A minimum viable product (MVP) is often mistaken as the first general release of a product, the initial offering that is good enough to address the early market. But for most products, an MVP should be a much earlier and cruder version that acts as a learning device—a means to test a crucial assumption and make the right product decision. This post shows how I used MVPs and MVFs—minimum viable features—to write my latest book, Strategize.
Minimum Viable Product #1
Writing a book is a complex and at times challenging endeavour: it took me over two years to write and publish my book Strategize: Product Strategy and Product Roadmap Practices for the Digital Age. As I had to commit a substantial amount of my time to the project (and my company’s money), I wanted to reduce the risk of writing a book that nobody really wants and needs. Using minimum viable products (MVPs) helped me address this challenge.
My first MVP had little resemblance with the finished product: my product strategy and roadmap workshop was the initial minimum viable product. This helped me better understand which strategy and roadmap-related challenges product managers commonly experience and which advice they require. Taking into account the attendees’ questions and feedback allowed me to refine the book’s value proposition—and improve the workshop at the same time. What’s more, writing the book helped me consolidate and deepen my product strategy and roadmap knowledge and thereby benefited my teaching.
Minimum Viable Product #2
While the workshop helped me validate the need the book should address, it did not address another key risk: writing the book in the right way so that the need was properly met and the product sufficiently differentiated. My second MVP helped me with this challenge.
In September 2014, I had a first version of the book available for review—my MVP number two. The feedback I received was mixed. There were some encouraging reviews but also some critical ones. In hindsight, I am particularly grateful for the negative feedback as it helped me learn the most.
As a consequence, I reworked the book: I moved away from trying to tell a cohesive story about creating an effective strategy and actionable roadmap for a sample product featuring selected tools and techniques. Instead, I opted for a broader collection of related strategy and roadmap tips. This increased the scope of the book and made it applicable to a larger number of products. But it required me to cover additional topics—something I tackled by using minimum viable features.
Minimum Viable Features
A minimum viable feature (MVF) is similar to an MVP: it tests an idea and acquires relevant knowledge. But instead of testing strategy-related assumptions, an MVF tests solution-specific ideas. It’s sometimes also referred to as a feature-fake or experimental feature, a partially implemented feature that is good enough to test if people would want to use it. My posts on market segmentation and eliminating product features are sample MVFs is created for Strategize.
MVFs allowed me to test how people responded to the new topics and gather quantitative data, including the number of post views, social media shares, and comments. While engaging with the attendees of my workshops and the reviewers of my book was invaluable, the test groups were comparatively small. The blog posts allowed me to reach a larger audience and reduce the risk of collecting non-representative data.
Working with MVFs provided me with an additional advantage: it helped me write the book incrementally. This made the writing job less daunting and easier to manage but required integration effort. But the additional work was well worth it: the benefits of using MVFs outweighed this drawback.
Leveraging Negative Feedback and Failure
While minimum viable products and features were very beneficial for my book, they are no silver bullets, of course. There are two challenges I had to overcome to use the techniques effectively: not getting too attached to an idea and accepting failure.
If we want to use MVPs and MVFs as learning vehicles, then we have to allow the product to evolve and change based on the tests we run—and not necessarily how we initially imagined it. I did not anticipate, for instance, that describing product strategy and roadmap techniques in form of a cohesive story would not work out. I was very fond of the idea and initially found it hard to let go. But it was the right thing to do, as subsequent reviews showed. In hindsight, I am glad I made the change.
Additionally, minimum viable products and features are likely to generate feedback and data that shows that we made a wrong decision. Personally, I don’t always find it easy to appreciate invalidating feedback. But I also know that I am unlikely to create the right product if the responses are only positive.
What helps me is trying not identifying myself with the product while doing everything I can to get it right. This way I haven’t failed when the response to an MVP or MVF is negative; I am more open to accepting failure and allowing the product to evolve in new, unanticipated ways.