Over the past two years, a small group of very smart students from George Mason University’s Human Factors and Applied Cognition graduate program (and one very tired, now ex-professor) have been building Fleet, the world’s best commercial air travel app. Along the road, we’ve learned a lot about Minimum Viable Product (MVP) style development, and in particular, how important product vision is for making it work. MVP development, for those who have not heard the term, is the art of making hard tradeoffs between product features in order to get a product to market quickly. In theory, once the product hits the market there is time to get feedback from real users, translate that feedback into actionable product directions, and then iterate and improve upon the product based on that feedback.
MVP development isn’t rocket science, but it isn’t beer pong either. In practice, even with the best user feedback, it’s often really difficult to make product decisions about what to do next. When users say “Give me X,” sometimes it’s a signal that you should move the product in that direction, but on the other hand, if you create every feature that users mention, pretty soon you’re chasing your tail trying to make everyone happy. That’s why, when it comes to MVP development, it’s critical that your team operates against a clear, long-term vision of what you’re trying to accomplish.
Take Fleet’s 2.0 push that we recently completed…when we pushed fleet to a limited market back in June, we knew that we were at a point where laboratory user testing, heuristic evaluation, focus groups, and think-aloud protocols were just not enough – we needed real users who were traveling for work, families that were taking vacations, and even airport employees to tell us what they liked and what was missing from the app. And we’ve gotten an enormous amount of feedback: ‘thank-you’ notes for letting people know that they had time for a quick bathroom break before boarding, suggestions about how to further improve the interface, and even feature requests like “can you get Fleet to let me upgrade for free?”
Well, we’re still working on free airline upgrades, but we have acted on hundreds of other pieces of user feedback. For example, the latest version of Fleet just introduced the ability to FOLLOW friends and loved ones as they travel in order to keep tabs on how their travel experience is going – for example, parents want to know when their son or daughter’s flight is delayed. This a feature that we already knew people wanted when we launched version 1.0 of the app, and we even got feedback that people were using the app that way (heck, we were even doing it ourselves). So when we got that feedback, it felt like a no-brainer to build out that feature a bit. We also got feedback that people wanted more control over notifications, so we built a control center to let users decide when they wanted Fleet updates. Finally, we got loads of feedback that users wanted to be able to access Fleet’s growing database of airports’ shops and restaurants. These features were ones that we had white-boarded a year ago…features we ourselves wanted…features that were part of our product vision.
But you know what we are going to pass on, at least for now? We’re going to pass on putting micro-games in the app. We’re going to pass on allowing you to download and read books in Fleet. And for right now, we’re going to hold off on making Felicity talk (although she does have her own twitter feed). These features sound cool, and who knows, maybe we will implement them one day, but for now, we’re sticking to what we set out to do two years ago: create the very best source of air travel information in the world and give that information to travelers. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting closer. Fly Fleet!