Illustration of Henrik Kniberg's interpretation of minimum viable product

MVP: Images Examined

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One of the first discussions that caught my interest when I joined the Twitter testing community in April was around MVP.  I’d seen a few people comment on the image below, that you’ve probably seen before, despairing that it’s still in circulation and being widely used as a visual aid to explain MVP.


A version of the widely used image


At first, I wasn’t sure why they hated it so much.  I was aware of the concept of MVP before “really” entering the technology space (I’m a tech recruiter turned tester with some residual imposter syndrome) but I felt that this image had helped me to understand it better.  I examined the image and had a wee think about it.  And then I thought about it some more.


And then I came up with this image which, to my delight, people seemed to like a little better.



So what’s so bad about the old / widely used image?  Firstly, a note on what I understand MVP to be.  An abbreviation for minimum viable product, I see MVP as the absolute bare bones of the product you can reasonably release that fulfils the client’s essential needs, without the fancy stuff.  That means it’s probably ugly, which always makes me cry a little inside.


What’s wrong with the image then?  Well, I still think the top half does its job well, assuming that its job is to demonstrate that MVP is not producing one piece of the machine and calling it a solution.  If you want to a way to make a long commute easier, a wheel isn’t going to help you, and offering two wheels isn’t much better.  Look at the guy’s face from stagev 1 to 3 – he’s raging!  Haha.


MVP - Henrik Kniberg
Here it is again, in case you forgot what it looks like


Looking at the bottom half of the image, I’d guess the original intent was to say, “Okay, have this skateboard while we build your car – it’s faster than walking!”  This time, the client has a product that is complete enough to use and fulfill their needs while the more “full-blown” product is being worked on.  Looking further down the stages, our client later gets a scooter, bike, motorbike – each faster than the last.  Surely the offering is improving, the client’s commute is shortening, and so the client is getting happier?


Maybe, but that’s not what MVP is.  Earlier, I’d given my definition that MVP is “the absolute bare bones of the product you can reasonably release that fulfils the client’s essential needs, without the fancy stuff.”  Hmm, maybe I should have made that snappier!


What’s being shown in this image is not MVP.  Maybe you could argue that a scooter is a fancy skateboard – a skateboard with a bit to hold on to.  But a bike isn’t a fancy scooter, is it?  I work with an avid cycling fan who would be pretty ticked off if you said it was.  A fancy scooter is more like the scooter you had before, but with a bell and a basket, if you ask me.  So what’s happening here is that you’re not actually releasing the bare bones then improving upon it; you’re releasing a completely different product each time!  It doesn’t matter that each product is designed to solve the same problem, they’re still completely separate.  This will surely only delay release of the “final” product, as you’re working on several other iterations of products that you intend to eventually discontinue.  I wouldn’t exactly call myself an expert, but I don’t think that’s what the concept of MVP was created for.


That’s why I think people have come to dislike this image so much, or at least why I’m not so fond of it anymore.


Now we come to the masterpiece that is my image – woop!  I won’t claim that it’s perfect – I invite you to share your thoughts on it – but I do think it’s a better representation.


MVP - Cassandra HL - Twitter
The image I created and posted on Twitter


Looking at the bottom half again (shame on you if you haven’t noticed the top half of this is the bottom half of that :P), we can see this time that the original bare bones of the product have been preserved.  In this case, I imagined that my client wanted somewhere to live.  The house is the fundamental solution that meets my client’s essential needs, and I’ve delivered some happiness.  The garage that comes later isn’t essential, but it builds on the original offering and creates somewhere for the client’s car to live as well – maybe  the one they waited four years for from their previous provider!  Then, finally, the client also gets to have more living space in the form of a conservatory.  I know, the drawing is soo good.


Of course, the first fault you might pick with the image I came up with is that the original product isn’t always kept in its original form before it’s built upon.  Maybe the client decided to go for a side door instead of a front door, or blinds instead of curtains.  But the point is that I didn’t have to build the whole thing again from scratch.  I delivered a product that satisfied the client’s essential needs to begin with, took their initial feedback on that bare bones product, then used the feedback to build on the product and deliver an improved version next time.  I used the MVP concept to reduce the initial time to release, gain early feedback, and improve the existing offering.  That, to me, is what MVP is all about.


What do you think of the image I came up with, and of my “images examination”?  Like I said, I welcome the feedback, and my mind has already been changed once on the subject =]  On the off chance that anyone really likes my image, I’ve produced a cleaner version that you’re more than welcome to save and share.  Don’t worry, it still has the same “charming” drawing style ;]


MVP - Cassandra HL
Cleaner version of Cassandra’s amazing image!!


A note to the original image creator: The internet can’t seem to agree on who you are, so sorry for not including any kind of credit / link!  Feel free to (constructively) tear down my image in return =]


Edit: We confirmed the original creator, and he likes this post! 😀  Thanks, Henrik.  Read Henrick Kniberg’s explanation of the famous image.

8 thoughts to “MVP: Images Examined”

  1. I have many thoughts on MVP and you’ve articulated a lot of them here. I wish the V stood for Valuable, not Viable. I think we should provide value with each iteration, not just viability, otherwise we’re just throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks, you know?

    Thanks for this post! I enjoyed it 🙂

    1. Excellent suggestion! I think (or at least hope) that would remind us what we’re aiming for, to provide something of value rather than just any old something. Thanks for your feedback =]

  2. Nice post! I think you’ve touched on a big gripe about that original image. For me, my problem is more that noone talks about context. What the user actually needs…
    If my context was that I wanted to travel from London to Glasgow (400 miles), with my wife and my mother in law, in the rain, and I had no sense of balance, then any option other than the last option on the bottom row of the original image would cause utter disappointment.

    I think people assume that mvp is just about building the smallest possible thing quickly, but they tend to forget about value for the customers and users.

    PS – I really like your new image! It solves the /other/ problem of the original image in that each stage of that original image is actually a brand new product in itself (bike to motorbike, to car? Really? You cant reuse the same wheels, brakes, engine chasis, etc…)

    Good post! ☺

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Dan! I haven’t personally viewed / attended any talks that feature this image to know whether or not context is discussed but I agree that it matters! The example you gave is perfect and demonstrates how everything other than the final product may be useless to the client. Thanks again for your support =]

  3. Cassandra, who have done a pretty good job there. I loved your image the moment I saw it, and the way you explain it is great.
    You have done a good job here describing what MVP actually is and why the hyped image is not. I hope that your image is now going around the world. I will do my share to help spread the word.
    Thanks again for participating in the discussion at the time and writing about the piece again.


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