MVP vs Prototype: Navigating the Practical Differences
In our interactions with clients, we’ve noticed a bit of a mix-up when it comes to the terms “Prototype” and “MVP.”
In this discussion, we’re aiming to bring some clarity by highlighting the practical disparities between a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and a prototype—two concepts that share a connection but serve distinct purposes.
Minimum Viable Product
First off, the term “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP) was popularized by Eric Ries in his book “The Lean Startup,” published back in 2011. While the idea of an MVP draws inspiration from earlier concepts and finds its roots in agile software development and lean manufacturing, Ries gave it a fresh twist, particularly in the context of startups and product development.
Simply put, an MVP is a working version of a product that includes just enough features to let it loose with users. The goal? To get user feedback, test out the core value it offers, and fine-tune things before the big unveiling.
On the flip side, a prototype is like the early blueprint of a product. It’s used to help visualize and validate design ideas, figure out how things will work together, and communicate the vision. Think of it as a practical sketch before the real deal comes into play.
In practice, there are situations where the line between Prototype and MVP can get a bit blurry. During product development, it’s common to iterate on prototypes until the design is ready for manufacturing. If a developer wants to test the product before committing to full-scale manufacturing, a small series (typically less than 20 pieces) can be created by prototyping. This allows for extensive user research and testing. It’s worth noting that while these prototypes may closely resemble the future mass-produced product and function similarly, they might not be as durable and are much more expensive. They’re not intended for commercial sale and are meant for a limited group of test users.
In contrast, MVPs (Minimum Viable Products) are specifically designed with the intention of being commercially sold. They’re created to test the real market, gather user feedback, and validate the product’s viability. MVPs are constructed with actual production processes, materials, and tools, making them suitable for broader user testing and eventual commercialization.
To sum it up, both MVPs and prototypes play roles in the product development process, but they do so with distinct missions. An MVP is all about real-world testing and gathering user insights, pushing beyond mere design checks. Meanwhile, a prototype is your go-to for working out design kinks and making sure things fit together nicely as you move along the development path.
Written by Boukje Koch, Co-Founder and Director of A4M group.