What is a Minimum Viable Product?

Johanna Rothman's picture

I can see what a minimum viable product is for my clients. I have a much more difficult time for myself. I bet you're not surprised.

I have several books in process. I write small chunks in their entirety, so I don't have pieces hanging around. Then I make sure the book builds. (I'm writing on leanpub, so I can self-publish my books when and how I want to.) Then, when I'm ready to publish, I can.

As a result, I have several books in any number of stages. Some, as you can see are done and published. Some you can see are in process. I have more that you can't even see. Leanpub has a way of hiding books from the public.

I have trouble knowing when it's okay to release an in-process book. What is a minimum viable product for a book? Now that leanpub has a % done (like that means anything!), at least my readers know that I know it's not done.

This is the same problem as my clients face, every single day. How little can you do, and still have happy customers? This is not an easy question to answer.

Some people will be happy--ecstatic even--with very little.

Some people will not be happy until "everything" is done, until the entire product is there, all tied up with a red bow.

Most people are somewhere in between. And that's the problem.

"Most people" are not who pay you the money. You have to follow the money. Do your product owners or product managers or sales people or business people know who pays you the money? Do they know what those people want? Do the "gold owners" want less or more?

The best way is to start with as Minimum Viable Product as reasonable for you.

I did this past week. I could have started with it weeks ago, but my perfection rules got in the way. I have one more essay to complete for my Essays on Estimation ebook. I've been waiting to finish that essay for at least a month. I should have released the book a month ago. But I was waiting for that last essay. I have a Minimum Viable Product now. Wasn't very agile of me, was it? Live and learn.

People will still get tremendous value from what I've already done. And, that's the point of a Minimum Viable Product.

When your product owner, product manager, or business people tell you they want "more" in the first release, ask them if the more that they want will really add more value to the delay they incur in the release. (This is a simplified look at the cost of delay.) Will people get value if you release less, but sooner? That's the question to ask.

What is your Minimum Viable Product? It's not easy to answer. The good questions never are.