What Is an MVP in Agile and Why Do You Need It for Your Mobile App Development Process?
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Make no mistake: mobile apps continue to establish themselves as a central digital communication channel. In fact, one survey found that more than half of all consumers prefer mobile apps over any digital channels, while another found mobile app-based commerce rising 30% between 2020 and 2021 alone.
No matter your industry, the chances are increasing that your audience expects a mobile app. They love a convenient and well-designed app for their favorite businesses, and they'll discover new favorite businesses based on the quality and engagement possibilities within apps they try. Build the right mobile app platform, and your chances of attracting long-term customer loyalty increase significantly.
But there's the rub. Simply building a mobile app and hoping for your customers to appear is not enough. After all, the average smartphone user downloads 0 apps in an average month (yes, zero!), with the top 7% of smartphone users generating nearly half of all monthly downloads. The same stats also state that 25% of all downloaded apps are only opened once before being uninstalled again.
In other words, you need to build the right mobile app for your audience. And that build, it turns out, relies heavily on testing and refining ideas before the app is complete. This is where understanding the concept of an MVP in agile mobile app development enters the equation.
First Things First: What is an MVP in Agile Development?
A minimum viable product, or MVP, is an early version of a new product that has just enough features to gain relevant audience insights. It's an early prototype that hits the balance between the least possible development effort to get the gist of the product across—designed to gain insights from customers as early as possible—and before too much time or resources are spent on the development process.
In agile software and mobile app development, the MVP concept is a bit more complicated, because no single MVP tends to exist. Instead, our best answer to what is an MVP in agile might be something along the following lines:
An MVP in agile development describes early versions of the product that build on audience insights and are designed for additional audience insights. Incremental improvements at each round help the developer define and hone in on what parts of the product resonate with the audience over time.
Understanding the concept of MVP in this context requires at least a cursory understanding of agile methodology. Put simply, it's an iterative design and development philosophy that relies on small incremental changes and updates. The development is broken up into smaller steps called sprints, after each of which there is an opportunity for feedback and improvements.
Related: How We Work and Why We Choose Agile
Within that context, an agile MVP is not a single stage in the process that's designed to gain initial insights, after which the development moves full steam ahead. Instead, it's an early version of the product that evolves with each step in the process. Every iteration of the MVP comes with new feedback and learning, leading to a new MVP that can once again undergo testing and improvements.
Eric Knapton at Forbes.com puts it best:
In a truly agile environment, you are constantly working on the MVP. Every iteration is an MVP for that product and represents the most important new capabilities in that product's growth. You should be working on an MVP in every sprint, with every new deployment representing the most current MVP in that product's lifecycle.
Think about the new mobile app you're developing. The initial app idea may be driven by general audience insights and business needs, leading to your first MVP. But when testing that MVP, you might learn that the concept of the app doesn't resonate with your audience, causing you to go back to the drawing board. Or, a few features just don't seem right, so you change them.
After each change and update, you have a new prototype ready. That prototype becomes your new MVP to test with your audience and against business needs. Over time, as long as the right insights are applied, you’ll get your MVP closer and closer to exactly what the audience needs, maximizing your chances of launching a successful app.
The Benefits of Developing an MVP For Your Mobile App
When built the right way and integrated into the agile development flow, an MVP (in its multiple iterations) can have significant benefits for your business and the goals behind the app development.
The first iteration, most importantly, takes a theoretical concept and exposes it to potential customers. Even the best theoretical ideas can fail in practice, for reasons that are sometimes unpredictable. What you thought might have been a pain point could be solved elsewhere, or a need might not actually exist. Your first MVP can help determine that.
Consider, for example, the most common reasons a mobile app fails. By far leading the pack is a failure to research market needs, with a weak product core coming in second. The third most common reason is a failure to frame a relevant business model, while the fourth revolves around ambiguity in deciding on the correct market strategy.
An early MVP can help to prevent all of these issues. It serves as a starting point for your product, featuring its essence in a way that is easy for customers to grasp. Your audience's reactions to it can tell you whether the core of the idea is worth developing further—or whether you need a change in direction.
Of course, the benefits don't end there. Once you gain insights from your initial MVP, you can create different and improved versions over time. Test them again, and you'll see whether those additions and adjustments have made an impact. In those future iterations, an Agile MVP has a few additional benefits.
Most importantly, your ongoing insights will go far deeper than measuring a single MVP reaction ever could have. Each new layer adds information that can be valuable not just for the app, but for general audience insights as well.
This process also saves significant time and effort. Each MVP is a checkpoint in the process at which you can make sure that the development continues to move in the right direction. There is never a step at which you have to go back to the drawing board, creating a more continuous forward motion toward the release that leads to a more reliable budget, timeline, and effort.
Related: Is Developing an App Worth It?
Finally, you can launch the app with greater certainty that it will bring in a positive return on investment. Because you've tested it throughout, the launch point just serves as final confirmation of the features you already know your audience loves.
How The MVP Evolves Throughout the Agile Process
At this point, you might be wondering just how the above process actually works in reality. If an MVP in agile is not a single checkpoint, how does it integrate into the larger development cycle?
It starts simply. The development team uses the app idea to build a simple prototype that focuses only on the most important core functionality of the app. That prototype is then tested to get user feedback on how it works, what pain points it solves, etc.
As you gather feedback, the next version of the MVP begins its life. Feedback from customers is taken into account to create an updated version that addresses it. This process repeats again and again, in what Eric Knapton calls "a never-ending virtuous cycle:"
- Build an MVP
- Test the MVP
- Use insights to build the next MVP
- Test the MVP
- Use insights to build the next MVP
Crucially, this process can also be duplicated in parallel. After all, no agile app development is truly linear. In that scenario, the MVP might include new features that are part of the current sprint before it undergoes further user testing.
How to Build Around the MVP Concept Throughout Your App Development Process
Given the benefits of this more iterative process, it might seem like an obvious choice to take this direction. But at the same time, it's important to keep a few variables in mind that everyone involved in mobile app development has to consider to truly embrace the concept.
- An open mind. Because of its strong emphasis on user preferences and input, the project might take you in a direction you could not have envisioned when first starting with an app idea. You have to be guided by what will be successful, not just the initial idea.
- Active collaboration. Agile mobile app development will require much more coordination between all stakeholders than the more traditional, linear waterfall method. Simply 'handing off' the project for development will not be sufficient to guide it to success.
- A true development partner. Your developer should feel empowered and embrace the idea of pushing back where it's strategically relevant, prioritizing the success of the app for your business rather than just saying yes to the tasks you give them for development.
- No clear end date. Granted, this is a bit misleading--of course, you'll need to launch the app at some point. But part of the agile philosophy includes continuous improvement, meaning maintenance and improvements even after that initial launch.
Don't underestimate the importance of these four variables for your app development. They're essential to making sure that you can fully embrace the agile MVP concept and its benefits for helping you develop an app your audience will love for a long time.
Find the Right Partner to Embrace Agile and its MVP Emphasis
Developing a custom mobile app is a complex process. For startups and SMBs, it's a significant investment in time and resources, so you have to make sure that you get it right. If you're asking yourself the question "what is an MVP in agile?" the answer has to start here: it's the best way to make sure that your investment is well-spent in creating an app your audience will use and love.
To get there, you need the right mobile app development partner. That partner should be able to seamlessly integrate into your own tech team and processes, while also embracing their role in helping your app succeed long-term—even if that means adjusting the initial idea over time.
That's the process and philosophy we at Milo Mobile embrace. Schedule your free 30-minute consultation to share your business objectives and app ideas, and learn how working with us can be a game changer for your mobile app.