Going beyond the MVP

A popular phrase of late (I think due to the wildfire-like spread of dev methodologies like Agile and Lean UX) is “MVP” or “Minimum Viable Product”…i.e., what’s the most basic release of the product for external use to gauge customer reactions, validations, learnings, so you can adjust quickly for subsequent iterations. It’s a baseline, something that’s of raw functionality, to embody the gist of what this brave, risk-taking, ambitious crew of engineers, marketers, designers has sought to unleash upon the world.

MVP = Not perfectly polished but “just enough” to make a small impact and provoke, inspire, catch fire (plus all the aforesaid Lean UX goals). Hmm, sounds quite a bit like Herb Simon’s infamous “satisficing” concept, doesn’t it? ;-) Just enough that’s necessary and sufficient to achieve some kind of pragmatic goal, to help focus and scope the very real tactical and tangible efforts of people, time, budget, resources…towards a very real target (that’s measurable and trackable). After all, all your product stakeholders (including investors, partners, vendors, suppliers, etc.) are deliberately taking a big chance with you and counting their minutes and dollars too. Whew! No pressure, right?? ;-)

However, while “MVP” is arguably a very practical structure to impose, I can’t help but feel quite disillusioned by this notion.

As designers we should be optimists! Why do we settle for the “MVP” as a “MINIMUM viable product” rather than aspire towards what I like to call, the “MAXIMUM viable promise”. After all, that’s what you’re really delivering, is a promise predicated upon your company & product brand, a set of expectations of what could be, that should dramatically shift customer perceptions and understanding of what’s possible by virtue of your offering. Imagine if Dyson, Nest, Tesla did just a basic “minimum” viability goal. They all produced something bold, powerful, inspiring, and yes still functionally viable…indeed it was the maximum viability given their constraints, compromises, conditions for their initial products.

Yes, we must ship something real and justifiably viable but still embodies the kernel of the soul, the essence of what makes it…what IT needs to be, distinctive, engaging, resonant with customer goals and values. That kernel may be expressed in terms of visual style, specific controls and affordances, overall brand and messaging, as well as raw brute-force functionality, expressed in their totality, with nuanced craft and quality. It should embody a promise of what should be, not just what can be built for expediency sake. Else you risk going “too low” and building something so minimally viable that it’s rudimentary, unimpressive, and basically a “so what” falling short of the reaction you truly want: exultation, gratitude, and delight. Aim for the promise, not just a mere product…this relates to the brand voice and perception, projected into the user’s mind and enhanced by their direct interaction with the offering you are creating.


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