Why MVP culture can be a blessing and a curse

Working in digital development we’re in a fiercely competitive space to deliver good stuff quickly (to put it simply!). Digital organisations are constantly transforming the way they work in order to meet the pace of change. As more businesses embrace Agile, the concept of an MVP has huge potential but to make it land successfully you’ll need to understand the value it brings whilst managing the risks.

A key principle of Agile is to define a Minimum Viable Product, narrowing down on scope to build fast, release fast and learn fast. It’s centred on prioritisation, understanding the many possible features within a product and assessing what will lead to the best first iteration of that product. And by best, we mean the minimum features that will meet desirability, viability and feasibility the quickest.

Particularly in large organisations, we can be slowed by trying to build the perfect solution. By getting every team on board and into the detail, leaves us with a list of requirements down to our knees. It’s either not achievable or the timeline is so long that by the time it is achieved, half of the features aren’t relevant anymore. MVP brings an essence of start up culture with the approach of working smarter not harder.

What are the key selling points to an MVP approach?

To be successful with this approach, everyone needs to buy in. Simply understanding and articulating the value it brings will help win stakeholders over.

  • Speed to market
  • Cost efficiency
  • Test ideas in the market quicker
  • Minimise risk
  • Clear priorities for stakeholder alignment
  • Clear focus for development & operational teams
  • Allows for evolution as de-prioritised features go into the backlog

So where’s the downfall?

Getting your team or the wider business to prioritise into an MVP is a mean feat in itself so well done if you’ve gotten that far. However, the pendulum can swing too far the other way and we can fall victim to MVP culture.

Too often businesses see the MVP as the end result. Once the MVP is live, the team is dissolved, the support team pick up the maintenance and the product is left in its’ cocoon wondering when it will grow into a beautiful butterfly! Sometimes these half-baked solutions are left out in the market to slowly diminish in value, until it’s completely redundant and we decide to scrap the whole thing and start again.

In the ideation phase, we’re encouraged that no idea is a bad idea. It’s never a hard no but more of a not yet. And the not yet part is where businesses often fall flat as they’ve never return to the not yets. I’ve seen MVP culture described as compromise, and compromise leads to debt, debt which must be picked up to further improve the initial MVP.

How can you reap the rewards of MVP culture without the downfalls?

  1. Plan beyond MVP! Rather than have 2 buckets of MVP vs not, instead when prioritising features bucket them into iterations. It doesn’t mean you have to commit to features 6 months in advance (the Agile gods would shudder). But it does show your stakeholders that the end result is not the MVP and the features that make up those iterations can of course change.
  2. Frequently re-assess the problem you’re trying to solve with your product. Often business fall in love with a solution rather than the problem and lose sight of the purpose of that product. By investing in customer research you are challenged to constantly re-define the need for your product throughout it’s life cycle.
  3. Similarly, revisit your backlog regularly. It can be a considerable amount of time between your first ideation workshop and your next iteration planning. Some ideas can be more unsuitable than they were at the time but it’s also possible that some of those ideas were too early for the market and are now much more relevant.
  4. Plan for your Minimum Marketable Product. Work closely with business functions that know your customer (i.e. marketing), and prioritise the features we go to market and shout about… once the MVP is stable and proven of course!

Overall, the concept of MVP is crucial for business to align on a vision, release value to customers and then continue to evolve and adapt. For some in more traditional waterfall business functions, it can take some time to adjust to the concept and to use it correctly. My top tip is to understand the benefits and potential risks of working to an MVP, and work closely with teams to maximise its’ potential!

I write about things from digital trends & customer experience to mindset & mental health. With a dash of #tech4good. Bit of a mixed bag really.