The real MVP

The concept of a minimally viable product (MVP) has helped many companies, but some caution is in order. 


Out here in Northern California, the hot debate over the past few days has been a luxury: whether the NBA Finals MVP should have been the spectacular Kevin Durant or the spectacular Steph Curry. (I'm Team Steph but have no problem with Team KD—or even with those who say Golden State Warriors fans are hopelessly spoiled after three titles in four years and should just stop talking.) But there's a conversation to be had about a more consequential MVP, and Dan Bricklin is just the guy to introduce it.

In this case, MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product. The concept has been the rage in innovation circles for a few years now, helping companies see the need to push a product into the market quickly, even though not fully baked, to gauge how real customers react in real situations and to adapt quickly. Historically, many companies have finetuned products so much that they have been late to market, only to find that what they're offering doesn't really match what customers want.

Now that MVPs have been in vogue for a while, Dan pointed me to some thoughts from a colleague on how to improve on them. Dan is always right on such issues. He invented the electronic spreadsheet back in the '70s as a Harvard Business School student bored of having to constantly recalculate so many cells in a paper spreadsheet every time a variable changed, and I've seen him be smart on a whole range of subject over the 30-plus years I've known him. 

The finetuning, suggested by Dan's colleague Jensen Harris, consists of four points:

  • For many products, you can't go "minimum" on the user interface. The customer experience is often key to success or failure, so make sure people get a feel for the soul of your product.
  • Do ship bad code. You'll have plenty of time to fix it if you strike a chord with customers. Don't waste time making it pretty now.
  • Be absolutely sure about what you want to learn by shipping your MVP quickly, and make sure you can measure what you're testing. Also be sure ahead of time that you can act on what you learn.
  • Realize that MVPs aren't the only way to go. Sometimes, an innovative idea is so complex that you have to tackle the whole thing at once, not in parts where continual experimentation can occur.

If you want to see the full set of Jensen's thoughts, click here:

Have a great week.

Paul B. Carroll

Paul Carroll

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Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is the editor-in-chief of Insurance Thought Leadership.

He is also co-author of A Brief History of a Perfect Future: Inventing the Future We Can Proudly Leave Our Kids by 2050 and Billion Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn From the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Years and the author of a best-seller on IBM, published in 1993.

Carroll spent 17 years at the Wall Street Journal as an editor and reporter; he was nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize. He later was a finalist for a National Magazine Award.


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