Have you noticed that when you go to the supermarket with a shopping list, you solve three problems at once? You buy only what you need, spend less time shopping, and save money.

When you create a mobile app, you also have three main tasks: you should build what users need, meet deadlines, and keep within your budget. To do this, you also need a list — an MVP features list. But how can you define what features you should put on MVP? In this article, we’ll tell you how.

MVP features list: where to start

Defining MVP features by instinct without monitoring the market is like taking a shot in the dark. To make sure your aim is true, you need to conduct a deep analysis of your potential consumers, their pain points, and existing solutions they use. Let’s consider which tools can help you identify target users and analyze competitors before building an MVP.

Identify target users

Identify target users

When you have an offline business or website, it means you have a current customer base. When building a mobile app, you can take your existing customers as a sample of your potential app users and get insights using Google Analytics, for example.

But what if you’re creating a mobile app from scratch and have no customers at all? In this case, you can apply a lot of tools, both offline and online, to get insights into your intended audience. These tools include both qualitative and quantitative research. Qualitative research means focusing on the feelings, emotions, and opinions of a target user, while quantitative research focuses on statistics, hard facts, and analytics.

Here is a rundown of common tools you can use to identify your potential app users:

  • Interviews. Think of who can be your potential users, define their demographic, and interview as many people as you can within this demographic. The more people you interview, the more reliable the data you’ll get. As interviews are one-on-one, however, they might be time-consuming.

  • Surveys. You can ask your potential users several closed-ended questions about your mobile app idea to get feedback. Tools like SurveyMonkey, SoGoSurvey, and ProProfs Survey Maker help you create surveys and set criteria for respondents. You can distribute surveys by email, built-in-website links, and social media posts.

  • Focus groups. You can organize your target audience into groups. Group interactions and non-verbal communication may encourage participants to discuss concepts, answer open-ended questions, and give you valuable data like what you might get in personal interviews while requiring less time.

  • Search queries. Since your task is to get a feel for the concerns of your target users, it’s useful to figure out what they’re currently searching for. Services like Google Trends, Answer the Public, and BuzzSumo help you track trending search queries and relevant keywords for your niche.

  • Forums. You can also discover who your intended users are and what they discuss on Quora and Reddit by entering keywords related to your business.

  • Social media analytics. Facebook is effective for getting insights about your target users. First, you need to create a Facebook business page, then go to the Facebook Ads Manager and choose Facebook Audience Insights.

All these methods are aimed at gathering extensive information about your potential users and segmenting them according to the following characteristics:

Criteria Characteristic

Demographics

Age, gender, ethnicity, location, income, education level, job type, family status

In-market behavior

Sorts of goods/services people buy, frequency of purchases, solvency, reasons for buying the product or service

Psychographics

Personality types, values, interests, needs, pain points, motivations, attitudes, opinions

Preferences

Type of platform, device, social network, favorite apps, ways of making decisions, and more

This isn’t a short list, of course. You can add or remove characteristics and change or increase the list of criteria according to your business specifics.

Read more: How to find the target audience for a mobile app.

Based on research into your target users, you can move to the next step on the way to defining MVP features — creating a fictional portrait of your ideal user called a user persona.

Draw up user personas

Example of a user persona

User personas visualize your most common and valuable types of users. You can see some examples of user persona designs on Dribbble.

In brief, a user persona includes four key blocks:

  1. Header

  2. Demographic profile

  3. End goals

  4. Scenario

Give your user persona a name, pick a photo, and add a summary of the key reasons the persona is interested in your app. This is what the header should include. In the demographic profile, you should write down the persona’s personal and professional background, preferences, experiences, and psychographic data that you’ve received from primary research. The end goals block needs to tell what the persona wants or needs to accomplish using your app. You can focus on users’ goals, wants, needs, and fears. In the last section — the scenario — you need to describe a story of how the user persona would interact with your app in a particular situation to fulfill their goals.

Let’s summarize some tips to make your user persona great:

  • Be easygoing about the design and focus on the content.

  • Don’t add irrelevant or made-up information. Add only information that has a bearing on the development of your project.

