These are two contrasting philosophies: releasing software early and frequently, also known as the Agile approach, and the "big bang" release, which is a result of waterfall delivery. Modern software development tends to favor the former, but in some cases, early release may not seem like the best approach from a business perspective. However, even then, it is still a good practice to maintain an MVP mindset and try to get user feedback as early and frequently as possible.
Unrealistic expectations could be expensive
It is risky launching something that's unfinished. It will be difficult to win the market with a limited product. There is not that much value in user research; we are innovating, so we should know better than the users. On the one hand, these statements may make sense from a business perspective; on the other - they may be a self-created trap of unrealistic expectations of how the development and release of digital products work in a complex reality.
At Adroiti, we follow the lean philosophy and aim to develop and release the core features of a product as soon as possible with a minimum investment. The ultimate judges for product-market fit and usability are the users but not the entrepreneurs or the product team. In essence - the sooner we give the product to users, the sooner we can receive useful feedback and finalize the product or shelve it if needed. The opposite is also true.
Is releasing MVP always the right approach?
Short answer - no. When launching completely new software, releasing MVP helps to mitigate risks and save costs. And yet, in some cases, big-bang may be the preferred approach to go live:
- Complex products. If the product is complex and requires a lot of technical expertise, it may not be feasible to release an MVP that effectively showcases its capabilities.
- High-risk industries. In some sectors, such as medical devices or aerospace, releasing an MVP may not be possible due to strict regulations and safety requirements.
- Crowded markets. If the market is already crowded with similar products, more than an MVP may be needed to differentiate your product and capture market share.
- Limited resources. If your company has limited resources, you may need to invest more time and money in a complete product release to ensure its success.
- Market demand. If there is high demand for a product, releasing an MVP may be optional.
However, even when a big-bang release is the way to go, the minimum viable product mindset should be embedded under the hood of the software development process. Whatever the approach, the benefits of early user testing are clear.
Finding the balance
The main advantage of releasing software early is that it reduces risk. When we launch software products incrementally, we minimize the potential fallout from a single major failure. It allows developers to catch bugs and address user pain points early, significantly improving the final product.
Moreover, the iterative release method allows for more flexibility and adaptability, facilitating changes based on actual user experiences and needs rather than hypotheses and speculations. It encourages a customer-centric model, where the focus is on the end user's actual needs and experiences.
However, releasing early does come with its own challenges. It requires a robust, continuous feedback loop and the ability to respond quickly to issues or suggestions. It also demands more frequent testing, documentation, and customer communication. And finally - it requires a lot of skill from the product team to reap meaningful benefits for early releases.
On the other hand, the big bang approach involves releasing fully functional and feature-rich software all at once. This strategy has the advantage of creating a significant impact and buzz in the market due to the perceived completeness and thoroughness of the product. It also allows for a more rigorous and comprehensive testing period, ensuring that every feature is refined and polished before it reaches the end user.
Despite the potential benefits, the Big Bang approach comes with high-impact risks. If a major bug or design flaw is detected after the release, the costs of repair can be huge. Moreover, it can lead to potential user dissatisfaction and negative publicity. Additionally, this approach is less adaptive to changing user needs or market trends, potentially resulting in a product that is out of touch with its intended audience by the time it's launched.
A product manager has to explain all this to the investors or any other stakeholder and organize the delivery accordingly.
What if the big bang is the only way to go?
It has risks, but if that is the way forward - there will be more effort needed in preparation for the big bang launch - more up-front planning and more of it at all levels, strong risk management, more testing, staged roll-outs to different user groups, strong internal communication and probably many more things compared to what would be needed for MVP release.
However, one of the main things to do - is to continuously nourish the MVP mindset and find opportunities for early user testing. Here are a few ideas on how to achieve that:
- Introducing an additional step in the design phase - create prototypes to conduct limited user research. It is the minimum that every product manager could do.
- Breaking the big bang release into parts. For example, we could make it available to a certain group of users with limited functionality, even if that’s internal users (friends, acquaintances), to get some feedback.
- When it makes sense, the team could attempt developing minimal viable functionality under the hood even if stakeholders do not want to release MVP to the market. Ultimately, even if stakeholders want to go live big bang, it should not divert the product team from breaking down the release and pursuing the MVP approach.
Whatever the approach to the final release, the benefits of early user testing are clear.
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