The Startup MVP Development Process from A-Z [2021 Guide]

Developing a Minimum Viable Product has quickly become the industry standard for startups to ensure they build a user-centric product with a quick time-to-market. 

Part of the Lean methodology, an MVP is defined as: 

“The version of a new product that allows you and your team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about your customers with the minimum amount of effort.” 

However, I’ve noticed a common problem whilst helping entrepreneurs build their startups through my work with Altar.io, and advising many others.

They often struggle, not with the philosophy, but with the MVP development process itself.

Which can easily result in a complex product that users don’t connect with. An attempt at an MVP that is rife with too many features – none of which the user actually needs. 

Both of these elements result in a longer time to market and more money needed to get off the ground. 

That’s why, in this article, I wanted to share the exact MVP development process we use with every entrepreneur we work with at Altar. 

It’s a process that has resulted in over two-thirds of the entrepreneurs we work with achieving VC funding, in an ecosystem where the failure rate of startups is around 90%. 

First, however, I want to touch on why you should develop an MVP in the first place. 

Why Should You Develop an MVP for Your Startup? 

The MVP development process is all about focusing on proving your product’s value to the market with the fewest possible features. 

Building fewer features allows you to launch quicker and requires less money than the classic product development alternative the Waterfall Model. 

In the Waterfall Model, you build a fully-featured product before releasing it to the market. 

This is risky, as you’re pouring months of time and energy into building a product before validating whether or not the market want or need it.

Conversely, an MVP comes with a much lower risk factor. 

You quickly launch a product to validate user action. They either: 

  • Adopt it and you iterate into a fully-featured product 
  • They don’t adopt it and you move on to the next idea without having invested months of time and money into a product that would’ve failed

That being said, it’s not enough to simply decide to build an MVP, you have to make sure you build it the right way. 

A great example of this is Instagram

Originally called Burbn, the first version of the product was filled with features that users found confusing and cluttered. 

However, one thing users did like was the easy photo sharing element of the app. 

With this data in hand, founder Kevin Systrom took the difficult decision to cut all of the unnecessary features from the app. 

What remained was the photo, comment and like capabilities.  

Needless to say, this pivot was successful – with Facebook acquiring Instagram for a mammoth $1B in 2012

As entrepreneurs, we are often so focused on the product development process we forget to look out of the window. 

We are so in the trenches, building and rebuilding, that we often lose sight of the value proposition behind the product. AKA the solution to our users’ core problem. 

With all of these aspects in mind, here’s the MVP development process from start to finish. 

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The Startup MVP Development Process from A-Z 

As I mentioned at the top of this article, in my experience, many entrepreneurs struggle with the MVP development process.

They’re experts in their chosen field, but find it difficult to translate their business vision into a tangible product. 

That’s why, at Altar, we start every project by focusing on the product, using a process we call the Product Scope. 

The process allows you to fully understand the core value proposition of the product. 

More than this, it gives you the opportunity to get to know the users whose problem you intend to solve.

Here is an overview of the full MVP development process, starting with a closer look at the Product Scope. 

Stage 1: The Product Scope

This is the critical first step in understanding the needs of your user.

It starts with defining the unique value proposition (UVP). Finding that core solution to your user’s problem.

This UVP will serve as a constant reference point throughout the MVP development process – ensuring that you always put the user first.

The next stage of the product scope is to get to know those target users better. In other words, an analysis of your stakeholders. 

Once you’ve defined your UVP, and researched your potential users, you will be able to map the journey they will take through the product – aka, user stories. 

This initial work will help to ensure that only the features that are absolutely necessary to solve your users’ problems make it to the development stage.

Stage 2: UX/UI Study

At this stage of your MVP development, you should design the UX flows, and create UX wireframes & UI mockups.

This will help you visualise the user journeys you defined in Stage 1 – and give you an idea of what your final product will look like. 

Here is an example of what we did for one of the products we built, a marketplace for the leisure industry: How to Build a Marketplace [A Startup Case Study].

Stage 3: Development

Once you have your UX/UI design in place, it’s time to start building your MVP. 

Here you should execute your: 

  • Software architecture
  • API structure
  • Full frontend and backend development

I would recommend using two-week sprints throughout this phase – regardless of if you’re working with an in-house team, freelancers or software development agency.

These two-week sprints should include: 

  • A daily scrum for the development team
  • A backlog review between the product and development teams to look at what is ready to be implemented, and what should be started next
  • Sprint planning – where your team defines goals for the upcoming two weeks 
  • A weekly “point of situation” meeting, where your product and development teams sync with you to show you their progress – as well as share with you the findings from the backlog review and sprint planning. 

Here is an example of how we plan sprints at Altar –  in an entrepreneur-software agency environment:

Altar's MVP Development Sprint Process

Related: How to Build a Startup? CTO, Freelancers, Agency?

Stage 4: Test, Launch & Feedback Loops

Once you have completed the MVP development process, it’s almost time to put your product in the hands of users. 

But first, you need to perform any final testing to ensure that your product is stable and matches your initial user stories. 

Once any major issues have been identified and fixed, you can safely launch your MVP. 

After you launch your MVP, it’s time to employ the build, measure, learn cycle to gather feedback and iterate rapidly. 

diagram of how to build an mvp with the build, measure, learn MVP development cycle

This starts by measuring the feedback from your users – via tracking and metrics. 

Then, you take that feedback and compare it against your user stories – so you can learn how to better solve your users’ problem. 

Finally, using what you learned, you build those new features into your product. 

This ensures that your product remains user-centric as it grows.

Productise, Develop, Validate Early

To sum up, the future of product development is no longer purely about executing ideas. 

The future of product development is much more user-centric.

This is why so many entrepreneurs turn to the MVP development process. 

It allows you to build a product in a way that is meaningful to its audience.

And as it’s built with the user in mind, it’s far more likely to achieve positive metrics. 

As an added bonus, because the MVP development process is formed of a smaller scope, it’s both cheaper and quicker to get to market.