  • Don’t revolve around demography; give priority to users’ needs, pain points, wants, and goals.

  • Tell a story to make your user persona tangible and real.

  • List solutions your persona falls back on and mention the frequency of use.

  • Mark the most important insights to make your user persona understandable for your app development team.

Analyze your direct and indirect competitors

Five steps to analyze your direct and indirect competitors

After identifying your target users, it’s time to inspect the mobile apps they use to meet their needs. These apps could represent both your direct and indirect competitors. Direct competitors offer a solution similar to yours to your target audience. For example, if you want to create an ebook app, Kindle will be your direct competitor. Companies that offer different products and/or services to your target users will be your indirect competitors. If you come up with an idea to create a healthy food delivery app, Nike Training Club will be your indirect competitor.

To get a better grasp of what app features your intended users value, you need to analyze both your direct and indirect competitors by taking the following five steps:

  • Step 1. Find your current competitors. Conduct general search on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store using keywords relevant to your app.

  • Step 2. Review category rankings. App store rankings inform you about the big players and the newcomers. Focus on your biggest competitors. Narrow down to five competitors to analyze.

  • Step 3. Conduct SWOT analysis. Discover the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of your competitors. To do this, check their app descriptions, app screenshots, and user reviews.

  • Step 4. Complete a feature comparison matrix. Make a list of features and competitors, then match which features those competitors offer. As an example, see the feature comparison matrix on EdrawSoft.

  • Step 5. Carry out RACE analysis. Figure out how your competitors:

    • Reach users (efficient acquisition channels, traditional and/or digital marketing strategies)
    • Encourage users to Act (effective ways of motivating users to make in-app purchases, share social media content, leave a review, invite a friend, etc.)
    • Convert leads (tools to persuade users to buy like free trials, free shipping, discounts, abandoned cart campaigns, and more)
    • Engage users to become brand advocates (retention strategies to gain loyal users including push notifications, loyalty programs, and gamification)
You might be interested in how to write a business plan for a mobile app idea.

To make the process of analyzing your direct and indirect competitors easy, you can refer to online services like AppRadar.

Form your unique value proposition

“See where your competitors are focusing — and then make different choices.”
Larry Keely

After detailed market research, it’s time to shift your focus to the solution you’re going to deliver to your users and sidestep your rivals with. You should explain three things to your users:

  • Applicability. What product or service will your app provide? How will your app serve users’ needs?

  • Quantitative value. What specific benefits will your app possess? What is the end benefit of using your mobile app?

  • Differentiation. What makes your app unique? Why should users use your app and not a competitor’s?

Answering these questions will help you form your unique value proposition (UVP). It will be a cornerstone of your minimum viable product and your guideway through MVP feature prioritization.

List all your wants and needs

Prioritizing features in a mobile app MVP is impossible without creating an exhaustive list of features you plan to provide. You should include features that:

  • users need and want according to your target audience analysis

  • receive positive reviews and adopt the strengths of your competitors

  • make your app stand out from competitors and make users leap to your app

  • form the core of your viable product (your app couldn’t exist without these basic features)

  • could be “boosters” for your UVP and increase user engagement

  • include trends, innovations, and high-tech solutions in your niche

This list will give you a rough idea of all the features your app is supposed to deliver. Now you’re ready to define what features should be woven into your minimal viable product.

Nine techniques to prioritize MVP features

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9 MVP feature prioritization techniques

Defining features for your minimal viable product might seem hard. What can help is keeping in mind the core objectives of an MVP:

  • Validating your app idea

  • Attracting early adopters and receiving important feedback

  • Сutting development time and costs

  • Bringing in primary income

  • Attracting substantial investment

You might be interested in our post about how to build an MVP.

To find the most suitable features for your MVP from the list you previously drew up, you can choose from the following nine feature prioritization techniques.

Numerical assignment prioritization

Would you mind beginning with the simplest technique? The numerical assignment prioritization method involves dividing your app features into different priority groups. The number of groups can vary, but typically there are three: critical, standard, and optional. You need to assign each priority group a number. As a rule, number 1 stands for critical features, number 2 stands for standard features, and number 3 stands for optional features.

