The Death of MVP
Updated: Oct 30
How technical viability became the death of compelling customer value
The MVP was a powerful concept when it was popularized by the Lean Startup movement in 2008. Companies learned that they could build a smaller, minimal version of the product and iterate to success. The concept of Minimum Viable Product was very useful and allowed products to ship faster with a lower initial investment.
But the MVP has only been partially successful – it has allowed projects to fail-faster but has not substantially impacted success rates in innovation – which hover below 10-15%.
Why has the MVP failed in this most critical metric?
MVP’s have evolved into technical artifacts. The quest for technical excellence, fear of missing breaking an edge case, and most of all the need for clarity when under schedule pressures has transform "MVP" into a technical functional benchmark that may have no value to the customer.
The result is a release that is not compelling to customers to get them to trial and switch, as the MVP does not address their biggest challenges. Teams use weak criteria for constructing MVPs, including ‘users will like it’, ‘it solves a problem’, and ‘it works’. Yet these things are very unlikely to motivate a customer to take on the risk of switching to a new, unfamiliar solution.
But what is “MVP’’? what does “Viable” mean? What does “minimum” apply to? The lack of precision in language is a funny thing. The perspective of the speaker and the audience can completely change the intent and meaning of a concept. MVP is a fuzzy term.
The users own the term.
The vagaries of the English language and natural human communication patterns have unintentionally transformed an imprecise, Minimum Viable Product concept into a dangerous delusion - misleading teams into thinking they have a high-value concept when they do not. Teams are building things that people do not want.
In the real-world one of the biggest characteristics of adopting agile and learning, cycles are that only the development teams are truly and deeply involved in the ceremonies. Often the rest of the organization is driven by dates.
When Executives, Marketing, Sales, and Strategy teams are not involved in the Agile cycle the technical teams end up owning the concepts -- the operational definition of -- the Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
Though “viable” was envisioned as “Market viability” or “marketable” – and “minimum” was a modifier to marketability, these fuzzy concepts have often been left to the interpretation of the speaker and more important in this case, the audience.
Under the pressure to deliver and with limited resources the MVP concept has evolved to help the users deal with the challenges that they know and experience. Well-meaning technical teams do know their domain but don't have a precise understanding of the market. The result is that MVP becomes a concept describing technical elegance and completeness.
Instead of a benchmark for something to be marketable (whatever that means to a technical group), teams evolve and reinterpret the meaning to serve the needs and challenges that they experience firsthand -- to make it useful to them – so the MVP is insidiously transformed to focus on technical functionality. This a stark contrast to making something compelling-enough to motivate a customer to switch to a new solution.
Now driven largely by technical elegance, teams meticulously solve low-value, uncompelling problems. Teams may add new features and try to fail-fast (with more sprints) in hopes that they do discover what will transform their vision into something that's compelling, but without the language and concepts, most fail.
Thus, the MVP concept has failed in its original mission. And when teams and organizations find it very useful but do not recognize what it has become, the MVP has transformed into a dangerous, expensive delusion.
The way out
Building a marketable offering is not impossible. Lean and Agile do have the rigor to properly identify where critical decisions should be made (to align effort to what's compelling). Unfortunately, they don't offer an equally rigorous model for making these decisions.
To achieve the noble goal of the MVP concept, teams need a new simple, reliable model and language to define this critical concept.
The organization (not just development) needs a shared repeatable decision model that can define compelling customer value. The model needs to create a shared language that spans across the diverse functional specialty terms and tools to reliably, repeatably align and unify the organization's efforts to compelling value. The term needs to create a clear operational definition of a compelling vision – not just what is buildable - so that the whole organization can all pursue a common, compelling goal.
The answer is the Minimum Compelling Product. This new concept, derived from a simple, easy to adopt decision model, allows teams to define and build what will motivate customers to buy and use the product. Potential customers must stop what they are doing today, switch, trial, and adopt, a new, often unproven, offering. This is the challenge. The MCO concept shifts the focus to what matters most to the customer, what, and how they value, not the engineers.
Is this capability a compelling differentiator? Is it NOT required? Yet, does it add value? Will it delight customers?
To learn more – see Viable is Not Enough, Compelling is the new Lean webcast - focuses on accelerating customer value and generating revenues 4x faster.
This is part of a 3-part Market Fit Fast webinar series: Land compelling with the right buyer - fast. How You Can Win - Driving the Innovation Game in 2020.
Register at https://aipmm.co/lean-is-not-enough
Thanks to Burton Miller for help writing this article