App MVP development best practices

11 min read
August 17, 2022

What do Uber, Airbnb, Spotify, and dozens of other successful apps have in common?

They started with an MVP.

No, we’re not referring to the best and most valuable person in their development team, although they surely had many MVP developers!

Rather, we mean a minimum viable product—a stripped-down version of your app designed to test an idea rapidly.

But despite its simplicity, a lot goes into creating an MVP. We list some of the best practices in this article.

Create a business plan

Developing an MVP without a business plan is like building a house without a blueprint. The result may still be a house, but it probably won’t be a functional one.

That’s why taking your time and building a detailed business plan before doing anything else is crucial.

A business plan helps you answer a critical question—is there a market for my app?

See, no matter how innovative or great your app is, if not enough people are willing to use it, it won’t have any long-term success.

Indeed, according to Investopedia, not satisfying a market need and having a bad business plan are the top reasons businesses fail in general.

Reasons businesses fail

Source: Investopedia

The opposite is also true—if the market you want to serve is already saturated, it would be a tall order to enter it, let alone thrive there.

Simply put, a business plan helps you determine the feasibility of your idea and map out what it takes to make it come true.

Now that we’ve established the importance of a business plan, how do you create it? What are the key things it should include?

There are many ways to do it, but we agree with Mind Studios that it should have the following four building blocks:

Four core blocks of a business plan for a mobile app

Source: Mind Studios

In terms of developing an MVP, you need to prioritize two components: the executive summary and market analysis.

The executive summary is an overview of your app. The most crucial part here is the problem statement that clearly describes the pain point your app is trying to ease.

This step is vital because, without a problem to solve, your app won’t exist.

To ensure that your problem statement is thorough, it should answer the 4 W’s: who, what, where, and why.

the 4 Ws

Source: Green Dot Consulting Group

Once you’ve defined the problem, you can state your app’s unique selling proposition.

This is where you show why your app idea is unique, and how it can effectively solve your market’s problem better than anyone else.

Your executive summary should also include a description of your app, the team behind it, and a development timeline.

agile software development process

Source: Clearbridge

On the other hand, market analysis defines the app’s market environment. The two crucial areas here are the target audience and your competitors.

The target audience tells you who the ideal users of your app are. It determines their characteristics like age, location, and interests.

More importantly, defining it helps you uncover their wants, needs, dreams, and pain points.

You can achieve this using market research tools, such as focus groups and user personas.

User Persona Example 1

Source: App Radar

Your competitors are existing apps that offer a similar solution or functionality as yours.

Knowing them is important because you want to differentiate yourself enough from them to stand out.

In addition, you can also analyze their apps to look for shortcomings you can capitalize on.

Beyond these, there are other aspects to consider with your business plan, such as the budget and a marketing strategy.

The most important thing here is to take your time. Remember that successful apps aren’t created overnight.

The more thorough your plan is, the lesser the chance of later making costly and time-consuming mistakes.

Identify the most valuable app features

Once you have a business plan, your next task is to identify the essential features of your MVP.

An MVP, by definition, should only contain the core app features that you want to test.

That’s because including unnecessary functions can considerably stretch development costs and time, negating an MVP’s benefits.

For instance, did you know that Uber can attribute its success to its MVP? And in the beginning it had only one core feature—allowing users to book a cab online in San Francisco.

It didn’t have bells or whistles like live tracking and fare splitting.

But that laser focus allowed Uber founders Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp to gather relevant feedback from users.

Uber app 1

Source: Classic Informatics

However, homing in on your MVP’s core features is easier said than done. It’s difficult to strike a balance between minimizing app features and providing value to your users.

This is where putting yourself in the shoes of your target audience can be helpful. And you can do this with an empathy map.

Empathy maps are a tool for design problem solving

Source: Toptal

An empathy map allows you to evaluate features as your users see them.

For instance, let’s say you’re building a ride-hailing app like Uber. Which functionality can you add that will solve your users’ pains and contribute to their gains?

Is it in line with what they think and feel? How about with what they see and hear?

The more a feature is in line with your audience’s empathy map, the more advisable it is that you make it a core feature.

However, it is also likely that you’ll end up with a long list of potential core features. To further refine your list, you can prioritize features using the MoSCoW matrix.

MoSCoW stands for Must-have, Should-have, Could-have, and Will-not-have, which are the four quadrants of the matrix:


Source: DECODE

To use the MoSCoW matrix, get your list of features and evaluate each entry based on three aspects. Then, place them in the appropriate quadrant.

First is impact, or the value that feature brings to your app and its users. Core functionality, by definition, should have a high impact, while the unnecessary ones shouldn’t.

A good question to ask yourself is—will my app still solve the problem statement even without this feature? 

If the answer is yes, it’s probably a low-impact function.

The second criterion is effort, or the resources needed to implement the feature.

A high-effort function might be crucial, but if it takes too long to create, consider finding a workaround or even dropping it entirely.

The last aspect is the risk or the potential challenges or issues you’ll encounter when implementing a feature.

For instance, a function that introduces a security issue is classified as a high risk, requiring more time and effort to refine.