Let’s see how numerical assignment prioritization works with the feature list from our post about educational app development:

Numerical assignment prioritization for an educational app

Despite the obvious ease of use, the numerical assignment approach has two sticking points:

  • Every stakeholder has their own view of what is critical, standard, or optional for your project.

  • Stakeholders tend to think that everything is critical. In turn, this contradicts the core idea of a minimal viable product.

If you want to use this method to define the scope of your MVP, you should instruct your team in advance on what each priority group means and approve restrictions on the number of features allowed in each group.

Bubble sort technique

One more simple sorting algorithm — bubble sort — is used to compare two adjacent features in an array. All you need is to take your exhaustive feature list, compare the first feature in the list with the second, decide on which feature is more valuable for your MVP, and place it first. By analogy, you then compare the second and the third feature, and so on. If you have n features, you need to compare features n-1 times.

To get a better understanding of bubble sorting, let’s compare features from the same educational app:

Bubble sort prioritization for an educational app

With every iteration, the priority features rise to the top of an array like bubbles rise to the water’s surface.

When using the bubble sort technique, you should prioritize MVP features for only one parameter — in our example, the value that features can bring to your users. Since you’re likely to also sort features by other parameters like easiness to build or profitability, the bubble sort algorithm can be sufficiently time-consuming.

Feature buckets

When prioritizing features for a minimum viable product, product managers often fall back on the feature buckets method. The reason is that it analyzes both customer preferences and the feature impact on a mobile app’s KPIs.

The feature buckets method suggests you divide features into three (sometimes four) buckets:

  1. Metrics movers. In this bucket you should put those features that are aimed at increasing the core metrics of your project success like activation rate, retention rate, and revenue.

  2. Customer requests. This bucket is for features that your potential users expect to see in your app.

  3. Delights. This bucket is for exciting and attractive features that can increase user engagement and provide extraordinary solutions to users’ problems.

  4. Strategic. Here you might include features that can help you improve the product strategy, propel your mobile app to the top, and expand the horizons of your business.

If you want to make a grocery app like Instacart, let’s take a ready-made feature list from our post and prioritize features using the feature buckets technique:

Feature buckets prioritization for a grocery app

Using the feature bucket technique, you can find out what buckets have too many or too few features and identify vulnerabilities. Moreover, you can expose which features are unfit for your project and remove them. There’s only one con — the feature buckets technique won’t help you expose what features you should develop first.

The MoSCoW prioritization matrix

The MoSCoW prioritization matrix divides features into must-have, should-have, could-have, and won’t-have.

Must-have features are the most valuable for your MVP, since they’re aimed at providing your users with a solution they expect. In other words, you need to define the features without which your product couldn’t work.

Should-have features don’t impact the app’s operation as must-have features do, which is why there’s no urgency to develop them right away. But since should-have features are of value for users, you can include them in an MVP if your time and budget allow.

You can put the nice-to-have features that can make your app stand out from competitors on the could-have section. But no matter how exciting, attractive, and interesting they are, don’t hurry to include could-have features in your MVP. If you do, you risk a time and budget overrun, so save them for the next product releases.

The least valuable and lowest payback features aren’t worth wasting your time on. Put them in the won’t-have category. You can return to them later and reconsider their contribution to your mobile app.

Let’s fill out the MoSCoW prioritization matrix using a grocery app example:

MoSCoW prioritization matrix for a grocery app

Because of its benefit to define what items should be first built with the deadlines, the MoSCoW prioritization matrix is often used in agile software development.

Effort and impact technique

The effort and impact technique is similar to the MoSCoW approach but isn’t based only on the feature value for end users. It evaluates features according to three criteria:

  • Feature complexity: the efforts (time/skills/labor/software) required to develop a feature

  • Feature value: the impact a feature has on your app and users

  • Feature viability: the risk a feature may prove to be time-consuming for your team and lead to breaking the deadlines or/and budget

According to the impact, effort, and risk level, a feature prioritization matrix divides features into four categories:

  1. Quick wins have a great impact on your customers, require little effort to build, and, as a result, are low-risk.

  2. Maybes are also easy-to-build features but deliver less value for users than quick wins. If you have a lean budget, you’d better postpone them for the next app versions.

