Minimum Viable Product

I’ve been thinking a lot about prototyping businesses. I think it’s a hangover from years in the software industry. It’s regular in a business of bits and bytes to build something small as a proof of concept for bigger things. In fact, much of my career in software I was working on something that had been already sold, trying desperately to make good on someone else’s promises.

I’ve had this continuum in my mind for a while, on one end is vapor wear (sold products that don’t yet exist) and at the other end is military-grade (products so refined and tested, they should live through a nuclear winter.) I’ve been trying to figure out how to start building new lines of business in a traditional business, (restaurants, CPG, service businesses, etc) without building up an entire supporting enterprise. Seems like it should be simple, but it’s not.

Eric Ries helped me move my thinking a little farther this weekend when I read a post he wrote about something he’s calling the Minimum Viable Product. The term sounds like it was coined in a CPG company by some six sigma MBA, but the concept seems extremely powerful – what are the absolute essential elements that need to be in your product to judge if it will be desirable in the market. The concept feels like it may be the further evolution of a prototype, (or amalgam of many successful prototypes).

Minimum Viable Product in the software world is pretty straight forward – what do you have to build to get help people understand what you do (or plan to do). That could be a paper prototype, or screens, or whatever. It’s the tool you use to suggest the experience. I’m wondering if you apply the idea of Minimum Viable Product to a product experience outside of software if it could be far more powerful.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how screwed the phrase ‘brainstorming’ is. It’s horribly misused and I often wonder if it’s because the phrase itself is a metaphor. I’m wondering if a phrase like “Minimum Viable Product” has the right tone that it could clarify an idea to an organization. It’s a pretty self explanatory phrase and i like the tension between ‘minimum’ and ‘viable’. It’s not sexy, and it’s not inspiring, but it does create some boundaries and constraints, two of the chief ingredients in a great prototype.

1 comment

  1. Business Week had an article on similar concept in March (, of companies taking basic products (from emerging nations) and adding functionality, instead of the more traditional route of taking products from rich nations and trying to make cheaper. Article on Intel in recent Fortune magazine had them doing same with mobile chips (start with limit of 10% of current power usage, and then see what functionality can keep).

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