Alpha Tango

Viable vs Lovable — and forget Minimum


By Arthur Stobbelaar, Technical Director

If you did anything with digital products within the last five years, chances are somebody tossed around the term "MVP". The "Minimum Viable Product" has been the go-to definition for a while within many projects, both for websites as well as apps. But is its use justified?
To cut right to the chase: no. Even better, MVP might be one of the most misused terms in the digital industry today, as it carries all these implications that simply don't apply to most products. Making something "Minimum" just doesn't cut it at some point.

Minimum Viable Product

"A minimum viable product (MVP) is a version of a product with just enough features to be usable by early customers who can then provide feedback for future product development. (Source: Wikipedia)
This definition makes one thing clear: the term MVP should only be used in very specific cases. Do you have a new idea, but you aren't sure about its economic potential and market value? Then building an MVP is an excellent framework to apply here. But if you lack the user base of early adopters or a long term roadmap of experimental innovations, then having an MVP is not what you need.
MVP as a framework helps teams and businesses to create essential functionality and its rapid validation, and to keep the ROI as low as possible. The applications of MVP that many of our customers are familiar with either come in the form of a stakeholder who is just trying to save cost, or a digital agency who prefers to keep the scope of the project as flexible as possible, while dodging all responsibility over the end-result.
If you're not validating your product in very early stages with ultra-functional features by real users, you're not making an MVP. This can lead to all sorts of problems down the road.

Minimum Lovable Product (MLP)

The term "Minimum Lovable Product" is gaining popularity, because it solves, among other things, the problem with MVP when the bare minimum just isn't enough. With the digital market maturing tremendously in recent years, the barrier to entry has become higher and higher. Most users aren't satisfied with minimum functionality for applications, but rather demand that something works well and looks beautiful before committing to its use. "Minimum Lovable" takes this into account.
What's happening here under the surface, is that a product has outgrown the "early adopter" phase and is moving towards a new target audience. This target group trusts the added value of a product, but likes to have it make sense and look attractive. The focus shifts from functional to reliable and pretty, where total concept and branding start playing a bigger part. In other words, the definition of "quality" shifts for the product.

Forget about minimum

It makes sense to stick to "Minimum" when time and budgets are limited, but that should fade away once the product becomes more mature. If it doesn't, you run the risk of continuing to produce the bare minimum. This will sooner rather than later start impacting quality and eventually become the project's biggest burden.
The quality of digital products can be divided over three axes: design, reliability, and functionality.
Design defines how the product visually and interactively matches the overall concept.
Reliability describes the robustness and performance of the platform (and often the underlying technology).
Functionality refers to the added value of an application or website for its end users.
The difference between Viable and Lovable is defined by the weight you're willing to put on each of these axes. If you want a Viable product, then reliability and design follow functionality, which has to be solid. Lovable products have design and reliability at the center, with functionality as a close third. But all three always have an important part to play; it's just the focus that shifts.
The above has a major influence on how you organize your team. Viable products are technology driven with a relatively big back-end development team in contrast to the front-end and design team. Design follows technology in this instance with a stronger focus on interaction design instead of visual.
Lovable products, on the other hand, have a stronger focus on visual design and branding partnered with a strong front-end tech-stack and team. The underlying technology often follows.
The choice of course also impacts the business of your product. With a Lovable product you shift the focus more towards retention, whereas Viable products focus on conversion. The reason you make something Lovable is because you want to tap into that loyalty feeling, while Viable products drive you to a virtual finish line.
And this is where we see projects fail so often. Products start as Minimum Viable, but then have to be converted into Lovable out of necessity, while the process, the teams, and the business-kpi all remain the same.

Viable or Lovable (that's the question)

With each project that we do at Alpha Tango we first focus on the application's or website's primary goal: conversion or retention. Then we dive into the rest of the processes and composition of the team, and match them with the business goals that are set. Only if those two are clear to us and the stakeholders we're working with, do we start developing the most ideal product.
Be aware that Viable and Lovable don't necessarily exclude each other. In fact, finding the proper balance makes a good product into a great one. Most success stories are often found with companies that were able to make a clear distinction between the two - and with it a clear focus.
And of course we would love to help you and your business to give that focus to your digital product.