Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Don’t Subtract - Restart to Find the Minimum Viable Product

Steve Blank wrote a great post recently entitled Perfection By Subtraction – The Minimum Feature Set where he explains the real goals around defining a minimum viable product:

Founders act like the “minimum” part is the goal.  Or worse, that every potential customer should want it.  In the real world not every customer is going to get overly excited about your minimum feature set.  Only a special subset of customers will and what gets them breathing heavy is the long-term vision for your product.

The reality is that the minimum feature set is 1) a tactic to reduce wasted engineering hours (code left on the floor) and 2) to get the product in the hands of early visionary customers as soon as possible.

You’re selling the vision and delivering the minimum feature set to visionaries not everyone.

I’m a big believer in delivering a minimal product out of the gate, although minimum gets defined differently in lots of cases.  In some cases, part of the definition of minimum is going after technical risk as much as you are going after market risk which is often the focus of lean startups.

But what inspired me to write this post was his title “Perfection by Subtraction.”  My experience has been that it’s often hard to get founders to “subtract” from their product definition.

Here’s what I mean… You start with some list of product features and functions.  As you try to peel away any particular feature, there’s a good argument given you absolutely need that to make this into a viable product.  Often, it’s the related nature of the features.

We have to have X or Y won’t work and Y is critical.

Sometimes, it’s more emotional attachment than practical reality.  It’s hard to give up on something that is part of your vision.  REALLY hard for some founders.  But often it’s just that the current list is viewed as an MVP already and giving up any part of it seems to break the vision.  I’ve been in lots of these discussions and have found myself starting to agree with the founders defense of their definition of MVP.

So  … rather than “perfection by subtraction”, I’d highly recommend Do a Restart.  Go to a blank page.  And try to define a new minimal vision where you have removed everything.  Then only add something that is absolutely critical.  Challenge the group to find the most minimalist definition.  But it absolutely must start from a blank page.  And it’s critical that you mentally and physically (electronically) throw away the current vision and feature list.  It’s a barrier.

Often when you look at the same feature list after this exercise you wonder how you could have ever been arguing for all of that extra stuff. 

Well, truth be told, some founders won’t ever leave anything behind and you just have to go build that.

But again – Don’t Subtract – Restart.

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