How To Prioritize MVP Features

According to stats, the startup mortality rate (figuratively speaking) reaches 90% across all industries. Only one in ten new businesses survives, in other words. Why so? Causes are various, but a wrong understanding of what is essential for the project and what’s not is among the primary ones. Launching a startup is always about uncharted waters: a reaction of the target audience is barely detectable as well as the audience itself. A lack of experience does not allow many novice entrepreneurs to recognize MVP as a practical approach to avoiding futile efforts.

A minimum viable product is a time-tested vaccine against many growing pains for any new business. When properly created, an MVP helps startups leave the ranks of the failing majority. What does “properly created” mean in our context? An MVP with well-prioritized features meets such a definition. Hence, how to prioritize features for MVP is hardly an idle question for any startupper. Read and learn tips from a startup development company - what MVP features are worth choosing and which feature prioritization matrix can fit your startup best.

Why is Feature Prioritization Important?

Any MVP, by definition, aims at bringing valuable insights into the upcoming project with actual feedback from potential customers. This is some sort of combat reconnaissance when startuppers can see how impactful critical functionalities of their future products are. Prioritizing features is the key technique in building MVPs for spending no time and resources on anything non-essential.

What goals does an MVP with well-prioritized features help to achieve?

  • Making sure your product is unique. This is about detecting possible rivals in your domain. The more unique the arriving solution, the fewer the potential competitors. Any theoretical speculation is useless for identifying the originality of your product: only functional interactions with a target audience can dot the i.

  • Ensuring that your solution is helpful. Your business idea may seem brilliant to you and your partners. Moreover, the solution under development promises to reflect the idea’s brilliance with its features. However, both your assumptions may appear false when your product faces indifference from the customers. Well-prioritized MVP features prevent you from wishful thinking while demonstrating whether your solution is helpful for the customers or not.

  • Reaping financial rewards. Return on investment is important, however modest the investment can be. It is especially crucial for startups that often use externally invested funds to create solutions. Frequently occurring functional overcapacity can hardly add financial value to any MVP. Startuppers may expect above-zero rewards if they know the right way to prioritize MVP features.

  • Accelerating app release. Very few market situations tolerate delays in solution release: competitors are always vigilant. The experience gained via an MVP reduces time-to-market for the main product. Proper feature prioritization improves the MVP efficiency and, thus, helps app creators realize what works and what doesn’t.

  • Defining your product development timeline and budget. The more explicit the customers’ reaction to MVP, the more straightforward the strategy for how to build the main solution. If only business-relevant MVP features are prioritized, customers are never reluctant to reveal their expectations from the project. The app creators, on the other hand, can grasp the holistic picture of the future product to determine the development timeline and project budget.

How to Define Critical Features for Your MVP

How to Define Critical Features for Your MVP

With vast hands-on experience in app development, our experts can suggest some well-proven approaches to prioritization for MVP features. They constitute an effective algorithm of actions applicable to MVPs from any business sector.

Identify the target audience

An ill-defined target audience can nullify all your efforts made for MVP development. Even an excellent solution is useless when offered to the wrong customers. Use your potential audience’s demographics to create a virtual image of your ideal customer. This is what marketing experts call the user persona. Try to imagine the properties and attributes inherent in your future users. Figure out their possible goals, problems, and preferences. Take a closer look at the existing customers of your potential rivals. The more precisely the target audience is identified, the easier the MVP feature prioritization appears.

Find out your customers’ pain points

Both the current MVP and the future primary app should induce clear emotional and commercial responses from your target audience. It happens when wisely prioritized MVP features impact your customers' most sensitive pain points. Research, interviews, and surveys help determine what problems affect your users most. If you know exactly what hurts your audience, the right solution to solve their problems doesn’t take too long to appear.

Determine how your product can meet customers’ expectations

After identifying the biggest issues of your customers, you should find a way to meet their expectations. Use brainstorming, role-playing, and other creative methods of collective imagination to invent the functionality capable of satisfying your customers best. Such functionality should find its manifestation in correctly prioritized MVP features.

Learn how customers solve their issues right now

Sometimes, reinventing the wheel is redundant in finding a way to cure the users’ pain points. They are solving their issues one way or another with some available products. An explicit customer demand rarely has no solution at all (nature abhors a vacuum, as they say). In many cases, the task is to offer customers a more efficient (cheaper, faster, simpler, you name it) solution compared to all existing ones.

Research what your direct competitors are

Understanding the holistic picture of your business domain is incomplete without clearly recognizable direct competitors. Investigate what they are and how they treat the user audience you presumably will share. Your competitors have already marinated themselves in the domain to gain valuable practical experience. Try to search their paths toward customers’ pockets and learn from their mistakes. It will give you a clue about which MVP features to prioritize.

