Delivering a version before spending months on development avoids the worst-case scenario of an expensive development cycle only to discover that what you’ve built is not what the users want. It avoids a long and expensive rebuild.
As a product manager, managing expectations around any early release is hard. It needs to contain enough so that people can give feedback but cannot include everything, otherwise, it will take too long to build. So you have to balance those that want speed with those that complain it is not fully formed!
To manage this, it is important to make it clear to everyone that it is not the final product, but the question is - what do you refer to this early version as?
Comparing the Options
A prototype is an early version of what your product should look like and indicates what features will ultimately be built into the product.
An MVP is an early release candidate of the eventual product which contains some key features fully formed and placeholders for others.
The big differences between the two are the time that should be spent on them, how usable they will be and the audience they are for.
The prototype should take far less time to build, it will not be as usable and is often designed for user groups and feedback, rather than end users or investors.
Meanwhile, an MVP will take longer but should enable the end user to access and use some key features. It can be used to showcase the long-term plan to investors.
If you’d like to have a free consultation to understand which is the right route for you, then please get in touch and our experts will help you make those important decisions and even give you access to the best no-code developers available.
Prototype - When and Why?
A prototype can come in many forms. It might be as simple as just a handwritten set of drawings but most modern prototypes are digital in nature, using one of the many tools designed precisely for the job (see below). Regardless of how you build it, there are strengths and weaknesses to this approach.
- You are far less committed to the product, enabling you to build and throw away poorly received ideas without concern
- It enables a product manager to take an idea and create something that others can see and truly understand, often for the first time
- It makes it much easier to get development teams involved once a prototype is built, they are able to start inputting into its possibilities
- People can often struggle to realise the ultimate dream without some of the key features accessible, meaning you might over-engineer the prototype and end up closer to an MVP
- Some will argue that making a simple wireframe is the same as a prototype and serves the function you need, allowing faster movement to the MVP
- As a rule, most prototyping tools don’t allow you to convert the output into an MVP, so you have to start fresh on your chosen MVP platform
If you are looking to build a prototype, here are some excellent no-code tools that we would recommend and are incredibly accessible for any product manager.
Whilst not as sophisticated as some of the tools on our list and the end prototype will not be as interactive as some will need, Figma does have great tools for building your prototypes and in particular enables great collaboration and gives the product a real sense of what the final output will look like.
An all-in-one prototyping tool used by designers and product managers where coding is not the key. A user-friendly drag-and-drop UI makes it simple for a product manager to take an idea and using a set of in-built elements like icons, build a prototype to show off the idea for developers to understand.
You can build more than just a set of flat images, these prototypes will be interactive and allow you to utilise over 200 components in the platform.
Potentially the market leader in wireframes and prototyping, it comes packed with easy-to-use tools and features going for days - however you need to be prepared to pay for this level of functionality. That said, it does have a good free version that if it covers your needs will save you a fortune.
MVP - When and Why?
There is a great description of an MVP by the author of the lean startup, Eric Ries - “MVP is the version of a new product that allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort”. So what does that mean in practice?
- You can genuinely show a user what the end product is going to look like and understand critical feedback before the build goes too far
- Due to the process of building a proper product, more thought goes into the product compared to a prototype. As a result, the end solution is better received and good enough to show the target market and even investors.
- Compared to a prototype, an MVP will take longer to develop, so gathering feedback is not quick
- Because it’s more formed, some will assume it’s an end product and be underwhelmed by a lack of end features
The tools you use are generally different from the prototypes, they are more sophisticated and most will allow you to take your MVP through to a fully formed end product.
One of the most popular no-code development platforms, Bubble is still used to make MVPs more than anything else on its platform. In many ways, it was built as a platform to remove the need for prototypes and move directly to the MVP.
It can be used by the product manager to build an initial outline of the end product and then using a Bubble expert, it is very quick and easy to build this into an end solution. Most app and product MVPs can be built in a matter of weeks using Bubble.
A great choice for building an MVP because it works equally well if you are looking to build a website or an app. This variety means you can build your MVP in the correct format and ultimately utilise both if this is right for your proposed offering.
It can scale with your solution as well, meaning your MVP can evolve into the end product without you immediately having to think about using another platform.
If your goal is a mobile app and you need an MVP on a platform that could eventually become your fully formed product, then Thunkable is a smart option to consider, particularly for the less technical product managers.
The end product will be compatible with both iOS and Android, plus it comes with plenty of templates to get you going or you have the option to build your MVP from scratch.
What Should You Choose?
We started out by asking which route should a product manager go, prototype or MVP. Classically you’ll use both methods during a development cycle, starting with a prototype and then evolving into a first MVP.
However, this doesn’t have to be the case, particularly now we have access to amazing no-code platforms like Bubble and Webform. These tools can build your MVP so quickly that spending time on prototypes will be considered wasted time by many. If you can build an MVP in two weeks, why spend a few extra days building a prototype?
If you are considering building that first MVP and need support with putting together a roadmap or finding no-experts that can help you build it, then at WeLoveNoCode we offer a free consultation service where our experts will help you and give you access to the top no-code experts online.
Regardless of which route you decide to go, we implore you to build something and show it as early as you can. The best products are customer-centric and data-driven. By building prototypes and MVPs, you are allowing your potential customers to get involved early and steer the product, building up vital data points for you to use.