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Defining Minimum Viable Product

10.29.20 By: Lisa Gilham

Minimum viable product (MVP) is one of those concepts that has differing definitions and meanings depending on the person you ask. At Idealist Consulting, our definition more closely resembles Marty Cagan’s definition of minimum viable product. Cagan sums it up as something that is valuable, usable, and feasible. 

However, I’d like to propose that we don’t actually know what “minimum viable product” means. You do. Or, more accurately, with our help you can define what MVP means for you and your organization.

The trick with defining minimum viable product is that there is a lot of room for assumption and interpretation because the notion of what folks think is minimal varies. When potential clients come to us asking for the minimum viable product, the first thing we want to do is sit down and define what that means to them. In the best case scenario, we bring our expertise to the table; they bring their budget, their values, and their non negotiables; and we create a plan together to create their unique minimum viable product. 

In this blog post, I’m going to explain how we at Idealist Consulting approach these conversations with clients. 

Building a tiny house

If you are like many Americans, you may have binge-watched one of the many shows revolving around families or individuals downsizing into a tiny home. 

“While there is no official definition of a tiny house, it is generally thought of as a small house, typically sized under 600 square feet. While they can be built on foundations, most tiny homes are built on trailers.” 

Imagine you are going to a contractor to build your very own tiny house. You have the above definition in mind and you don’t have your budget finalized yet - you’re not sure how much this will cost but you don’t need anything fancy. You ask the contractor to build you the minimum viable product, saying that your budget is fairly small but not yet set (I hope you’re seeing some immediate issues with this approach). 

The contractor could make some guesses based on industry best or common practices and return with a blueprint for what they think would be a minimum viable product for someone with their definition of a relatively small budget. 

In this scenario, when they present this blueprint, you are surprised! You did not want your bed in a loft, for example, and you really wanted more counter space in the kitchen area — that was a non negotiable! You give this feedback to the contractor, who goes back to the drawing board. When you get back together, you find something else that is not what you expected. As this goes on, not only are each of you potentially getting frustrated and confused, but you’re spending money going back and forth, discovering your values and your non negotiables little by little. 

The real issue here may be that you didn’t have a good grasp on what minimum viable product meant for you in regards to your tiny house before you arrived at that first meeting with the contractor. And without a defined budget, the contractor had to make a guess at where to start. 

When we interact with a client who states that they want the minimum viable product, but is unclear or uncertain what needs they are trying to meet or even how much money they can give to this project, we recommend a paid assessment. This is to determine what a minimum viable product means for you and how much it will ultimately cost to meet your needs. 

Back to the tiny house example — if the contractor were to recommend a paid assessment, their team would sit down with you to walk through how you imagine using this tiny house, what activities you envision taking place there, how many people will be living there, whether or not you plan to build on a foundation or a trailer, etc. They would present options that spark your imagination and ground you in the real costs associated with those options, helping you understand what’s possible within your budget. This takes time, but ultimately is more likely to produce a tiny house you can afford and will actually want to live in!

Maximizing your minimum viable product

Imagine now that you arrive at the first meeting with your tiny house contractor with a well-defined small budget that you share along with a list of your values and non negotiables. You’ve done your homework in this scenario! You know you want a real bedroom, not a bed in a loft. You want a lot of counter space in your kitchen and a bathtub instead of a shower. Now you want to hear what your options are, informed by this contractor’s experience and expertise and bound by your budget. Equipped with this information, the contractor can do a couple of things:

First, they can start to help you prioritize where to spend your money. If you want a lot of kitchen space, you may need a smaller living room. The contractor will bring their knowledge of common practice to the table to tell you that it is unusual for tiny houses to have bathtubs due to size restrictions. Would you consider a Japanese soaking tub instead? 

They may tell you that if you want a separate bedroom instead of a loft you can’t build your house on a trailer — you’ll need a foundation, which means you’ll need some land on which to build this house. Well, that has a lot of connotations that you’ll need to consider!

Second, they’ll be able to help you get the best bang for your buck. You want a large kitchen? Have you considered an outdoor patio with a grill? Their expertise and suggestions made with your values in mind can open your mind to all the ways your needs can get met within your budget. 

When you bring the details of how you plan to live in this tiny house and are transparent about your budget, the contractor has more tools to help you get the best options based on their experience and past customer feedback. Your tiny house is the best house you could get — as defined by you — within your budget. 

Dream Home

At Idealist Consulting, we have both versions of these tiny house hunters come ask us to help with their tech projects. 

Some organizations come to us asking for a minimum viable product, expecting us to tell them what that means without sharing their budget, needs, or boundaries. In that case, we will conduct a tech assessment and a discovery process with the client to walk through their requirements and figure out what will fit their processes and legacy tech stack. This way, together we will define their unique minimum viable product. 

Other organizations, who also want to build a minimum viable product, come to the table with their needs well-defined and we work with them through the sales cycle to determine what’s best for them within their budget. 

Whether you need an assessment to determine your MVP or arrive knowing what that means to your and your organization, our team can help you maximize your system within your budget!

And if you still find the term minimum viable product intimidating, consider downloading our guide to technology change management: “Be Prepared, Not Scared”.


Download the Guide

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