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Fast vs. Excellent – The Myth of the MVP (Minimum Viable Product)

What is a minimum viable product (MVP)?

A minimum viable product (MVP) is a technique Product Managers use to launch a project into market with enough key features to test the product’s impact. Then, through iteration and adjustments, the final and complete set of product features is launched after considering feedback from the product’s initial users.

A while ago, I watched a newscast on the BBC. Two guests were members of a military marching band. A video showed the marching band in full dress, as well as a glimpse of what they did during physical military training.  In the interview, they spoke about their military discipline and how the training is reflected both in their excellent work as soldiers and in how they practice and perfect their music and marching.

Discipline and excellence.

Whether in military maneuvers or a parade, discipline and excellence can provide any one or any firm with the best chance to deliver compelling results.  From my vantage point, many companies, large and small, have lost sight of discipline and excellence in exchange for fast and incomplete. By incomplete, I mean the overuse of the concept: minimum viable product (MVP).

To wit, over the past couple of years, executives urge the use of agile product development techniques to gain a competitive edge. “Do just enough” to get the product out there and let customers suffer, er, use the product and suggest changes.

Could you imagine a military commander saying, “let’s just get enough people, roughly trained, to take that hill, and we’ll learn from our experience and then come back and try again.” That just wouldn’t cut it. Loss of human life. Giving up the battlefield. Not acceptable.

In my research, I’ve concluded that many business decisions are made without proper customer insight, competitive perspective, and strategic context. How can this be? I’ll briefly explain:

  1. There are insufficient customer insights because the research and expertise required to understand customers are severely under-funded.
  2. Competitive positioning is not truly considered because there is insufficient understanding of who they are, what they do, how they succeed, and the market share they’ve attained. Again, the reason for this is because there isn’t enough time, money, and people to do this work.
  3. The absence of a coherent product or portfolio strategy that puts goals in clear sight, and an explicit path to achieve those goals.

Because of these shortfalls, developers who love to “go fast” without detailed documentation are operating without the proper context. Leaders who give permission to “go light” on the product vision, strategy, positioning, and definition documentation are fooling themselves.

Further, the gears of the organization aren’t spinning at the same rate, so functional departments are unable to move in lock-step and in the same direction. Why? Because of absence in true product and portfolio leadership.

You can complain as you will at my rant, but I have data from more than 200 leaders indicating that only 32% firms can prove that (iterative) development speed results in better business results.

Further, only 20% of firms get the product right sooner, rather than later. Yet, more than half of executives say that fast development is critical to the success of the firm.

You can draw your own conclusions, but when development becomes the center of attention, with lip service to customers and strategy, firms will not be able to operate with the precision required to be successful. For me, I’d get the business basics down first, focus on the proper planning, and stop guessing what customers value.

Focus on a Best Valuable Product or BVP and you’ll probably get ahead of the curve.

Steven Haines is the founder of Sequent Learning Networks, a global training and advisory firm focusing on product management, strategy, and marketing.  He’s also the founder of The Business Acumen Institute focusing on business acumen training and talent development. Visit www.businessacumeninstitute.com

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