Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in IT healthcare – how to guide
Have you heard about “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP) idea? I am quite sure you have. It is a very popular concept, and it is being widely applied to almost all kinds of products and industries. From mobile apps to services, from IT to manufacturing industry. There might be differences how much effort and money is needed to develop a product to that stage, but its popularity is a fact. It is all because of its main guideline – to place the product on the market in its basic form as soon as possible, and develop it after customers love (and of course buy!) its first version. But what about healthcare industry and healthcare products? Is the MVP concept applicable in situations when a proper development process and certification are required? I believe you can. How? Let me share some thoughts.
IT in healthcare – how different is it?
I am sure that we are all aware what IT in healthcare industry looks like, and what are the norms and legislations that it needs to oblige to. Therefore, I will focus on issues crucial from the MVP point of view. When I first joined the healthcare project, I asked myself what the difference between it and projects realized for other industries is. An answer that came to me was: safety and certainty of outputs, as it impacts the life of a real person. Of course, someone might say that there are IT areas where those are crucial as well. But let’s be honest, in most of IT projects there are no threats to human life. Can social media, MS Office or even bank application really hurt you? I mean, in a physical way – we all know how tough world is out there these days. As both safety and certainty are the biggest priority, so to ensure them IT healthcare products (officially named as medical devices) have to be developed according to ISO 13485 norm and certified, which is generally unusual in IT (if you want to know more about the certification process itself and how to prepare for it, please have a look here – my colleague Mateusz explains it in a very useful way). Following those rules equals extra time and effort during the development process; costs of acquiring the certificate need to be added as well. Making a long story short, we all know what it means to create and implement a healthcare product. So, the good question is how the idea of Minimum Viable Product fits into that? Where is in such a restricted and safe-oriented industry a place for preparing and getting feedback from customers about minimum, but “good enough” first product’s version?
Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – what is it about?
Speaking about “good enough” brings me to the MVP idea itself. You can probably easily find a lot of articles and websites describing what it is, and probably even more books teaching how to master it. From all of them you will take away one thing.
At least you will save your time and money, which can be invested in a new start-up or product. That is the theory. But the big question is how to follow all of those rules in an industry where you cannot make changes or add features to your application just like that? Is it even possible? In the industry where a given product needs to be not only well-tested and certified but also finally approved by official regulators before it can be clinically used? Here, in Future Processing Healthcare we were asking ourselves the same questions.
Healthcare products and Minimum Viable Product – do they get along?
Can the MVP idea be applied in healthcare IT solutions? I believe that it can, and to support that statement some examples will be helpful. As usual, there are at least a few ways to fit MVP into medical device development. None of them is perfect, but each of them has their advantages. I would like to discuss two of them, recently used in my projects. First of them can be named “classic approach”. By simply following the MVP guidelines we developed healthcare IT product – Sens.AI, with minimum but valuable features (if you want to know more about it, please visit www.sensai.eu). We are now on our way to certifying and placing it on the market straight afterwards. Is Sens.AI full potential being exploited at present stage? Of course not. There are some new features in our roadmap, which can be added to it later, but as I said before, we need to get feedback from the market about its primary benefits, before we can move on. Easier said than done. How do we verify its value? In my opinion, there is only one good way, not surprisingly quite simple. It is giving voice to our customers by offering them our product to buy. You can do it by your own sales force or via distributors. In the end, it does not matter how you reach your clients. Just be sure it is happening. Someone might say, do decent research before starting product development and ask your future customers what they want in the first place! Certainly, it always helps and I am sure no one is omitting that step. But truly, is it always enough? I am sure every of us can name at least a few products or services launched by big and successful companies which totally failed. And they had not skimped on market research – that is for sure.
All of that brings me to the second way of applying the Minimum Viable Product idea to an IT healthcare product. This one is a bit tricky, though. As we all know, progress is crucial in medicine. Thanks to hard work of thousands of researchers we can take advantage of new drugs and clinical treatments, and they all need tools to perform their work. If those tools are dedicated only to research purposes, the law restrictions are not so strict, as for medical devices. They do not have to be certified for example. That makes a big difference, when it comes to MVP. You can give your customers a product for evaluation without bearing the costs necessary to place it on the “real” market. Of course, there are some drawbacks. You cannot expect a “research only” product to generate a lot of income. If it is not dedicated to clinical use, it will not be as widely used as it could be. And even more importantly, your product has to be innovative enough to attract the attention of researchers and doctors. But hey, if you are not working on some disruptive innovation there is no need for MVP in the first place, right? So by offering your product to those groups of users you can get that most valuable feedback – customers’ opinions about a real thing. If they like it, you can be sure they will spread a good opinion to their colleagues through conferences and articles. In this way, you will know what they value in your product and whether it is really as useful as you planned from the beginning.
I am looking forward to getting your comments. Please share your thoughts about the Minimum Viable Product idea in healthcare. You can reach me by e-mail email@example.com or via LinkedIN https://www.linkedin.com/in/marek-pitura/
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See the previous post: Medical software development difficult beginnings. How to cooperate?