How long does it take to build an MVP?

Before you dive deep into your software product development, a good idea is to ask yourself a question “Does the market actually need this product?”. To get an answer, you don’t need to invest a huge amount of resources. Start small - with a Minimum Viable Product (or MVP) development.

An MVP is an early product version that can be developed without large investments and within the short timeframe. How short can this timeframe be? We’ll try to figure that out in this article.

MVP vs PoC vs Prototype 

An MVP is often confused with a proof of concept (PoC) and a prototype. Although these concepts are interrelated, they are not equivalent. So, what are the differences between them?

PoC stands for the evidence that the future product is interesting to the market. This can take a variety of forms - say, the reaction of potential customers to the product announcement, or the number of pre-orders. An MVP is more than just a proof - it is a functional solution, and the early users can try it in action.

As to a prototype, it is normally built before an MVP is delivered. While a prototype is usually shown to stakeholders, an MVP is transferred to production, and after that it is presented to a limited group of end users. In addition, an MVP is more functional than a prototype. And finally, while a prototype isn’t designed for sale, an MVP can be even sold to a small number of clients.

How long an MVP development takes

Building a complex product from scratch can take months, sometimes even years. However, if you start developing with an MVP, it will bring the release closer.

The foundation of an MVP can be a single core feature, or several features. Such an approach allows users to start testing the product faster.

The duration of an MVP development depends a lot on your app type. That is, an MVP for a simple dictionary app will hardly require months of programmers' work, while an MVP for a complex social media app can take about half a year. 

According to a 2013 survey by Kinvey, an MVP development for an iOS/Android app took on average 4.5 months, or 18 weeks. Back end development took most of the time - 10 of 18 weeks.

Should you aim for a short period?

As you can see, getting started with an MVP, you can go to production fast, collect customer feedback and evaluate the app’s potential quickly. 

Most startup founders have already realized the importance of MVP. However, many of them force their developers to create an MVP within a short timeframe. But is it really necessary?

The common reason for trying to deliver it as fast as possible is the opinion that quality is not essential in a “minimal” product. However, this approach may lead to undesirable results. Users who participate in testing get a completely raw product with insufficiently developed basic functionality. As a result, the feedback from the target audience may not be constructive enough to identify the real growth areas for the product.

So, in pursuit of faster delivery, we strongly recommend you not to forget about the product quality.

Tips to create an MVP in a short timeframe

As we mentioned above, you shouldn’t sacrifice the quality for speed. Nevertheless, certain time constraints are still present in most cases. How to comply with them without compromising the quality?

Here we would like to refer to the recommendations from Michael Seibel, CEO of Y Combinator. 

Time box your spec

Let's say the first testing of the Minimum Viable Product is scheduled in three weeks. Then the deadlines for subtasks in this spec should also be three weeks. This will give the work process a certainty, and will allow you to abandon the unnecessarily time-consuming steps.

Write your spec 

The initial idea of ​​an MVP can change many times, and this often happens during the development process. 

Imagine a situation: a founder tells investors about his concept, but in response he hears: "Oh, that could never be a company!" Then the founder begins to "tweak" the settings of his MVP, and without having written down the spec, he might even fail to realize that a three-week plan turns into a three-month plan. At the same time, these changes can be not quite obvious for the project team if they are now written down. So, writing the spec provides a stable zero point that you can return to at any time.

Cut your spec

What if a three-week deadline is drawing to an end, and the team hasn’t completed even a half of the planned work? Throw out all the unimportant steps from the spec and focus on what is left. When the unimportant tasks are over, you will have to throw out the important ones too. At this moment, a startup needs to have something to show to the world: even an unfinished Minimum Viable Product will help to gain momentum and start development. It is much easier to just delay the start indefinitely, but this path leads to nowhere.

Don't fall in love with your MVP

Finally, Michael urges all the startup founders not to fall in love with their MVPs. Why? Because this is just the foundation from which you will develop the product further - often through pivots and a complete change of concept. So, leave a room for growth and don't get stuck at the starting point.

In conclusion

The greatest thing about an MVP is the opportunity to develop the working functionality and collect customer feedback fast. The timeframe for a minimum viable product development will mostly depend on the end product you have in mind - the more complex it is, the more time will be required. 

Finally, it is important to strike a balance between the speed of creating a working functionality and the quality of the delivered MVP.

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