How to Determine What Makes It Into an MVP

What makes it into an MVP?

Answer: only the very basic functionality a user needs to complete their goal.

That’s what goes into an MVP. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Because if you land up building too much stuff, then you’re wasting time by not getting it in front of users fast enough.

On the other hand, if you build too little, your users are not going to be able to reach their goal.

Your job as PM is to help your team find the balance of building something that is going to help both your users accomplish their tasks and help you accomplish your task of getting it out there quick so you can iterate on it.

Enter Story Mapping

One way to figure out what goes into an MVP is through story mapping. A story map is an opportunity to understand every step that a user needs to go through to reach their goal.

Typically, it is a very visual and collaborative process that ends up with sticky notes everywhere.

Now, if you’re not familiar with story mapping, check out this outline of one by @ebstar.

ebstar user story map

In the first row at the top are the major activities that you expect your user to partake in to reach their goal.

Let’s say you’re building an e-commerce site. This row may contain things like viewing products, managing a cart and checking out.

Now under each of these stickies, the activity is broken down into smaller tasks.

For example, under “managing a cart”, you may have “viewing your cart” or “editing your cart”.

Underneath those will be all of the basic functionalities that a user needs to complete that task.

For example, “managing a cart” may be broken into subtasks such as deleting items, modifying quantities, showing a thumbnail of what’s in their cart, et cetera.

That’s a user story map in a nutshell!

Once you have your map mostly complete, it’s time to figure out which of the lower-level functionalities you actually need to build into your MVP.

Prioritize your user tasks

Now, this is a heck of a lot more intuitive when you actually see all of your post-it notes laid out in front of you. It actually happens that things fall into place quite nicely when you can see everything in front of you.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to ask a few questions that may help you prioritize your user tasks.

Here are a few questions to ask:

  • What can you release to make everything else easier? Maybe there’s something that you can build that has a lot of other things dependent on it. That way you knock that thing out first, and everything else is a little easier because of it.
  • What is going to be the fastest to release? This is an MVP after all. You want to get it out there as quickly as possible. Is there anything that you can get a quick win with?
  • Are there any features that would logically be clumped together and should be built at the same time?
  • Are there any alternatives to any of these functionalities? Let’s say you have “cancel an order” on your list of things that you’re going to need to build. Is that something that you can do manually? Maybe you can have a user email in and say, “Hey, here’s my order number. I need to cancel it” instead of building the functionality. Use manual processes whenever possible.

Your story map is a great way to figure out what’s going to be needed in your MVP. Go get mapping!