In scrum, the term "Minimum Viable Product" or MVP gets tossed around a lot. It's supposed to be a way of identifying the base set of features, and thus requirements needed to launch a product early, get feedback and iteratively improve it.
In practice though, a few things seem to happen with an MVP even within the most well intentioned groups...
- The MVP continues to get stripped of compelling features to meet deadlines and becomes just a MP, or 'minimum product'. At launch the product doesn't have anything compelling to break into the market, lacks features seen as "table stakes" by buyers. While you're able to improve, you've lost the critical launch window. Even testing early doesn't stop this kind of behavior, because it's often driven by pre-existing business decisions.
- Nobody on the team understands what 'viable' really means, or it means different things to different people. This leads to pivots in direction, a loss of focus and often the dreaded "over promise, under deliver" because of communication failures.
- Not understanding the problem well enough and not having a vision to solve it means that even if everyone is on the same page, early conversations are geared less towards understanding the user and often are just driven by new market opportunities.
- ability to live, especially under certain conditions.
- the capacity to operate or be sustained.
Understanding the user is key and critical to your success. Asking a user what they think is viable? Well how's that ever going to work? How does that ever translate well into something everyone on the team can understand.
"Hi, we're building a radically new car with the following features... do you find that viable?"... Who could answer that, and if they do, do you really trust that their feedback is accurate to their buying decision at the end of the day... rather "We're building this car, and its going to solve this problem... how would that be useful to you?"... You're no longer in the "yes/no" space, you're in the "understanding the problem" space.
- being of use or service; serving some purpose; advantageous, helpful, or of good effect.
- of practical use, as for doing work; producing material results; supplying common needs.
A one legged chair for example is probably really useful in portable, temporary scenarios like standing in a line, or any such scenario where you're only doing it for a short period of time, where the portability of the seating device is more useful than its four legged counterpart. On the flip side a standard four legged chair is useful for its stability and comfort.
They're both viable, they both serve a need and solve a problem. The point is that viability alone doesn't direct a user's buying decision. That decision comes solely from comparing the benefits and weighing the pros and cons.
Viability matters to the business, and is crucial to the long term sustainability of whatever is being built. It indeed makes no sense to launch a product that is amazingly useful but is completely unsustainable and not viable to the business. I'm not advocating that we disregard viability... we can't... it's tied to the long term success of the business. What I am advocating for is that rather than look at the MVP as the first gate to user feedback, we should rather focus on the MUP.
The goal of the MVP is to identify and ship the minimum requirements needed to get user feedback. If we just focus on viability, we're not focusing on the user's needs, nor are we putting faith in the incremental improvement process. A MUP can be viable. If you're doing it right it should be viable out of the gate, and get more viable as you improve it... lower costs of goods, improving margins, improving renewal rates... those all go to viability. The more useful, the more viable it is to the business because it becomes embedded into a user's workflow.
One could argue that an android based phone is more viable, the cost to produce it is a fraction of the cost of an iPhone, but the market is saturated with them, and the app store is flooded with malware now more than ever... is an android phone really more useful than an iPhone? Is an iPhone more useful than an android based phone?
Usefulness creates product driven user centric conversation. Viability creates a sales driven business centric conversation, which conversation would you rather have?
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