  3. Big bets are your killer features that can increase user engagement and make your product stand out from competitors. They require much time, professional skills, and extra financing. It’s also better to postpone them for the next releases.

  4. Time sinks are untimely features that demand lots of effort to be developed while being of little interest to users. Don’t include them in your MVP.

If you want to create a fitness app, your list of features for your MVP might look like this:

  1. Registration/sign-up
  2. User profiles
  3. Goals
  4. Synchronization with wearable devices
  5. Workouts & exercises
  6. Activity tracking
  7. Audio/video player
  8. Product & recipe database
  9. Customization
  10. Push notifications & reminders
  11. Geolocation
  12. Live streaming
  13. Gamification

Let’s prioritize these features according to the effort and impact technique:

Effort and impact prioritization diagram

After you launch an MVP and get initial feedback from users, you can reconsider the features in big bets, maybes, and time sinks sections, create a new effort and impact diagram, and analyze features for further product improvement.

Opportunity scoring technique

Unlike previous ways of prioritizing features, the opportunity scoring technique suggests using product evaluations from your potential users.

To conduct opportunity analysis, ask users to rate your MVP features by two parameters: the feature’s importance in meeting users’ needs and how satisfied users are with the feature. Scoring can be as elementary as choosing a number between 1 and 10. Those features users consider important but are poorly developed represent your opportunities.

Opportunity scoring mvp prioritization

Product managers conduct opportunity scoring (also called gap analysis) to determine points in a mobile product that aren’t improved enough but should be since they’re valuable for end users. This analysis works for the post-MVP improvements as well because it highlights what features will rather a strong return for the time, effort, and resources your team will invest in improving them. But remember that in a survey, people can underestimate or overestimate the importance of a feature.

The Kano model

The Kano model is another user-centered technique for prioritizing features on your product roadmap. Start by surveying your current and/or potential users, focusing on two main questions:

  1. How satisfying is a given feature for your intended users?

  2. How does the current level of feature implementation meet your users’ expectations?

Based on user reactions, the Kano model diagram classifies each feature according to four categories:

Kano model diagram
  1. Performance attributes include linear features. This means that every increase in functionality results in increased user satisfaction. You should keep in mind that the more functionality you add, the more effort you have to invest.

  2. Basic attributes are those features users take for granted. The curve shows that improving basic features increases user satisfaction, but the curve never crosses the horizontal axis. This means no matter how much you invest in your basic features, you won’t ever make your users more satisfied with your mobile app.

  3. Attractiveness attributes include features that act as a magnet for users and make them think: “Hey, I like this!” But be careful with adding them to your MVP. Ever-increasing user satisfaction can captivate you. You'll add more features to get more satisfied users and, as a result, spend more money. In the end, it can wreck your business.

  4. Irrelevant attributes represent those features users feel lukewarm about. Don’t waste your time on them.

The Kano model helps teams avoid overestimating attractive features while avoiding underestimating must-bes. Also, it’s useful for making considered product decisions and market predictions.

Speed boat technique

How to define features for an MVP if every member of your development team has their own product vision? There’s one way out — you need to unite stakeholders towards a common goal and get them on the same page. You can do this through collaborative play, such as with the agile speed boat method.

How many key features should an MVP deliver? The speed boat game suggests answering this question using the following components:

  • A boat that symbolizes your product (a mobile app)

  • An island that represents your objective (creating an MVP)

  • Wind that speeds up your boat to reach the island, meaning essential features you must include in your MVP and resources that can help you build an MVP faster

  • An anchor, which symbolizes obstacles the boat could face on its way to the island (these could be features that overload your MVP, aren’t valuable for your end users, waste your time, and/or bust your budget)

You can divide the speed boat session into two steps: brainstorming followed by a collective discussion. Let your team members think about different ways to implement your product, set out their ideas in visual form (paper, whiteboard, or digital), and clarify them audibly. Then continue the exercises with a collective discussion in which every team member can speak their mind freely, sharing their product vision as equals.

