The Why and How of Developing a Website MVP

August 23, 2018

Summer at DesignHammer means time for Drupal GovCon, one of the premier conferences for Drupal practitioners in the US. Held annually at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, GovCon attracts nearly 1,000 people and features a variety of discussions with subject matter centered around federal, as well as state and local Drupal projects. DesignHammer has been sponsoring and presenting at Drupal GovCon since 2014.

This year, Stephen and I prepared a new session on the “why” and “how” of designing and implementing a Minimum Viable Products methodology for website development projects.

Obvious to anyone even tangentially involved in website development projects, be they new builds, rebuilds, or continuous improvement, there are always constraints. The features and functionality are always limited, for all but the most basic of projects, by knowledge, money, and time.

With these constraints in mind, many projects are forced to strip down to a MVP (Minimum Viable Product). An MVP in the development industry refers to a functional website delivery comprised of the least amount of money, time and effort, yet still fulfills the mission and requirements of the project. After completing the MVP, if there is more time or money, additional features can be added either before or after the initial release.

But what if you have all of the knowledge, money, and time you need to complete the entire feature set for the project? Life in such a utopia is enviable, but through a painful learning process, we have learned that this is often an illusion. Nothing goes as expected.

What do you do if part way through the project, senior leadership decides the project needs to ship early or if other priorities pull off half the team? We decided that when facing these “known unknowns,” every project should have an MVP planned, even if the need is not necessarily evident at the beginning. The small amount of time invested acts as insurance. If the goal is to achieve an MVP feature set early, in case of a change in constraint, a plan has already been developed and approved.

Furthermore, establishing an MVP allows the team to stay focused on what is most important. Scope creep is always a danger, and keeping the MVP in mind allows everyone involved to have a target to maintain focus.

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