Once the evaluation is complete, you should have features categorized in the quadrants. From here, it’s easy.

MoSCoW Method Analysis or Prioritizing

Source: Project Cubicle

Features in the must-have quadrants are your core features that must be in your MVP. Items on the should-have and could-have sections are best left for the final app version.

Finally, those in the will-not-have quadrant are time wasters and should be avoided.

Keep the current trends in mind

We mentioned how important it is for an app to stand out in the market. However, it’s also possible to overdo it to the point of alienating your users.

Thus, it’s your MVP to keep up with the current trends, innovating where necessary, but without deviating too far from conventions.

For example, notice how Uber pretty much sets the standard for what a ride-hailing app should look like.

Since people are already used to it, its closest competitor, Lyft, has no choice but to adhere to that formula if it hopes to attract users.

App User

Source: Mobile App Daily

Predictability and familiarity are crucial UX design principles because they can help reduce cognitive load.

In other words, if users have to think hard about how to navigate through your app, there’s a chance they’ll feel overwhelmed and abandon it.

As Jakob Nielsen, dubbed the king of usability, explains:

“Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means they prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know.”

That also means keeping up with the times as conventions change.

For example, before the emergence of mobile apps, virtually no one knew or used the now-classic hamburger icon, even though it was created in the 1980s by Norm Cox, a designer at Xerox Star.

For years, no one used it because it wasn’t necessary.

But with apps getting more complex, UI designers needed a way to cram more features into smaller screens.

Some early apps like Apple’s Voice Memos might have stumbled into Cox’s design and used it effectively.

Shorten Voice Memo Recordings Iphone

Source: Place IT

More apps and websites started using it, and its popularity spread. Eventually, it became the UI convention it is today.

Now, adhering to conventions doesn’t mean being a mere copycat. On the contrary, the best apps use current trends and adapt them into something unique.

Take Asana and Trello, both apps that use the Kanban design.

Source: Nira

But the similarities between these two apps end there. While Trello stuck exclusively with the Kanban approach, Asana merely uses it as one of the possible project views.

The mark of great UI design is a balance between familiarity and innovation.

Have a minimum viable financial plan

Most developers make the critical mistake of not thinking of monetization as early as the MVP stage.

On the contrary, you should already have a minimum viable financial plan before your MVP launches. It’s all about looking ahead.

See, while developing an MVP is inexpensive compared to the full app, it still costs money.

Ideally, you already want to think of how you’ll recoup that investment and generate revenue when your MVP becomes successful.

One way is to test out monetization strategies in your MVP.

Ways To Monetize Your App 1

Source: Martech Series

In fact, an MVP is the perfect platform to do it. It allows you to try out different payment schemes to see how your users will react.

And Since fewer people are using your app, you can iron out payment schemes with minimal risk.

Even if you prefer to keep your MVP free for users, you should take this time to ease them into the idea that you’ll be charging them soon.

This can be a great way to transition people into paid users while maintaining a good relationship if done gradually.

It’s a much better approach than simply cutting your free MVP and forcing users to pay. And you can do this effectively if you don’t plan your monetization early on.

Keep the stakeholders always informed

You must treat building an MVP as creating any other app. And that includes keeping open lines of communication among stakeholders, such as developers to clients, throughout the process.

At the minimum, everyone in the team should have clearly defined roles. You should also outline all the MVP development steps with visible timelines and milestones.

Using a project management tool like Jira or Asana is helpful here.

Project timeline in Asana

Source: Asana

Another good way is to document everything so everyone has a common reference during development.

Visual tools like app mockups, flowcharts, and wireframes are particularly important to avoid different people having varying interpretations of your app’s design.

wireframing tips

Source: Icons8

If you’re working with a remote team, you should establish a protocol for communication.

That includes how often your developers should give you updates and the communication tools you need to use.

For example, the DECODE team prefers to work in sprints because it allows us to build app demos that we can show clients quickly.

That enables them to give valuable feedback that we can introduce in the next sprints.

Agile methodology

Source: DECODE

That also leads us to our final tip—collaboration.

The best MVPs are often those that all stakeholders have contributed.

Hence, your communication style should encourage a collaborative environment where everyone feels involved and informed.

Need help developing your MVP?

We’ve covered some good best practices in this article that, when implemented properly, should help you achieve an excellent MVP.

However, knowing them isn’t enough. You also need plenty of expertise and experience. Without it, expect to make mistakes along the way—it’s just part of the process.

But what if you can’t afford to make a mistake? What if you need your MVP to work as intended right away?

That’s where partnering with a team like DECODE comes in.

With dozens of successful app projects under our belt, we have what it takes to help you build your MVP.

Interested? Get in touch with us today, and let’s talk!

Written by

Marko Strizic

Co-founder and CEO

Marko started DECODE with co-founders Peter and Mario, and a decade later, leads the company as CEO. His role is now almost entirely centred around business strategy, though his extensive background in software engineering makes sure he sees the future of the company from every angle. A graduate of the University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, he’s fascinated by the architecture of mobile apps and reactive programming, and a strong believer in life-long learning. Always ready for action. Or an impromptu skiing trip.

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