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Product Management – MVP vs MLP

Quick Question – You just came back from a run, and you are burning hot and sweating – Would you use a fan? The fan only works on one speed, doesn’t rotate, makes noise and you need to be knelt down right in front of the fan to get the breeze? Would you? The Fan is an MVP. It solves your problem when you need it too.

MVP – Minimum Viable Product

As part of the Product Management class I am taking at Stanford, we discussed about the MVP – Minimum Viable Product. This is the bare minimum product including the features that are required for product to be useful or “viable” to the customer. Normally, in order to launch the product in market, it has to be a viable product. This is what we call an MVP. If you are solving a customer problem that your MVP is able to solve, customers will use it. They may even pay for it. Purpose of an MVP is to start that first customer interaction, learn from it, and continue to build the next feature sets in the product. This is an iterative process – which is critical to successful product management.

Someone asked during the class, what is an MLP and, what is the difference between MVP and MLP?

MLP – Minimum Lovable Product

Now imagine if that Fan you were using had height adjustment, rotation, and multiple speeds that you could control remotely. Further more, what if you can call the fan and tell it to stop rotating or ask it to face you – and it automatically turns towards you after detecting the direction from your voice.. you’d probably love that fan!

That’s Minimum Lovable Product – MLP. What does the product need to do in order for customers to FALL IN LOVE with it?

Whats the difference?

The difference is in the mindset! When you start building something that you want people to try, you are making assumptions on what they may or may not like; What is the problem that your product solves and how it solves it…all these, to get to the market quickly and have a product in the hand of customer so that THEY CAN TELL YOU if it works for them. This mindset tells that if we build something that will solve their problem, they’ll use it and tell us what else they want. There is nothing wrong in this mindset and sometimes you may want to do that if you don’t have an option.

But, what if, you spend your time and energy in finding what the problem does for the customer, and how you can solve it in a way that they fall in love with your solution and eventually your product?

For example, we all want to look good. We have a limited budget. We need a certain type of clothes. The problem is very common. There are plenty of alternatives. Any piece of clothing would cover your body and make you look socially acceptable. They are Viable Products. But there are only a few things in your wardrobe that you are in love with! They are Loveable Products.

Making the shift

To make the shift from building MVPs to creating MLPs , you need to make a shift in how well do you understand your customer. How well do you understand the problem that you are trying to solve. What is the best way in which this problem can be solved for the customer, and which way would make them come back to it as well as recommend it to others – saying I just love the way they do it! Can you make that shift?

As a product manager, you have the responsibility to make the customer fall in love with your product. Any one can make a “viable” product. Customer has so many options to choose from. Why should they choose you? If you can answer this question – you’ll get your path to MLP.

A health and fitness app that provides ability to track, plan and notify for managing your health and fitness goals could be an MVP if it solves your problems and gives your satisfaction. When the same app can also keep you motivated, raise your confidence, and add fun to your daily workout routine – you’ll start to love it. Its engaging, It helps you grow. It becomes part of your life – and that’s when you tell others about it. You leave rave reviews online. You become a spokes person for this product because you LOVE IT!

So how do we do it?

Building an MVP itself is a daunting task, how do you even start with an MLP. Just sit back, relax and think. Think some more. The difference in solving a problem, and being the best solution is the difference in mindset you need to achieve.

Understand the problem – fall in love with the problem.

If as a product manager, you can fall in love with the problem, you’ll be able to think of a solution that the customer would fall in love with. For you as a product manager, its an opportunity to solve something that will change peoples life.

In his recent letter to shareholders, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos shared how shopping on Amazon changes peoples lives. In a simple example, as each customers saves 30 minutes of commute time for grocery shopping by ordering it online – they’ll save hundreds of hours in a year – and even more as they continue to use the service. No wonder they love the service. It is LOVABLE.

So next time, as a product manager, don’t think of building MVPs. Build MLPs.

Benefits of MLP thinking

Here are some of the benefits of thinking MLP way, instead of an MVP way:.

  1. You’ll think long term. From the get go, you’ll start thinking of a lovable product. Lovable architecture and usability. This will give you a long term benefit with flexibility and scale of the product. In contrasts, if you were building an MVP you may be prepared to discard the whole thing if customer didn’t like it. With MLP mindset, you are going for the gold!
  2. You’ll deeply understand the problem and the customer – which will give you a good understanding of your market.
  3. A Lovable Product can charge more and customer would be willing to pay more, compared to the just viable product.
  4. Your marketing effort and cost will be reduced as the product will be its own marketing.

What else do you think will change? Share your thoughts.

Comparing the two

In conclusion, I can summarize the major differences between a MLP and MVP as below:

SpeedFastest to buildFast to Build
FunctionalityMinimum features to allow customers to test the productMinimal features that customers would LOVE!
FoundationIdea and Use CasesIdea and Purpose
CostCheapestCost varies, but not the cheapest
GoalWin businessWin Over the User
FocusSolves the problemSolves the problem and creates value, emotional connection with user
Success CriteriaCustomers use it when neededCustomers use it, love it, promote it and raves about it!
Comparison between MVP and MLP

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