Collective debates can generate non-standard, genius solutions and make your minimum valuable product maximally user-friendly. You can also use the speed boat method for subsequent product improvements and analysis of your ultimate app.

User story mapping

User story mapping allows you to define MVP features by keeping your users’ goals and actions with your product at the top of your mind. You can discuss the user’s journey through your mobile app with all kinds of stakeholders: project managers, product managers, sales managers, developers, designers, and project sponsors. During brainstorming, you can determine the features your potential users seek and the key features you should develop in the first product release.

How can you prioritize MVP features with user story mapping? Take these five main steps:

  • Step 1. Draw up user goals and arrange them in a natural sequence.

    Start by reading our post on how to develop an ebook app. Ebook app users might have goals like finding a book, downloading a book, reading a book, and leaving feedback. Place them on the first row of a user story mapping table.

  • Step 2. Divide goals into activities users have to undertake to meet those goals.

    These activities could be defining the genre/author/title, inspecting several illustrations, reading annotations, selecting a type of download (audiobook, PDF file, etc.) and a payment method, using an in-app ebook reader, adjusting pages (color, brightness, font), leaving reviews, and sharing via social media and/or an in-app community. Place user activities on the second row of the table directly below the goals.

  • Step 3. Divide activities into user stories — small tasks users have to take to achieve the desired result. You can follow a typical template: As a [type of user], I want to [action] so that [reason/value]. Put user stories under the corresponding activity in a shortened format.

  • Step 4. Look through your product roadmap and define the most common user behavior or basic solutions to users’ problems. Arrange user stories by priority, putting the most important at the top of the map.

  • Step 5. Determine the least number of features that will allow your MVP to be tuned and marketable. Outline what features you’ll develop for the first release and what features you’ll postpone for the next releases.

User story mapping for an ebook app

User story mapping represents your vision of a detailed sequence of user activities while using your app. The horizontal axis shows the activities users will perform to achieve their goals. The vertical axis shows the priority of features for each user activity. If you’re aiming to make user-centered product decisions, user story mapping is the very thing you need.

Five common MVP feature prioritization mistakes

The main task of this article is to help you prioritize product features using one or several techniques. However, before you dive into matrices and diagrams, we think it’s important to emphasize what you shouldn’t do in prioritizing features for a mobile app’s MVP.

  1. Ignore market research. It’s not by chance that we devoted a third of this article to in-depth analysis of potential consumers and competitors. Creating an MVP while ignoring market research is a big mistake. It can lead to heavy losses in terms of time and money.

  2. Include too much or too little in your MVP. Since a minimum viable product serves to test your idea’s viability in the short term, you need to remember that too many features will take too much effort to develop and test. On the other hand, if you add too few features in your MVP, it won’t seem valuable enough for users and won’t bring in revenue. Find the right balance by creating and testing app prototypes before building an MVP.

  3. Work with an inexperienced team of developers. Insufficient skills on the part of your developers can slow down your project or even close the door to successful mobile app development. You should entrust your project to a software development company with proven experience building full-stack projects in your niche, that has positive reviews from previous clients, and that meets your price criteria.

  4. Disregard feedback. You’ll have no chance to turn your MVP into a user-friendly final app if you ignore analyzing both quantitative feedback from QA engineers and qualitative feedback from target users.

  5. Quest for excellence. Creating an MVP lays the foundation of a lean startup. To meet your deadlines and keep within your budget, your MVP shouldn’t be perfect. If it solves at least one user problem, has a simple and intuitive interface, and is free of serious bugs, it’s enough for the release.

MVP prioritization: Afterword

MVP prioritization is no easy feat, since it requires a ton of groundwork. Conducting thorough market research on your own could take years. Moreover, there are plenty of methods to define features for your MVP. In this article, we’ve highlighted the nine most popular. But what method or mix of methods should you apply? More questions could appear at the post-MVP phase. What features should you add to engage more users, increase your revenue, and find solid investors?

Answering these questions is possible with the support of a trustworthy team of mobile app development experts. They can help you prepare all your data for creating a well-balanced MVP and provide you with subsequent support for your mobile app to help it shine brightly in its niche.