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The MVP Canvas

The MVP Canvas is a tool for validating product ideas. It’s a visual board (available here for download) that helps entrepreneurs align and define the strategy for the MVP – Minimum Viable Product, which is the simplest version of a product that can be released to the business (minimum product) and that can be effectively used and validated by the end user (viable product).

“Don’t waste time, money, and resources creating the wrong product.” – Paulo Caroli

Often, we go overboard when building a new product. We plan and add various functionalities, thinking of the final product, which we suppose will meet our customers’ needs.

“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” – Steve Jobs

The truth about startups and new products is that no one knows if it will work. If we knew what we were creating, then it wouldn’t be a new product, but something that already exists.

So, do as Facebook, Groupon, Airbnb, Spotify, Zappos, Dropbox, EasyTaxi, and many other examples of successful ventures have done. Adopt a new way to create and evolve products: develop the minimum viable product, create an MVP Canvas.

The Blocks of the MVP Canvas

The Canvas has seven blocks that describe: the MVP proposal, business hypotheses, their metrics, the personas and their journeys, the functionalities, and the cost and schedule for its creation.

Here is the recommended order to fill out and think about the blocks, through a sequence of questions:

  1. MVP Proposal – What’s the Proposal for this MVP?
  2. Segmented Personas – Who is this MVP for? Can we segment and test this MVP in a smaller group?
  3. Journeys – What journeys are going to be improved with this MVP?
  4. Features – What are we building in this MVP? Which actions are going to be simplified or improved in this MVP?
  5. Expected result – What learning or result we are seeking in this MVP?
  6. Metrics to validate the business hypotheses – How can we measure the results of this MVP?
  7. Cost & Schedule – What is the expected cost and due date of this MVP? When can we look at the data for validating it? Is there any schedule constraint?

>> Download the MVP canvas (ready to print as a pdf)

 

Lean Startup + User Centric Design

From Lean Startup, we have the build-measure-learn loop, a simple and straightforward cycle, yet difficult to implement due to the dichotomy between a scientific approach (build to learn) and a user-centered approach (learn to build).

The Lean StartUp Cycle

 

The Lean Startup’s build-measure-learn loop is effectively integrated into the MVP Canvas through its specific components: ‘Features’ for the ‘build’ phase, focusing on what we will develop; ‘Expected Results’ for the ‘learn’ phase, aiming to identify what insights and outcomes we expect; and ‘Metrics to Validate the Business Hypotheses’ for the ‘measure’ phase, which outlines how we will assess the MVP’s performance and impact. Addressing these facets involves answering essential MVP questions: What will we build in this MVP? How will we measure the results of this MVP? What learning outcomes are we aiming for with this MVP?

MVP Canvas: Build to Learn

The build-measure-learn loop seems straightforward, but it’s hard to put it into practice due to its combination of scientific approach (build to learn) with an engineering mentality (learn to build). To assist in understanding and building the MVP, you can complement it with another loop: user-journey-action, which should answer another set of essencial MVP questions: Who is this MVP for? Which users´ journeys will be improved with this MVP? What actions will be simplified / improved on this MVP?

These questions are “human-centered” – that is people-oriented. These are typical questions upraised by the design thinking and User Centric Design approach, a human-centered method for creative problem solving and innovation. User Centric Design (UCD) is a design philosophy and process in which the needs, wants, and limitations of end users are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process. UCD is characterized by a focus on user outcomes and user feedback, which informs continuous iteration and improvements to product design.

MVP Canvas: Lean to Build

Regardless of the preferred approach or the application of Lean Startup and Design Thinking principles, an entrepreneur’s plan must adhere to standards that support the overall business direction. The MVP Canvas should directly address two critical business questions: ‘What is the proposal for this MVP?’ and ‘What are the cost and schedule projections for this MVP?’ These questions correspond to the central top and bottom blocks of the canvas, effectively bridging the Lean Startup and UCD approaches within the canvas.

 

MVP Canvas: UCD + Lean StartUp

The loops intersect at the ‘Features’ block of the MVP Canvas, addressing a crucial question: Which features will be built for this MVP? This inquiry can be posed in two ways: 1- What are we going to build in this MVP? and 2- Which actions will be simplified or improved by this MVP? The ‘build’ aspect from Lean Startup, or ‘action’ from Design Thinking, both relate to the features made available to users. For this reason, the features section is strategically placed at the center of the canvas, representing its core. However, remember that ‘M’ stands for minimum. What is the minimum needed to get started and help us validate the business hypothesis? By planning an effective MVP, you enter a virtuous cycle of building and learning (combining Lean Startup with UCD) which can lead to great success.

