In researching an article I’m writing about minimum viable products, I found several articles and videos that helped me think through the issues. In the absence of a single place to find these gems, I thought that I’d put them together in a single post. I’m no doubt missing a lot of things, but here’s what I found influential.
Steve Blank: Perfection by Subtraction
Steve Blank discusses MVPs as “minimum feature sets,” which are a “Customer Development tactic to reduce engineering waste and to get the product in the hands of Earlyvangelists soonest.” The article makes the strong argument that vision is a key part of what you are selling. It’s the vision that gives meaning to the minimum feature set you actually hand over to early customers.
Steve Blank: Lean Startups Aren’t Cheap Startups
While this post mentions “minimum feature set” in passing, Blank nicely explains when this approach is appropriate. The fundamental point is that startups need to “preserve cash” while they are testing hypotheses and validating the scalable business model. Once those fundamentals are understood, cash preservation is less important than spending what it takes to scale the business.
Eric Ries: Minimum Viable Product – a guide
This is a video and slide presentation from an early talk by Ries where he is formulating the MVP as a concept. This is where we see his more aggressive use of the concept as a methodical part of dealing with “extreme uncertainty” that defines startups. It’s also where he departs from others who would put the emphasis on “product” — MVPs for Ries (as he’s famously explained) don’t even have to be products.
Marty Cagan: Minimum Viable Product
Cagan differentiates between a “minimum viable product” and an “MVP test” in this blog post. It’s a useful distinction that helps when you are trying to decide exactly what you are going to release and sell to early customers. While Ries’s definition focuses on testing and learning, Cagan is definitely interested in finding the core features and bringing something to market. To this end, he focuses on “three critical characteristics: people choose to use it or buy it; people can figure out how to use it; and we can deliver it when we need it with the resources available – also known as valuable, usable and feasible.” This is a useful distinction for product strategist because there is a difference between validating hypotheses with tests and deciding exactly what you are going to build.
Marty Cagan: MVP vs. Product Vision
Without a product vision an MVP makes no sense. This is what I took away from this post. Here Cagan stresses the importance that Product Vision and MVP are intimately related but not the same. This article is a good pairing with Blank’s article on “Perfection by Subtraction”. Here is how Cagan defines vision: it “describes the types of services you intend to provide, and the types of customers you intend to serve, typically over a 2-5 year timeframe.” As such, it provides the roadmap and context for MVPs.
Josh Seiden: What Makes It Lean?
Any UX-specific article about MVPs must deal with Lean UX. Seiden’s emphasis in this blog post (and this 5 minute video shown below) are great at spelling out the scientific approach to MVPs — form hypotheses, test, learn. He gets down to the business of how to create and prioritize hypotheses, which to me is a key skill of the product strategist.
How Zynga Uses “Ghetto Testing” and Minimum Viable Products
Matt Gatt put this interesting video on his blog about a year ago, but it started showing up in tweets about the time that I started my research. While the Zynga approach won’t work for everyone, it’s another great example of MVPs (in Ries’s sense of a test rather Cagan’s sense of an actual marketable product). Piling up examples is important for sparking creativity. In the absence of formulas for MVPs (which is likely not possible) having examples of how others have creatively used the concept helps other product strategists devise their own tests and experiments. This video describes an aggressive and systematic approach to testing the viability of new games for Zynga.