Steps Toward a Minimal Product
To create a lean, minimal product, limit the target group and “build a product for the few, not the many,” as Steve Blank recommends in his book The Four Steps to the Epiphany. For instance, if you use personas to describe members of your target group, consider the impact of removing a persona. Would the product still sell? If yes, reduce the target group by dropping the persona. Once you have done a great job for your initial target group, you’re in a position to build on the initial success with a new, incremental release.
Second, understand your product’s value proposition and only select the features that are essential to address the target group’s needs. Have the courage and discipline to discard all others for now. Selecting the minimal set of features does not mean creating a bland, boring, or simplistic product. It means focusing on those properties that are essential for the product success. If you work with user stories, for instance, review each story or epic, and ask yourself if the product can be shipped without it. If yes, exclude the story. As the French writer and poet Antoine de Saint-Exupery put it: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
Minimal Viable Products and Minimal Marketable Feature Sets
“Words are but sound and fury,” says Macbeth, and there are several similar but confusing terms to denote minimal products. Mark Denne and Jane Cleland-Huang coined the term minimal marketable feature set in their book Software by Numbers to denote the smallest amount of functionality creating value for a customer. As I view a product as more than a set of individual features, I prefer to talk about minimal products rather than minimal feature sets. The idea of quickly delivering a small set of features and enhancing the software incrementally dates back to Tom Gilb’s evolutionary delivery method developed in the 1980s.
Eric Ries has more recently popularized the term minimal viable product, which he defines as “the product that allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” Based on this definition, the minimal marketable product may or may not be the minimal viable one. It could be, for instance, an alpha or beta version or even a throwaway prototype, such as a mock landing page. But, the core idea is the same: Quickly launch an initial product to learn from the market response, and then adapt the product accordingly.