What Exactly is an MVP?
What is an MVP
For people less familiar with software projects, “MVP” seems like a familiar acronym. The “Most Valuable Player” is usually associated with “MVP.” There is, however, another meaning for this acronym espoused within the software industry: the Minimum Viable Product.
Origin Story of the ‘MVP’
The origins of MVP were popularized by Eric Ries in his book The Lean Startup (a great read I might add) and he talks about his journey through product development and compares it to lean manufacturing championed by Toyota in Japan.
It has principles of:
- waste minimization
- non-value-adding work ("muda
- overburden ("muri
- unevenness ("mura
- perfect first-time quality
- pull processing
- continuous improvement
- load leveling
- building strong relationships with suppliers
- visual control and production flow
But the MVP owes is lineage to an older document that lays the groundwork: The Agile Manifesto.
Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer
through early and continuous delivery
of valuable software.
Some more thoughts on the agile manifesto. Agile has been an incredibly successful methodology within the software space - almost to a fault. It is at the point where when talking to development organizations, there is no information when someone says “we are an agile organization.” Though agile leaves a lot of space to be filled in by individual teams, there are plenty of things that tend to stay standard. Agile tends to always break down work into small chunks, and it is the work of the product manager to prioritize that work in such a way where the product is:
- Useful at all times
- Extracting as much value as soon as possible
- Always internally consistent
- Validating key assumptions along the way
Later, Eric Ries would compile a separate work, “The Lean Startup” that elaborates on what is meant by “valuable software.” Ries coins the term “Minimum Viable Product” as a way to define a product interaction. In his framework, each iteration should be thought of as an experiment. For anyone who has run a business can tell you that without a hypothesis are only guaranteed to “do something”. Afterward, you are then faced with the precarious situation of determining if the something was “good.”
Thus you can think of an MVP as the smallest experiment that will prove or refute your hypothesis. The goal is to follow a more scientific path whereby setting up a hypothesis - as well as an experiment to test our hypothesis - we are guaranteed to learn something - a far better trade than before, where you were guaranteed that you would do something. The hypothesis would be right or wrong but only one of those and MVP is merely the experiment in the market helping to determine our hypothesis validly or invalid.
At each phase of a company or product, there are key questions that create “leap of faith assumptions.” The more leap of faith assumptions there is the riskier a product or company.
Thus when you start, your “Leap of Faith Assumptions” are pretty giant as the name would imply.
Would anyone on the planet willingly express interest for a scalable, serverless, self-hosted, blog platform?
This defines “minimal” what is the smallest, cheapest, fastest-to-market apparatus we can create to test our assumption.
A minimum is a singular value that holds the distinct position of bu
Exploration of Viable
At the very beginning of a venture, viable is a bit - shall we say - forgiving. The classic example of a viable product is a form to sign up for your software that is in “beta” If minimal is concerned with being as small as possible - viable is concerned with being just big enough to be conclusive - or to ensure that our customer’s expectations were met.
But, depending on the product, sometimes viable means having a beautiful UI, sometimes it means having exquisite documentation, it all depends on your what you are trying to learn. Eric Ries, the modern champion of Lean Startup and crating MVPs - has that as the solution to validated learning. Aka - the MVP is the built creation that helps you validate a hypothesis.
Defining Product as Loosely as Possible
As you have seen already, when “Minimal” and “Viable” are in the same sentence there is not much room left for Product. This can certainly feel true in the early days.
An assumption of Faith: People really do want a scalable, serverless, extensible, self-hosted blog platform?
Hypothesis: For every person who comes to our site explaining the product, we will set success at 1 in 10 signing up for the upcoming release of the product (aka sign up for the newsletter)
- Landing Page (SquareSpace.com)
- News Letter Solution (MailChimp.com)
- Google Ad Budget
Predetermine to run the experiment for 30 days.
30 days you can guarantee to have hit or missed your goal. At which point if you flippantly set a goal - you can ask around to see if your set your sights too high.
The MVP is a tactic used to drive value more quickly, to test “leap of faith assumptions”, to ensure upfront that customers will be happy at the end of the process. Though it is a popular and well-tested framework, the MVP is not a panacea and will not solve all your problems. For that, you will need an organizational culture that drives things to completion and is striving for excellence. Those ideologies will be more foundational than a mere MVP philosophy.
In closing consider the Toyota Manufacturing organizational principles that set the foundation for their adventures in lean manufacturing
- All work shall be highly specified as to content, sequence, timing, and outcome.
- Every customer-supplier connection must be direct, and there must be an unambiguous yes or no way to send requests and receive responses.
- The pathway for every product and service must be simple and direct.
- Any improvement must be made in accordance with the scientific method, under the guidance of a teacher, at the lowest possible level in the organization.