Discipline and the minimum viable product

With all due respect to Seth Godin, while he may be a marketing guru, his post about minimum viable product makes me think that he hasn’t participated in the product development process in a very long time, considering that his definition of minimum viable product is pretty coarse (and likely why it doesn’t work!).

As a product guy, minimum viable product is one important method with which to organize product development efforts, and to maximize the amount of benefit derived from scarce engineering, development, and management resources. In agile development circles, Product Owners work with the team to consciously choose to release “MVPs” frequently, or release a bunch of them together in an integrated package or manner. My take is that “minimum viable product” is the set of features that satisfy the core needs of your target champion audience and provides the team with the greatest return in both actionable feedback and revenue/revenue potential. More than one can go live at a time!

To work backwards a little, agile development and Scrum in particular derive big benefits from thinking in this manner. The reason being that minimum viable product first forces you to think about a set of features, functionality, and fixes that make sense together, and offer your users the greatest benefit. Then, once you arrange things into a bundle, you look for areas where it’s possible to make them bite-sized for the team to work with and to execute on. Let’s say that you end up with 3 minimal viable “products”; that may simply correlate to three distinct milestone dates throughout a calendar year. But not all of them have to go to market immediately, not all of them have to be released as soon as they’re individually done!

Oftentimes, the driving force for product people to tie one minimum viable product to a release is the urge to get something to market ASAP. I say that you ought to resist that urge with all your might! It’s not about the “smallest kernel of your core idea” but rather, how you help your team build a great product iteration that goes to market successfully. It is up to the product folks to exercise some discipline and patience about what exactly constitutes minimum viable product. Anticipating how your users will be delighted by a single button versus a single experience makes all the difference in the world.

In conclusion, for all you product folks out there: Minimum viable product is the set of features that satisfy the core needs of your target champion audience and provides the team with the greatest return in both actionable feedback and revenue/revenue potential. Bundle multiple MVPs if you think the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

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