 MVP and the virtuous cycle of building and learning

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” – Vincent Van Gogh”

MVP Canvas: Focus on the proposal

The more targeted the MVP is, the better. It should aim to validate the necessity for a specific segment of personas and a singular business hypothesis, which are generally interconnected. However, depending on the context, an MVP may need to address more than one need or hypothesis. Regardless of your business context, clarity about the MVP’s proposal is crucial.

Continuously question yourself until the purpose of the MVP is crystal clear: What exactly is the proposal of this MVP?

An example of an MVP proposal can be seen in the early stages of EasyTaxi, a highly successful Brazilian startup in 2011: The initial MVP was a ‘concierge’ type. The founding team set up a simple webpage where users could input their location and click the ‘Call my taxi’ button. This action sent an email to one of the founders, who would then manually contact a taxi company to arrange transportation to the provided address. This MVP effectively validated their primary business hypothesis: a significant number of people were willing to use a website to call a taxi.

MVP Canvas: Minimize risks with segmented personas

When developing an MVP, validation is essential. Focus on minimizing risks and enhancing learning opportunities. Consider who the MVP is intended for and identify the smallest viable segment within this group of personas to effectively test the MVP.

For instance, you might begin by introducing the MVP to a select, limited group of users. After successfully validating the expected outcomes with this cohort, you have the option to broaden the MVP’s reach, thereby enabling further validation on a more extensive scale.

If your user base is already substantial, segmentation could be key. By providing the MVP to specific user groups while excluding others, you can conduct comparative analyses to extract meaningful learning. Essentially, you’re applying segmented personas to carry out A/B testing, which is instrumental in refining and substantiating your MVP.

MVP Canvas: Personas & Journeys

You are developing your MVP with a specific persona in mind – someone who has a journey comprising several steps to perform a task or achieve a goal. Describe which journey or pat of the journey is addressed or enhanced by this MVP.

This clarity about the persona and their journey ensures that the MVP is tailored to meet the real needs and pain points of its intended users. It also grounds the MVP in actual user experiences, making it possible to test and measure its effectiveness in a tangible way. For each journey that your persona undertakes, consider the touchpoints where your MVP can simplify processes, add value, or provide solutions to existing problems.

If articulating even a single journey is challenging, take a step back to reconsider; your MVP may not be providing the essential value needed (are you offering less than the minimum viable?). Conversely, if your MVP canvas ´Journeys´ block is becoming crowded with too many journeys, it’s time for a reality check – perhaps your MVP is too expansive (keep in mind that “M” in MVP stands for minimal, aiming for a focused scope rather than an exhaustive one). A MVP should focus on specific user journey to be improved, with the understanding that as the product matures, it will progressively encompass more of the user’s needs.

MVP Canvas: Reassess the Features

Having followed the recommended sequence for completing the MVP Canvas, it’s time to evaluate the blocks you’ve filled out so far—MVP proposal, segmented personas, and journeys. Now, approach the ‘Features’ block with scrutiny and ask yourself:

  • Are these truly the bare minimum features required?
  • Is each step as simple as it can be, or is there room for simplification?
  • Do these features contribute to making the product viable?
  • Is there a more streamlined version of the MVP that still achieves our goals?
  • Might we have missed any vital components that are essential for the MVP?

Make the necessary adjustments and modifications. Re-examine the ‘Features’ block to ensure it provides clear answers to critical questions:

  • Which specific features will this MVP include?
  • How will the MVP simplify or improve the user actions?

This thorough review will ascertain that your MVP concentrates on the fundamental features that meet user requirements and advance business aims. It lays a solid groundwork for the MVP’s development and future evaluations. At the same time, you strive to create the simplest version that facilitates learning and validates the business hypotheses.

MVP Canvas: Validate The Business Hypotheses

At the heart of a successful MVP lies user-centered design. To shape your MVP, it’s essential to focus on your users and their journeys, crafting actions that either enhance or simplify their experiences. This perspective should resonate throughout your MVP Canvas, particularly within the blocks for segmented personas, journeys, and features.

