How to put the V in MVP
The first time I heard the term MVP was as a teenager in the Mid 90’s. Baggy jeans had become a fashion staple, Tupac was playing on our Discman, and Nokia had us addicted to a little game where we tried to stop a snake from eating its tail.
The Original MVP
The first time I heard the term MVP was as a teenager in the Mid 90’s. Baggy jeans had become a fashion staple, Tupac was playing on our Discman, and Nokia had us addicted to a little game where we tried to stop a snake from eating it’s tail. It was also the decade that belonged to the Chicago Bulls, winning 6 NBA Championships led by their undisputed MVP Michael Jordan.
By the end of the decade Jordan had become synonymous with the term MVP. He was the Bull’s Most Valuable Player, and it was the value he provided to both his teammates and their supporters that led to them becoming one of the greatest NBA franchises of all time.
When I began working in Tech I again came across this familiar acronym, however this time with a different meaning altogether. Minimum Viable Product had been popularized by venture capital legend Steve Blank and Lean Startup guru Eric Ries, and had caught fire within the many startup companies that had adopted it.
- Eric Ries
The MVP concept changed how we thought about product development and customer value, shifting from an all or nothing buzzer beater shot to a repeatable warm up free-throw. By accepting that there is an enormous amount of uncertainty in anything we build, the MVP de-risks our products by simplifying it to its most important element of value. We then treat this an experiment seeking validation rather than an answer seeking a question.
MVP vs MVP
So what does a basketball legend have to do with delivering products? The answer lies in the connection between the V’s of the MVP’s – Valuable and Viable. When we talk about Viability what we are essentially talking about is Value. Firstly, does the product deliver enough value to the customer that they would not only use it, but use it repeatably. Secondly, and equally important, does the product capture enough business value back from the customer to make it a worthwhile endeavour.
Often we will start a product by building a prototype to test for customer value as a first step, however it is only one half of the equation. Delivering value without capturing value is not enough. If we want to validate that an MVP is really viable and achieves product market fit, we need to ensure that it both delivers value as well as captures value in return. The value it seeks to capture from the customer is most commonly in the form of financial value (money), however it may also look to extract value by capturing the customer’s time, information, endorsement or contribution in order to achieve business value in other ways (think Freemium Spotify, Social Media platforms, Government digital products etc).
The Real MVP
Experimentation is at the heart of the MVP, and the secret sauce to arriving at viability. The MVP experiment seeks to validate that a customer not only wants our product, but wants it enough to give us something valuable in return. All too often we see organisations convinced that their product will be successful before ever releasing it to a customer. They are so positive that their product will capture customer value that they can even accurately predict this as future profit on the traditional “hockey stick” growth chart. Unfortunately when it ultimately doesn’t eventuate, they blame everyone but themselves for the failure.
The problem is that viability can’t be stated, it can only be proven. And the only way to prove viability is by putting what you created into the hands of the people you created it for, then seeing if they want it enough to give you something of value in return. The Real MVP, much like the Original MVP Michael Jordan, is successful and remembered not because of the value it promises to one but because of the value it delivers to all.