Progress vs. Perfection: Minimum Viable Product Thinking

“The way to solve problems is to uncover them as you go and then pivot to meet them.” – Eric Reis, The Startup Way

Whether your organization is new or has been around for a couple generations, chances are you waste time driving for perfection.

It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about a physical product, a digital product or a presentation deck, people often try to make it perfect without asking for feedback while it’s still a work in progress. When you shoot for perfection first – to be a Most Valuable Player – you miss the opportunity to build it better in the first place – and to determine if there’s an audience who wants it.

It’s what I call the drive for presentation over performance.

Minimum Viable Product

It’s far better to shoot for a different kind of MVP: A Minimum Viable Product – to create a prototype of whatever you are making, specifically as a way to present your ideas. Way better than spending incredible amounts of time and money on something that may or may not see the light of day.

In The Startup Way, author Eric Ries describes a Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop – an incremental, iterative way of quickly and cost-effectively determining if an idea is viable.

This doesn’t have to be a complicated process. Here are a couple of quick examples:

  • A client we work with wanted to build a new phone App. Instead of investing in building from scratch, we decided to gather and correlate the data from three existing apps to give us a new piece of information, and to test hypotheses. We quickly knew exactly what we needed to build and saved $200,000 in R&D in the process.
  • My team recently needed quick turnaround on a new piece of collateral. Instead of spending hours creating what we thought could be a finished product, we quickly created an MVP using PowerPoint and a flow chart then ran it by the team leader. He provided feedback and only then did we invest time in design.

Your MVP can be as simple as a sketch on a napkin, and measuring (testing) can be as simple as asking questions – lots of them:

  • “Is this what you had in mind?”
  • “What do you mean by that?”
  • “What works and what doesn’t?”
  • “You want blue – what shade are you thinking of.”

In fact, asking the same question three different ways can help you to go deep, and then sit back while you hold the space for people to think and to speak. You’ll be amazed at the clarity you can uncover.

Of course, this may require a shift in how your organization currently works. As Reis sees it, innovation is no different from other traditional management practices. They are all rooted in a foundation of accountability, on which is added process, culture, and people.

Think of it as building a new muscle or skill set – it won’t be perfect the first time but then again, isn’t that the idea?

The Challenge

  • What new product, service or important project are you working on now that could benefit from MVP thinking?
  • What are the checkpoints that allow to you to iterate and recalibrate along the way – and then what is the MVP for each stage?
  • What support do you need to try it?

Tim Schokking is a Coach and Strategic Planning Advisor at Lawrence & Co. Growth Advisors.