Minimum Viable Product vs. Minimum Lovable Product
Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is cat food. Or at least that is how I described it when I first wrote about what I considered the Minimum Lovable Product (MLP) to be in 2013. My analogy posited that although you could eat a can of cat food if you really had to, it is unlikely you would be clamoring for a second serving. I thought this was a pretty striking — if nauseating — analogy for product builders. The bare minimum is rarely the right solution for your customers' needs.
You did not become a product manager to deliver something your customers merely tolerate — you became a product manager to build something they love.
Let's start with some simple definitions. People consider an MVP to be the minimum functionality a product needs to achieve viability in market. In contrast, MLP delivers the minimum a product needs to be loved by users. Both are about moving fast and iterating as you learn. But only one focuses on delivering highly desirable value from the start.
I understand that there is a pressure to start selling. But getting to market first might work if customers have no alternatives. Customer expectations have evolved and so have their choices — especially for technology products. You want to earn repeat and loyal purchasers. And you want to fulfill the vision that inspired you to build in the first place.
Besides, do you know a product manager who would be happy abandoning their big vision for... cat food?
In the seven years since I first wrote about this concept, there has been steady interest from product teams asking how to shift from an MVP to an MLP mindset. I went deep on comparing the two in Lovability, my 2016 bestselling book. But let's take another look at the underlying assumptions and differences in more detail:
MVP: Your primary goal is validation. You deliver the minimum for your product to be usable and you intend to further develop it after confirming viability and collecting initial feedback.
MLP: Your primary goal is to provide differentiated value. You deliver the minimum to earn customer love, and you will improve it over time based on your vision and feedback from customers.
MVP: You do not take significant time to understand the problem your customers face upfront. Instead, you release quickly to test assumptions and iterate in response to the results.
MLP: You deeply understand your customers' problems. So you can focus on providing real solutions — from the very first use of your product.
MVP: You do not yet know what the market for your product looks like. You release basic functionality in order to monitor and better understand who might need your solution.
MLP: You build and release based on an established understanding of what the market for your product looks like. You focus on meeting the needs of a core group of users at first and will consider expanding it over time if there are additional needs you can meet in an exceptional way.
MVP: You believe there are only a few alternatives out there. You have some insight that you think will help your product differentiate — so you want to move fast and test as you go.
MLP: You know customers always have alternative options and that they will choose the ones that best meet their needs. You aim to generate loyalty right away.
MVP: You avoid architecture decisions because you are not overly committed to your initial solution. You are willing to implement functionality that can be quickly replaced if needed.
MLP: You can make major architecture decisions in response to customer needs or ideas because you have confidence that you deeply understand the customer's challenge. You are committed to your vision and solution.
MVP: You invest the minimum amount of time, money, and resources into the product. Your team is hedging and may even be piloting multiple MVPs at once.
MLP: You dedicate the time, money, and team members necessary for your product to best serve customers early on.
MVP: You want customers to at least tolerate your product while you iterate. But you are not too worried about their emotional connection with what you provide.
MLP: You want customers to love your product. You know that your success is tied to how deeply they care about the solutions you offer.
Knowing what it is that you are trying to achieve is the first step — learning how to build a product customers love comes next.
Building a product is an opportunity to do something meaningful. And you deserve to be happy doing it. Would you be happy if you were not fixing the most vexing problems with your solution?
It is a privilege to create and to serve others. No matter what it is you are building, pursuing excellence and striving for love is always the best approach.
How do you prioritize customer love?
Learn to build lovable products — sign up for the next Product Management Fundamentals class.