Part 3: Taking MVP to the next level

This post is the third in our three-part series on how to launch digital products efficiently. Check out parts 1 and 2 on the importance of accurately defining a digital product and adopting a product vs. a project mindset.

Organizations of all sizes are working with services companies to help get their good ideas to market as quickly as possible. Many look to the startup world for inspiration, where the MVP approach is widespread. Popularized by Eric Ries (@ericries), the Minimum Viable Product approach helps companies launch the version of a new product that brings back the maximum amount of validated learning about its customers with the least amount of effort. The MVP approach is all about getting impactful products to market quickly and iterating over time. Although we love it, we don’t believe it’s a silver bullet in and of itself.

Every organization can realize value by adopting the MVP mentality. A good example is Apple – a company that is revered for its ability to continuously innovate. Stratechery’s Ben Thompson (@benthompson) describes Apple’s approach in his recent piece Apple Music and Apple’s Focus:

“Apple has released many new products over the last decade. Only a handful have been the start of a new platform. The rest were iterations. The designers and engineers at Apple aren’t magicians; they’re artisans. They achieve spectacular results one year at a time. Rather than expanding the scope of a new product, hoping to impress, they pare it back, leaving a solid foundation upon which to build. In 2001, you couldn’t look at Mac OS X or the original iPod and foresee what they’d become in 2010. But you can look at Snow Leopard and the iPod nanos of today and see what they once were. Apple got the fundamentals right.”

Many people would look at Apple and disagree with the notion that they advocate an MVP approach. Pick up any of Apple’s amazing products. Is the first thing that comes to mind “minimally viable”? Probably not! The nuance here is Apple’s standard of execution on the experience side – which is higher than most, if not all companies in the world. What’s minimally viable for Apple is not the same as what’s minimally viable for Big Lots, for example. Companies first must establish a basic standard of experience execution. Then focus on how to deliver products that meet this standard as efficiently as possible. Something Apple does like clockwork.

Getting digital products to market and optimizing based on validated learning is a no-brainer. So why doesn’t every company in the world adhere to the MVP mantra? A major obstacle we’ve experienced first hand is how people perceive the concept. Many translate MVP in a literal sense, thinking “why would we ever put a minimally viable product in front of our customers? Shouldn’t we hold ourselves to the highest standard possible?” This might seem like getting hung up on semantics, but it is a real obstacle. Adopting a product mindset and leveraging an MVP approach requires a cultural shift in how companies operate. Therefore language and communications are incredibly important. (For more on this topic check out The Tyranny of the Minimum Viable Product from the Medium Staff – @MediumStaff.)

Adopting a product mindset and leveraging an MVP approach requires a cultural shift in how companies operate. Therefore language and communications are incredibly important. – Moonshot by Pactera Digital

To help people move beyond the literal translation of MVP, the folks at The Happy Startup School came up with a new take on this approach called MLP – Minimum Lovable Product. Written by Laurence McCahill (@welovelean), MLP is the version of a new product that brings back the maximum amount of love from your early tribe members with the least effort. Switching out “viable” with “lovable” should help people who resist the concept based on a literal translation. Although the word “lovable” feels a little cheesy, the concept makes complete sense and we’re looking forward to testing it out with our clients.

Whether it’s an MVP, MLP, or anything in between*, the core concept is one we passionately believe in: identify the leanest combination of technologies and operational components that deliver value to customers via delightful experiences. As the core product is released into the wild, one that the organization is proud of, measure the effectiveness of the product relative to KPIs and commit to evolving the product through validated learning.

So we get it, MVP rules. Is it a panacea? Not quite.

To take the MVP/MLP approach to the next level, we believe in layering on a mentality called adjacent thinking. We first learned of this concept from Linda Bustos (@getelastic) from the Elastic Path blog. Linda defines the adjacent possible as, “the intersection of the next most immediate thing that people really want and matching it to the next immediate thing that you can provide. Adjacent possible ideas are easier to generate and can be tested quickly. This approach also allows you to fail faster and cheaper and hold fast to what yields the most value.”

Adjacent thinking is an important element of the MVP/MLP conversation because it allows organizations to leverage processes, skill-sets, organizational structures, and technologies that are already in place today to achieve something new and different in the future. Before investing millions in the next great platform or making a handful of new hires, use what you already have and test it. If the market (e.g. customers or users) tell you the capability is of value, then consider investing in its future.

Adjacent thinking is an important element of the MVP/MLP conversation because it allows organizations to leverage processes, skill-sets, organizational structures, and technologies that are already in place today to achieve something new and different in the future. – Moonshot by Pactera Digital 

In an effort to not make this post never-ending, I recommend the following posts from Steve Blank and the Harvard Business Review for continued reading on this topic:

We hope you found this three-part series interesting!

*Other approaches based on the Lean vocabulary include the Business Model Canvasthe Customer Development processPivotsEvidence-based entrepreneurshipInvestment Readiness LevelTechnology Readiness Levelsopen-source lean classes, and Lean LaunchPad classes (thank you @sgblank).

Mike Edmonds

Mike Edmonds

Managing Director, VP Product

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