Ditch the MVP: Achieving Success with the Smallest Successful Release

Henk Kok

Creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a common practice in Agile development, particularly for startups with limited resources. However, this approach may not be the best strategy for established organizations with an existing user base. For example, if an insurance company were to launch an MVP for a new mobile app to a subset of its users, the potential for a negative user experience is high, risking dissatisfaction and loss of trust. At Xablu, we advocate for the “Smallest Successful Release” (SSR) approach. This strategy focuses on delivering a minimal yet fully functional version of a feature or app that meets the needs of a specific, preferably small, user group with sufficient comfort and business value. To ensure success, it’s crucial to test your hypotheses and conduct thorough UX research to understand the needs of your users.

Table of Contents

The Limitations of the MVP Approach

The MVP, or Minimum Viable Product, aims to validate business ideas and technical implementation quickly with minimal resources. For startups, this can be crucial, enabling rapid iteration based on user feedback. However, for established organizations, this approach can be very risky. Releasing a product that is too minimal can lead to user dissatisfaction and damage the brand’s reputation. Established organizations need a more nuanced strategy that balances innovation with user expectations. An MVP may overlook the complexities and specific requirements of a large and diverse user base, potentially resulting in a subpar user experience that can erode trust and loyalty.

Introducing the Smallest Successful Release (SSR)

The SSR concept aims to find the balance between minimalism and functionality. An SSR is the most streamlined version of a feature or app that still delivers significant value and a comfortable user experience to a well-chosen, often small, user group. The vast majority of the user base continues using the current version of the services delivered. This approach allows organizations to introduce new features or digital products confidently, ensuring they meet the essential needs of their users. Good digital product management is not just about viability; it’s about achieving initial success and ensuring satisfaction from the outset.

The Importance of UX Research

Defining an SSR requires thorough UX research. Understanding the needs, behaviors, and pain points of your user segments is critical. UX research methods such as user interviews, surveys, and usability testing provide insights that inform the development process. By focusing on what users truly need and value, you can create features that are both minimal and impactful. Based on this understanding, you can then decide on which (small) part of your user base is served well enough with a first release to serve their needs. This approach ensures that the initial release is not only functional but also valuable and well-received.

Hypothesis Testing for Successful Releases

Before rolling out an SSR, it’s essential to test your hypotheses. This involves making assumptions about which features will meet user needs and validating these assumptions through controlled experiments. In addition to testing new features, it’s important to consider any functionality left out from the previous experience, especially if a new app replaces an existing one or a large feature is completely overhauled. Users need to be well informed and confident that they won’t miss the omitted functionality in normal usage. Engaging directly with individual users is crucial during this stage. Consider using the GEMBA approach, where you visit the specific setting in which the user utilizes the functionality. Techniques like A/B testing and online surveys also offer valuable feedback. Hypothesis testing ensures that decisions are based on concrete data rather than assumptions, leading to more reliable and successful releases.

Implementing the SSR Approach: Dual Track Agile

Implementing the SSR approach involves several steps, seamlessly integrating the Dual Track Agile methodology. First, identify the specific user group you’re targeting and conduct in-depth research to understand their needs. In Dual Track Agile, this means running a continuous Discovery track alongside your Delivery track. In the Discovery track, develop a hypothesis about the minimal feature set that will meet these needs. Create a prototype or beta version and test it with a small group of users, gathering feedback and insights. In parallel, the Delivery track focuses on building and refining the product based on validated findings from the Discovery track. Iterate and refine the product until you’re confident it delivers the desired value. Finally, roll out the SSR to a broader audience, continuing to monitor user feedback and making adjustments as needed, ensuring that both tracks inform each other throughout the process. This iterative approach helps balance the innovation and stability required for a successful product release.

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