Most products tend to start with a problem. It could be a problem that doesn’t yet have a solution or one where existing methods are not intuitive, easy to use or well thought out. When building a product, it can be all too easy to begin with the solution and work backwards. While it’s not impossible to throw a Hail Mary, it’s risky and rectifying those misjudgements is often time consuming and costly. Furthermore, beginning with the solution tends to result in a lack of innovation and creativity.
At Aphex we approach product design and development as an iterative process. We begin with a carefully considered MVP launch, which is followed by a cycle of improvements driven by user feedback and constant communication between our internal teams.
What is an MVP?
A Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a product release that satisfies a core set of user requirements and forms the first step in an iterative process that moves toward a ‘finalized’ product. If we unpack the first part of that definition we have to consider our problem statement and identify the leanest set of features to build in order to sufficiently provide a solution.
Let’s imagine we need a little help waking up in the mornings (I know, I know - this must be quite a challenge for some of us to imagine, but do your best). We’re going to make a cup of coffee. We have some hot water and we have instant coffee. We combine, guzzle it and perhaps we have some semblance of what it is to be a functioning member of society. Are you more alert? A little snappier? A bit more ready to start the day? Yeah. Is there room for improvement? Sure, but it got the job done. That’s our MVP.
There are a number of benefits to beginning with an MVP: the user gets a solution sooner as its not bloated with unnecessary features; the resource demand and cost of designing and developing the MVP is reduced; user feedback is focussed and can more easily validate whether you’ve satisfied the core requirements; and the users’ next most critical pain points will become apparent.
What Comes Next?
Now that we’ve addressed the problem and we’ve built out the core feature set resulting in a ‘working’ solution, how do we go about turning a minimum viable product into a Product with a capital ‘P’? It’s important to understand that an MVP is not a result but it is the beginning of a process, which kicks off an iterative cycle driven by real user feedback and follows a pattern of release, review and redesign. This allows us to validate that we’re satisfying those most basic user needs without the distraction of feature creep or a product bloated with nice-to-haves. As we progress through user validated versions we can begin to build the product by introducing new features that address other pain points and augment existing features.
Let’s go back to our cup of coffee. You certainly feel more awake but how could you improve it? Let’s add a little milk and treat ourselves with a dash of sugar. Borderline acceptable. What if we ditched the instant coffee in favour of some actual ground coffee and a V60 pour over? Getting significantly better. OK, now we have a La Marzocco espresso machine capable of the perfect extraction of freshly ground, single origin, organic Guatemalan coffee and some carefully heated, velvety smooth, steamed milk. Someone in Shoreditch is getting all teary-eyed at the thought of it.
We end up with a cup of coffee at each stage of the process but most of us can agree which version constitutes the better experience.
Leaving the world of tattooed-baristas and cortados behind, let’s turn to the glamour of communicating short term plans to a site team. As mentioned previously, products start with a problem and for us the problem is that communication between planners, engineers and site teams delivering the work is difficult to manage in a clear and efficient manner.
Through our own industry experience and conversations with users we know the frustration and lost time borne from making plans that never make it to site. We’ve personally spent many a Friday evening making individual activity briefings for each foreman and sketching colourful mudmaps for our subcontractors only to be met with confused and unsure looks when discussing the plan on Monday.
To bridge this gap and empower better communication across projects, we’ve been working on the MVP version of our Aphex Field app. We’re already making planning more efficient and we believe there’s another opportunity to save time and energy by enabling much more accessible project-wide collaboration. We have made it easier for site teams to access relevant information by creating a streamlined way to receive their work, documentation and drawings. In addition, it is now more straightforward to communicate task progress through simplified statusing and tagged conversations. This data, direct and immediate from the site, not only keeps planners abreast of progress or any issues that may arise but also further enhances our Aphex Insight analytics tool.
As Field plays a pivotal role in delivering project-wide collaboration it is important to make sure that its continued development is shaped and defined by the users that it is going to help. As such, it was crucial to treat Field as an MVP and launch it into limited Beta. We’ve already started receiving valuable feedback from teams onboarded to Field and this data will help us understand what we’ve done well and where we have an opportunity to improve. To stretch the coffee analogy to its limits, as we’re reviewing how we can improve the Field experience, we’re at the ‘thinking about buying an aeropress’ stage (that’s one for the coffee nerds).
So now that Field has found its way into users’ hands, in my opinion, this is where the real work begins. We already have some exciting new additions to the Aphex platform coming down the pipe, but it is impossible to overstate how grateful we are to have such engaged users who are willing to reach out and give us invaluable feedback. It helps us deliver products and experiences that people find not only useful but enjoyable and pleasant to use. Don’t settle for that cup of instant coffee.