An Alternative to MVP

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When thinking about how to turn an idea into reality, many terms come to mind:

  • Minimum Viable Product
  • Minimum Lovable Product
  • Minimum Revenue Product
  • Minimum Marketable Feature
  • Minimum Learn-able Product
  • Minimum Saleable Product
  • Minimum Marketable Product

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is the most popular approach used to describe the delivery of the smallest thing you can build to satisfy early adopters. Despite its popularity, MVP means different things to different people as evidenced in blogs and our own first-hand collaboration with multi-disciplinary teams.
But why doesn’t the MVP term lead to automatic success?

Minimum

The dictionary definition of minimum is “the least or smallest amount or quantity possible, attainable, or required”. Often it is difficult to quantify minimum to understand desired number of features. Rather than churning feature lists, there is more value testing high risk assumptions against opportunities with small and frequent experiments.

Viable

Viable is the most confusing word in the MVP term. It is not surprising that new words like Marketable have been proposed as alternatives. Many times what ends up being viable is what is easiest to develop. There is a missed opportunity to find a balanced approach across business, technology and design.

Product

The goal is to turn an idea into a product. However very few ideas become sustainable products. Sometimes an idea is labelled as a product before a solution/market fit is achieved or before a business model has proven to be sustainable. Ultimately, the market or reality dictates if an idea becomes a product, not the creator(s).

I am a strong believer that words matter and can easily impact mindset. Maybe there is an opportunity to achieve greater clarity?

A friend and I decided to run an experiment. Recently we launched an idea called Recordable in Chrome Web Store. It is a simple and versatile screen recorder with the ambition to improve communication in multi-disciplinary delivery teams.

From day one we wanted to start a conversation. We did not embrace the preconceived assumption that the idea would eventually turn into a product. Instead, we took more value from being great listeners to our users’ needs and being humble to understand that we didn’t have all the answers but could learn and adapt.

I cannot emphasize enough how critical this approach was. Our first step was to pursue a user-centric product development approach to engage a target community that would benefit from this tool. To enable this we used a public Trello board that helped users to capture their experiences. Next, we invited early adopter users to field test our early iterations.

Early conversations proved that Recordable was gaining acceptance. Soon we stumbled on the decision of what principles to pursue to further evolve the idea. Rather than adopting any of the above terms, we settled on three brand new principles that guided our experiment to turn an idea into reality.

Simple

Who does not like simple? Developing an idea with simplicity in mind is made possible with a set of principles. For example, one of Recordable’s principles is versatility. We decided to develop a handful of secondary primitives (sketch, comment, screenshot) to complement the primary capability – screen recording. Intentionally, secondary primitives will remain simple because screen recording is the primary capability. Screen recording can remain simple as long as enough capabilities make the idea lovable rather than bloated with never used functionality.

Lovable

There are many ways to generate lovable ideas. For my friend and I, Recordable was a fun side project and it was fine to stay small. This was critical because without time constraints we were patient to receive valuable feedback from colleagues and friends. The conversation was always about “building something for you”.

A customer obsessed culture is also very helpful. At the beginning we contacted friends and colleagues to validate the problem, solutions and opportunities. Friends also helped us to test iterations during early development. After first public release, we engaged with the Ministry of Testing community to share our story, share updates, and most importantly listen. We published a public Trello board to capture bugs and new feature requests.

Complete

All products have a lifecycle determined by time, technology advances, new customer needs and wants, and many more. Completeness is determined by how we respond to these influences.

Recordable is promoted using flavours (e.g. names of fruits) rather than numbers. Our aversion to version numbers helps us to avoid complacency and continue on our simple and lovable path. Every flavour is a target we complete for a given moment in time, and represents our learnings and market’s desire.

For example, videos can only be downloaded locally in Recordable’s first iteration (Avocado flavour). We acknowledged that local downloads was probably not lovable enough. However, users could continue to access saved videos (no cost or file lifespan constraints) if we decided to abandon the idea.

After a few months of trial, the three principles – simple, lovable and complete – are here to stay. We think that these words inspire the right thinking and attitude to carry on evolving Recordable.

It is hard to go back to an MVP mindset. The Minimum in MVP was not compatible with “starting a conversation”. The Viable in MVP was not compatible with a fun side project mindset although we do not expect all viable things must start as a fun side project. Finally, Product in MVP was too far in the horizon for Recordable because we had no assumptions. We valued more the honing of secondary skills to keep learning.

Ultimately, simple, lovable and complete principles offered the opportunity to balance listening (discovery) and speaking (delivery). Good things happen when ideas that over time are co-created with users, evolve into sustainable business models represented by products.

Give it a try and let us know what you learn!

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I believe practical inspiration can benefit your Agile path. I aim to think differently and challenge traditional ideas. [read more]