Development, Product engineering, Project & Resources planning,

Software Prototyping VS Minimum Viable Product: what works for you

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Development Expert Marketing Manager
October 25, 2018
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You have a great idea for the software development project! That’s awesome. Your next step is deciding how to implement it. There are two routes to go: making a software prototype and doing a minimum viable product. In fact, you’ll have to take both directions, just at a different time.

Let’s set some ground rules:

  • You might think there is a better or a worse option. But the truth is, these two concepts are not interchangeable. Rapid prototype software development doesn’t free you from making a minimum viable product and vice versa.
  • Both prototype and MVP answer two questions: what the product is and how to implement it. They give a practical understanding of a so-far theoretical idea.
  • Visualization is needed not only for app development process but also for marketing research and investor attraction. With prototype and MVP, you can explore stakeholders’ and customers’ opinion about the product and improve it before the final version is released.

What is prototyping in software development about?

A prototype is a working ‘real’ model of an application, which is used at the late development and testing stages. You can touch it, feel it, basically, see your product as if it’s ready. However, even the most real prototype is not a product yet. It’s a model which simulates only main features of the product and shows about 10-25% percents of overall functionality. At this stage, the task is to evaluate and improve most critical features. If you add more, the prototype will become difficult to test and modify, not talking about growing expenses.

Advantages of a prototype model in software engineering

  • Basic functions. If you are developing, let’s say, an IoT smart-bag, your prototype will have its planned design, built-in communication, and navigation. It will be a bag, and it will look like one. Its features won’t be perfect but they will be there.
  • The software prototype model is usually smaller and requires less resources for implementation – so you can always change or re-make it. Its goal is not to show the product in the best shape but give a simplified, easy-to-test version of the project.
  • The purpose. When the idea is on paper, it seems logical and valuable. However, rapid software prototyping might show you certain concept flaws, functionality and design issues

We settled that a prototype is a model, not yet a product itself. Its task – to visually show the functionality and purpose of the product so the project’s technical characteristics and design can be improved. The rapid software prototype model is your help in creating a minimum viable product.

Minimum viable product

A product with little but just enough functionality to satisfy users and with a ready-to-go design is called a Minimum Viable Product. If you read the acronym as ‘most valuable player’ as in basketball, it won’t be a mistake though. MVP is often the most precious asset to show investors and present customers before launching a full, much more expensive version of the product.

The MVP is essential for the assessment of:

  • Market’s demand for the product
  • Customers’ needs in product functionality (could be, something you thought of as essential is really redundant or something important is missing)
  • User interface and usability
  • Product viability.

If a prototype is only shown to stakeholders and possibly family or friends, MVP actually goes to users. It’s a public asset of your company – you can even sell it if it’s done well enough. Keep in mind though that the MVP has to be not only really good but also a working app.

The differences between a mobile app software prototype and a minimum viable product

  • A prototype is developed firstly, to help design the best MVP – and they both matter. You can’t develop the minimum viable product without a prototype or get to final release without MVP.
  • All types of prototyping in software engineering are a working model (read – the one to use in the working process). The MVP can be legitimately sold to customers, just for lower cost. It already has full design and basic but well-developed and tested functions. It’s the mini-version of your product but it already is your product.
  • The MVP goes straight to the target audience. Before launching a final version of the product, you ship the minimum viable version to the market and assess the feedback. The prototype is only tested for a narrow circle of users and is not publically available.
  • Prototype goes to investors and stakeholders, the MVP sets out directly to users.

The end point is, none of these is better or worse. They both matter, the prototype is developed to help with MVP-making, while MVP provides insights on the future final version of the product.

Final tips on development prototype and MVP

Formulate the idea clearly

Before developing a prototype, understand what product really is about. Basically, all your thoughts on the project should fit in one sentence:

“Product X will offer features Y and Z, with technology A to solve market problem B of a segment C, with packaging G, and D price”.

Plan functionality, design, and marketing strategy beforehand

After ‘the logline’ of the product is ready, make a detailed estimate with:

  • The purpose of the product for your company and customers;
  • The innovation you bring to the market (whether your competitors have already done such a thing or not);
  • Competitor products analysis
  • The functionality of the product and used technologies
  • Design, packaging, materials
  • Price and marketing promotional strategy.

Repeat and test – then repeat again

One prototype and MVP is not enough. Every model or version of your product will have its imperfections. Sure, it’ll have less of bugs yet it’s impossible to eliminate problems all at once.

The moment you started testing a prototype and launched the MVP, monitor and write down its flaws – so the next versions will be better.

How to determine that your MVP is ready for full-scale launch?

Customers will tell. Your task is to hear what they have to say and constantly pay attention. Bringing innovation to the market, you sign up for continuous improvement of the product. Development and testing of a successful product never stop. That’s why having the experienced team of developers and testers to constantly watch your back is the strongest advantage. It’s not just a cooperation for the pre-launch process, it’s a long-term partnership. As a company who completed 350+ projects for 100+ clients including Skype and HuffPost, we know how important technical support is on every single stage of product development.

Million-user projects of our clients have started with one line in a contact form. Yours could be the next.

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