Mobile app development and product quality have become so consequential in recent years that companies can’t rely on network effects alone to secure market leadership. To meet organizational objectives and unlock new value with mobile, product development needs to follow an iterative cycle. Iterative development allows organizations to continually test assumptions against user feedback and make fast product changes as new information presents itself.
Building a minimum viable product (MVP) is an iterative process designed to identify user pain points and determine the proper functionality to address those needs over time. An MVP provides quick market entry and a foundational user experience that allows companies to learn how users react to the app’s core purpose, and with this insight, make logical decisions about how to achieve both business and product goals.
Today’s most successful mobile apps use an MVP process to show beyond a doubt that people will use the product and build functionality over time based on user testing data and feedback. This article will explore how three massive mobile app brands added significant user value over time and grew into the colossal trail blazers they are today. As well, this article will describe the proper planning process to follow to emulate the success of these brands.
Spotify is a force to be reckoned with. Since the company’s launch in 2008, it has completely revolutionized the modern listening experience, and today dominates the music streaming market. Currently, Spotify lays claim to 232 million active listeners and 108 million subscribers in 79 markets globally. The Spotify mission is to unlock the potential of human creativity – by giving millions of creative artists the opportunity to live off their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it. Eleven years later, the company is still delivering on this promise by iteratively introducing new ways to experience and share music with a platform that allows artists and their listeners to build authentic connections.
The answer is simple. Spotify grew into the mobile app it is today because of the company’s ability to act on user feedback and learn from in-app user behavior.
Successful apps follow the “build-measure-learn” cycle for the purpose of developing a small, quality product to test. By using the principles of MVP development, Spotify could release iterations of their product to ensure long-term value and user alignment, gradually. Over time, Spotify discovered new ways to add value to the listener experience while helping artists use the mobile app to maximize the impact of their music at every stage of their marketing funnel. On top of incorporating new features to delight users, Spotify also strategically aligned every addition towards achieving specific product goals.
Spotify began with a narrative; unlock the potential of human creativity, from there, Spotify delivered product iterations that struck the right balance between minimalism and completeness to intelligently plan solutions to new customer pain points as they became apparent.
The very first version of Uber, UberCab, set out to connect customers with cab drivers and accept payments. Uber accurately identified a single and pervasive pain, which was hailing cabs, and as a result, the MVP was widely accepted. Uber took a basic concept, which allowed them to quickly enter the market, receive real user feedback, and grow into the massive brand they are today.
The popular cab app initially targeted a San Francisco audience, allowing mobile users to communicate with taxi drivers and pay them for their ride. It was only after collecting enough of the right user data that Uber added other features and services.
Next, Uber entered the market in New York City and grew to Seattle, Boston, and other large cities. Uber slowly built out new features based on validations that were made in those target markets and in 2012, uberX was born. This is when the company deviated from its MVP. As they learned more about the target market, they were able to determine what features were most valuable to their users.
With Uber’s MVP, there was only one specific problem they were addressing which was getting an affordable taxi, quickly. Now, Uber offers a wide variety of features such as live-tracking for drivers, fare splitting, automatic credit card payments, far estimates, and more.
On October 6, 2010, Instagram launched as a location-sharing application; users could take photos from the app, edit them, and geotag locations. Overnight, 25,000 users signed up for the platform. Today, Instagram has over 1 billion monthly active users and 500 million social stories are created every day. With time, Instagram’s unique value proposition changed entirely and today, the platform is ubiquitous.
Over the course of nine years, Instagram has enabled video content support, introduced direct messaging, added Stories, and much more. As Instagram iteratively improved their product, the MVP turned into a full-fledged social media platform.
Three years ago, Instagram introduced Stories, a new feature and a noticeable shift from the product’s MVP. Over time, Instagram iteratively improved the Stories feature based on how users were sharing content. What started as simple video moments transformed into a rich media sharing and creative editing feature including the ability to mention other users, include links, stickers, and question and poll aspects.
These three companies addressed a pain point for a core set of users, focused on what features were driving the most value and incrementally improved upon those.
Consumers often don’t know what they want from a product until the concept is introduced to them. For this reason, it’s difficult to validate a product; people aren’t explicitly telling you what they need. Many companies have released mobile apps over the years only to discover that users don’t need or want the product, and as a result, waste a lot of time and money.
It’s important to identify who your customers are; if they need your product, how often they’ll use it, which features and functionalities they like the most, and which ones they dislike. By focusing on a targeted user base, you’ll be able to accurately refine your findings to improve your app with iterative updates. Part of this process involves creating a thorough product roadmap.
A product roadmap is essential for guiding the strategic direction of mobile app development. A roadmap is designed to communicate the “why” behind what you’re building. When you begin your development project, it’s important to remember that a roadmap is not set in stone; instead, it is made to accommodate ongoing change. It’s a complicated process determining what aspects of your mobile app will be the most valuable for your user base.
A product roadmap has several objectives:
The most important step in creating a roadmap begins with product discovery. This stage is when you determine the vision and goals for your mobile app.
Start with a high-level strategic vision. During product discovery sessions, you need to come up with a plan for what your mobile app will accomplish, why, and for whom. Don’t stress the granular details, or feature requirements for that matter, instead focus on how the roadmap fits with the strategic direction of your business.
Product discovery will help you articulate and defend your product’s mission, the problem it solves, its target users, and its unique value proposition. This top-down approach to planning makes it easier to identify priorities, as well as elements to set aside for later product releases.
From your product vision, you can determine the product goals that will guide your initiatives for iterative development. Establishing product goals help you transform your strategic vision into actionable deliverables. Again, keep these goals high-level, but linked to a key performance indicator (KPI). Here are a few examples of product goals:
By the end of product discovery, you will have answered the question of why are we building this product? The reason why could be an organizational need or a customer need as long as it addresses a current gap in the market. Not only is a product roadmap essential for communicating the strategic purpose of your mobile app, but it also helps you make informed decisions about how to enhance the user experience with every product release.
When you begin prioritizing the features for your product, you should start by answering these questions: what is the number one problem my users are experiencing and how will the functionality of my product solve that problem? During the MVP planning process, it’s critical to limit the number of features you’re prioritizing and focus on only what’s necessary to take your app to market.
To identify the features that support your MVP’s core functionality, it’s recommended to create a master wishlist of all the features you want your product to offer eventually. From here, you can now start organizing and cutting features to keep your MVP lean. A common best practice for determining the necessary features for a mobile app MVP is employing the MoSCoW matrix.
MoSCoW is a prioritization method that stands for must, should, could, and won’t. This method is used to determine what features need to be completed first, which features will come later, and which features to cut entirely. Identifying the essential requirements for your product up front dramatically reduces scope creep. Often as a project progresses, more features come into the light, and if you can’t scale back the features in the should have or could have sections of your MoSCoW matrix, it could blow up the MVP. The MoSCoW method keeps the scope of your project on track, and if too many features are unnecessarily deemed a priority, the timeline, the budget, and the ability to achieve business goals suffer.
User feedback is a gold mine of information to help you pinpoint the areas where your product is doing well and what areas you need to improve. This information will help you decide to stay on the track you’re on, or pivot and change direction entirely. Examining user feedback and tracking user behavior will tell you more about what your users want and what they need from your product.
When your initial product is minimal and features updates are iterative and driven by real user feedback, you’ll be able to adjust your product roadmap and respond properly to market demands. Developing a mobile app iteratively is the best way to identify user needs and build quickly. Building an MVP will help minimize project resources and maximize efficiency, ultimately leading to lower cost, fewer risks, and higher quality overall.