minimum viable product (MVP) can be substituted by a minimum viable test (MVT). This is particularly helpful for companies that want to experiment with a fresh business (or product) idea or, at a larger scale, entire business models or processes. 

Essentially, MVTs enable companies to evaluate whether the market would appreciate their innovation — by testing an assumption rather than a product. They help businesses reduce failure and predict their chances of success with higher accuracy.

The key is to take the main idea or vision and break it down into a few brief initial hypotheses. At this stage, the testing process should be minimal and only focus on these early predictions. 

One of the many advantages of MVTs is that they can be done by business stakeholders without a tech background and by non-technical teams. This means that a founder can test their idea for an app without having to design and code it first, and then look for technical team members only after their vision has proven successful. That way, they waste as little time (and money) as possible both for their business and for potential hires. 

MVTs vs. MVPs. 

The key difference between MVPs and MVTs is that a minimum viable test (MVT) does not attempt to replicate the final product; instead, it’s about testing an assumption that has to be true for the business and its future product to appeal to the market. On the contrary, a minimum viable product (MVP) implies something distinct and already useable — and this is not always realistic for untested product visions. 

The MVP process starts with building the prototype, seeing how it performs, and then iterating on it until it shows a good market fit. On the other hand, the MVT approach begins with running tests to create a vision for a product that already has a good market fit — and then only building it. 

So, rather than launching an incomplete app — say, an early version of a food delivery platform that can perform basic functions like making an order and notifying about its arrival, — you would run tests by crafting a landing page or a digital marketing campaign for the app, and observing how it performs and what kind of response it gets. Even if you need to make revisions, the changes can be as simple as modifying the copy or adjusting the target audience.

Prioritizing for Success. 

One issue with MVPs is that building the most basic features can be more challenging than it sounds. It’s easy to go overboard with things that are perceived to be essential but could result in overbuild. MVPs can also become bloated as various stakeholders continuously come up with features to add and things to improve. At the early stages of product development, this is unnecessary — you want to prioritize only the most important features that you believe will make the product a success. 

Strategy for Simplicity. 

When working with an MVP, product teams often go through a pattern of updating and testing the product, receiving feedback, and then revising it repeatedly until it seems “perfect” and complete. This will inevitably result in adding features and functions that are not critical for an initial prototype. 

The fact that MVPs can quickly grow out of control and become complex hinders their value in testing an idea or a product. So if your business has one specific vision and one distinct problem to solve, you might end up losing sight of this key focus. With an overload of features, how can you determine whether your original hypothesis is working or whether the product is a success?

Running MVTs instead can remove constant (and often redundant) revisions by helping product teams refine their strategy early on so that they can confidently move forward. With a minimum viable test, you’re only trying out a single hypothesis to ensure that you don’t deviate from the original vision. Because of this, MVTs have to be simple and feature-light so that they’re flexible enough to make changes in case the idea doesn’t fit the market. 

In short, MVTs require you to focus on simplicity first — something we prioritize at Mäd. So our advice is:

Choose one core idea or solution and focus on it. All the other features can come later.

3 Steps to Running an MVT.

This detailed article by Gagan Biyani (co-founder and CEO of Maven and, previously, founder of Udemy and Sprig) outlines a great 3-step framework for planning and running efficient MVTs. 

1. Find your value proposition.

The first thing to do with a product idea is to determine the solution you’re offering to clients. Start by asking the following questions:

  • Is there a demand for the product or service you want to introduce to the market? 
  • Will this new idea result in positive changes for your organization and your customers? 

At this stage, try to define not only why users might want your product or service but also whether you can realistically deliver on your promise and provide value. With that in mind, it will benefit your business to stay away from overly complicated ideas and keep it simple!

2. List the threats and risky assumptions. 

Not every idea is a good one. But instead of trying to figure out if you’re as good as the current industry leader, think instead of the primary risks and roadblocks:

  • Why might this product fail? But also, why might it succeed? 
  • What internal and external factors could break your system?

Evaluating risks and threats is important before taking any action — many great ideas fail simply because they don’t work in reality, or you end up building something that people don’t really want or need. 

A few subjects to consider are market characteristics, product marketing, and profit. 

  • Market. Before introducing something to the market, you need to assess its size and any existing competitors. If your product or service is too niche, the demand for it will be smaller and not always easy to be part of; and if the market is already very saturated, differentiation becomes essential. 
  • Marketing. Once you have your idea or product and the market seems comfortable enough to enter, you should also think about your selling strategy. If you add an excellent, on-demand app to the App Store, yet you don’t plan any communication or campaigns about it — it can easily drown in obscurity, no matter how great it is in theory! So, know how to market and sell your idea. 
  • Profit. Finally, decide on a reasonable pricing scheme for your product. Success is not instant, so it’s important to force yourself to figure out what price consumers are willing to pay relative to the cost it is for you to deliver your solution (source).
3. Test the atomic unit. 

At this stage, you can start determining whether your idea works in practice — that is, planning and running your MVTs. 

Look for the smallest possible unit or feature to test. Biyani refers to this as the atomic unit of your planned product, which is also the one main hypothesis that MVTs will help to assess. (As an example, “For Google, the atomic unit is a search query. For Amazon, it’s ordering a book online. For Coinbase, it’s an easier way to buy and sell crypto.”)

If it’s a physical product, think of the smallest possible item that a consumer would buy. Then, use MVTs to test against each threat or risk you’ve identified, and adjust as needed. You might need to do several MVTs to de-risk your ideas and hypotheses. In the process, you will also gain insight into the market, the consumers, and your product in the context of its environment. 

Finally, the next step after running sufficient tests is either crafting a well-informed MVP and launching it or developing and building the whole product — now grounded on actual market knowledge.  

Quick Guide.

Follow this simple list to identify the main aspects of your hypothesis and plan your MVTs:

  • Title — Descriptive, informative, and easy to understand. 
  • Who? — Whom are you targeting? Define the audience for your MVT. 
  • What? — What are you going to do? Run a campaign, test a landing page, etc.? 
  • Where? — Which platform will you use?
  • When? — Either the duration of the test or the date or occasion on which you will run it (e.g., Christmas). 
  • How? — Describe the testing process with who is involved and what is needed, i.e.,  the necessary resources and preparations. 
  • Why? — Finally, what is the purpose of the test — what is your hypothesis? What are you trying to prove or assess? 

Final Thoughts.

Experimenting with both minimum viable products and minimum viable tests can help businesses develop and launch great products that consumers need — and actually enjoy using.

Of course, it’s not always possible to predict how a market will evolve as customer demands change regularly and more companies enter to compete; neither MVPs nor MVTs can guarantee success and prevent failure. But developing a good product testing strategy can give businesses more confidence in their idea, driving them to long-term performance and growth.  

Running both MVTs and MVPs can help generate a clear-cut vision of the product while collecting feedback from actual users. But while launching a minimum viable product can benefit businesses by informing them of what real users think of their concept, it’s not always the most time- and cost-effective way of testing an idea. 

A more practical approach is to start with minimum viable testing. Running several uncluttered, simple MVTs helps businesses craft a better strategy and be well-prepared when actually building their vision. MVTs require minimal resources — yet often generate plenty of insight and a higher chance of success when launching the final product.

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