Yet, there’s more to the story. Articulating your business hypotheses is crucial. We need to assess whether we are truly making progress, achieving desired outcomes, or acquiring valuable learning. Whatever you are building as a MVP must be linked to the expected results and underlying business hypotheses. Consider the following template to structure your hypothesis:

We believe this MVP will achieve (´Expected result´)

We will know that this happened based on (´Metrics to validate the business hypotheses´).

You must fill it out, because, if they don’t, you will not know what to expect from the MVP or how to measure it. In both scenarios, the product is drifting, with no direction. Do not create features for a MVP if you are not able to describe what to expect as a result and how to measure such result.

This powerful hypotheses-based decision tool is embodied in the MVP Canvas in the “expected result” and the “metrics to validate the business hypotheses” blocks.

  • What learning or results are we seeking with this MVP?
  • And how do we plan to measure them?

It is important to highlight that learning is also a result. But in order to learn we, at least, must state this: “The expected result is to learn.” Then we try to collect data in order to reach the desired learning.

MVP Canvas: Talk about cost and schedule

The pressing questions often following the “what” of an MVP—captured in the first six blocks of the MVP Canvas—are invariably “When?” and “How much?”

What is the cost and the schedule for this MVP?

In the design of the MVP Canvas, the cost and schedule block is strategically placed last. It’s a deliberate choice, encouraging us to address this aspect only after the other critical blocks have been thoughtfully completed.

The task of estimating cost and schedule is a delicate affair, surrounded by various methodologies and cautionary advice from experts in the field.

Ron Jeffries, a pioneer of Extreme Programming, highlights the inherent challenges, stating, “Estimates are difficult when requirements are vague—and it seems they always are. […] Even with clear requirements—and they never seem to be—it is still almost impossible to know how long it will take.” (from Ron Jeffries on his No Estimates Movement article).

Nonetheless, if it is vital for you and your business strategy, then this is the stage to outline your financial and temporal expectations. This process includes sharing your anticipations and ensuring alignment with other people and departments within your organization. For instance, you may consider questions such as how much you intend to allocate for marketing, or whether you’re starting with a low-code solution, among others.

MVP Canvas: Guidance for Solo Entrepreneurs and Teams

Whether you are a solo entrepreneur or part of a team, the MVP canvas can be a pivotal tool in your project’s development. Originally designed as the concluding activity of the Lean Inception workshop in 2013, it has since found a broader audience beyond those directly participating in Lean Inceptions.

If you are part of a team, you benefit from multiple perspectives—business, users, and builders. I recommend exploring the Lean Inception workshop, which offers a series of activities that could prepare your team effectively before you dive into the MVP canvas.

For solo entrepreneurs, it can be challenging to cover all these perspectives alone. If you find yourself needing input from various backgrounds, or if you would benefit from the guidance of an experienced entrepreneur, consider turning to chatMVP.ai. This platform serves as your personal entrepreneurial expert on the MVP canvas.

With over a decade of experience and data drawn from my direct involvement in more than 150 Lean Inceptions—and insights from many more facilitated by colleagues and readers of the Lean Inception book—chatMVP.ai is equipped to guide you through crafting your MVP effectively.

Original post form December 23rd, 2015. Last update on April 26th, 2024

Paulo Caroli

Paulo Caroli is the author of the best-selling book “Lean Inception: How to Align People and Build the Right Product” (the first on a series of books on business agility). He's also the creator of FunRetrospectives.com , a site and book about retrospectives, futurospectives and team building activities. Caroli writes on this blog frequently. Receive the next post in your email. Sign up here.
Lean Inception: Learn How to Align People and Build the Right Product

Lean Inception: Learn How to Align People and Build the Right Product

Lean Inception is a crucial agile methodology for aligning teams on effective product creation. Introduced by Paulo Caroli, it combines Design Thinking and Lean StartUp techniques to define strategies and Minimum Viable Product (MVP) scope. It is valuable for large projects, startups, and business innovations. Not suitable for discovery activities, prototyping decisions, or cross-team alignment. Active participants, stakeholders, and skilled facilitators are essential for the success of this collaborative process. Lean Inception is fundamental for guiding teams toward meaningful and efficient product outcomes.

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