Define killer features

Hardly the full functionality of your MVP can be entirely relevant for the killer app you are going to create. Some features will inevitably appear auxiliary. When prioritizing MVP features, it is crucial not to confuse killer features with merely supporting ones.

Create a unique value proposition

After successfully passing through all previous steps, a comprehensive concept regarding the value your solution can bring to the users should finally emerge. Moreover, the value proposition should be unparalleled among possible analogs from your direct competitors. The user experience provided by your MVP should leave no chance for your target audience to ignore your service. Do your best to be irresistible.

Adopt a customer-centric development mindse

To make your solution highly demanded by users, you should regularly feel yourself in the customers’ shoes. While prioritizing one or another MVP feature, put yourself in the place of the end user. This is how a customer-centric development mindset appears. Such an approach can let you make no mistake in meeting customer expectations.

MVP Feature Prioritization Models

Every new startup can adopt several well-tested MVP feature prioritization models. They differ in origin but are pretty similar in implementation. Much detailed information about each of them is available on the internet.

Feature Priority Matrix

This is a sort of analytic tool for business processes aimed at resolving disagreements when a company is figuring out what to prioritize. The prioritization matrix may take various forms depending on the complexity of the project and the number of criteria assessed. The simplest one includes just a couple of metrics such as “cost” against “value”. The number of metrics is not limited theoretically.

Feature Buckets

This model is a classification framework that helps distribute features and ideas among different groups (buckets) to better satisfy as many customers as possible. It is especially useful for roadmapping but poorly suitable for identifying which valuable feature should go first.

MosCoW Matrix

This MVP feature prioritization method divides all features into four groups: critical (must-have), important (should-have), useful (could-have), and optional (won’t-have). Such a feature stratification allows team members without technical skills to partake in feature prioritization discussions in an intuitive way.

Kano model

One of the oldest feature prioritization methods was developed by Noriaki Kano in the 1980s. Like with MosCow Matrix, all features should be placed in one of four categories: basic, performance, attractive, and unnecessary. But unlike other methods, Kano considers all features through the lens of only two properties: functionality and user satisfaction. The Kano model requires an obvious idea of your target audience.

Relative Weighting Prioritization

This method is based on assessing MVP features through their complexity and value. To determine both, it is necessary to realize what you are going to achieve first of all (increased user adoption, sales growth, improved customer experience, etc). Every feature is evaluated by its complexity/value ratio in the context of the desired business goal.

Bubble Sort Method

Bubbles of gas go up in soda. This simple physical effect lies in the background of this MVP feature prioritization method. All features are grouped in pairs to compare their priority in terms of a particular project. A feature with a higher priority goes up to meet with a similarly prioritized feature from another pair. And iterations repeat.

Effort and Impact

The meaning of this method reveals itself by the very name: all MVP features are assessed through the efforts they require to be implemented and the effects brought by such an implementation.

Opportunity Scoring

Running surveys among users is always a good idea. The method implies getting insights from customers regarding the features they would like to see in your app. Besides, they can score the existing solutions from your competitors concerning one or another functionality.

Speed Boat Technique

This is a collective brainstorming technique when team members assume they steer a boat (development) to an island (release). They prioritize MVP features according to their capabilities to either propel the boat forward or hinder the voyage.

User Story Mapping

This method makes stakeholders’ imagination run full force: they should suppose as if they were users navigating through the app. A set of "user stories" finally appears to evaluate MVP features with a priority criterion. In other words, developers decide which features are worth including in MVP and which one can wait for the major app release.


Not to join the ranks of failed startups, every project is recommended to release a minimum viable product first. It will bring real value, however, if creators can prioritize MVP features wisely. Various techniques for identifying essential features for your MVP, along with the most popular feature prioritization models, are given in our present post.

Truth be told, the topic is ample with nuances, and novice entrepreneurs may find it insufficiently disclosed. In part, it is so, but limited space does not allow discussing everything in detail. The best option, therefore, is to get consulted by professionals with deep expertise on the subject. Owlab is always here to assist.

With no false modesty, we ate the dog on the MVP creation over the years of our vast experience in software development. Our experts thoroughly collect mistakes and breakthroughs that customers have ever made when building their MVPs. The knowledge is rich but shareable: contact our team to get valuable insights on MVP feature prioritization from true practitioners.

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- Vitaliy, CEO

Harju maakond, Tallinn, Kesklinna linnaosa, Vesivärava tn 50-201, 10152, Estonia

- Head/Development Office

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