A couple of weeks ago, my friend Jeremy Johnson (director of Rocketspark - a great company taking an interesting approach to website design. Check them out.) asked me about the relationship between Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and innovation.
After a little bit of reading and thinking - here's my thoughts.
For the uninitiated, MVP is the brain-child of Eric Ries, an entrepreneur and advocate of the Lean Startup method, helping businesses work as efficiently as possible. In a nutshell, the MVP approach is for the entrepreneur to create the most basic version of their product possible that customers can use, and then get it into their hands as quickly as possible.
As long as a clear feedback loop is provided, the business owner will be able to learn quickly how their product is used by the consumers, what features are actually wanted and whether there is demand for their product. Hopefully, this approach stops a pipe-dreaming individual from investing wasted time and money into a product that they think the world wants - when in fact, they desire something different.
Ultimately, this approach changes the question from, "Can this product be built?" to the more efficient, "Should this product be built?". Visionaries may struggle with this approach at times, but it has proven effective in many different case-studies.
(For an example of some MVP case-studies, follow this link)
What about the relationship of MVP to innovation? I have two quick points to make.
Firstly, MVP is very much in-line with the componential model of creativity, which stresses the importance of the environment in fostering creativity and innovation.
Many of my early blog-posts have been engaging with creativity from this perspective, and as such have been encouraging business owners to get out of their space and into the space of their employees and product users. Just as I encourage leaders to take a walk, MVP allows your product to take an early walk and be used and adapted outside of it's produced environment. Ultimately, this also requires the entrepreneur to engage in conversations with the early adapters whilst they are still producing the product. These conversations are a brilliant catalyst to creativity and innovation!
From this perspective, I see MVP as a valuable approach to both fostering innovation in the product design, as well as creating a spirit of innovation within the organisation. It is reducing barriers between producers and consumers, whilst encouraging listening and conversation - all creating an environment of innovation.
Secondly, it is important to recognise what type of innovation you are creating. Is your product a Revolutionary product - meaning, is it attempting to solve a problem that is new and not well understood by the market? Is it a substantially new product that will change the market in an unprecedented way?
Or - is your product a Reinforcing product, in that it is solving a well understood problem in an already existing market? Is the innovation quite incremental, yet still helpful to the producer?
If your product is a Revolutionary product, then MVP is an excellent tool to implement for your product development. Early adapters will rush to this and will prove to be very helpful in the product design.
If your product is more of a a Reinforcing product, however, then your product's minimum changes. To put it simply, the minimum of your product must still be enough to differentiate and compete against existing products. The design and basic features of your product must still make it stand-out enough that users will want to use it, and provide the feedback you desire.
Finally - and this may be so basic it doesn't require much comment - your product itself will help determine whether MVP is right for you. If you are designing new technology or products that are easily adaptable and can grow - then MVP will be a great approach to fostering innovation and product development. If you are producing experiences (such as restaurants, tourism activities) or direct consumables (such as food) - MVP will have to be used much more selectively, as the first use of the product can determine it's very future!
With the rise of the technology industries in the past thirty years, MVP has become a helpful tool that should be adopted by many of these organisations. It leads to efficiency, greater relationship between producer and consumer, and a more innovative environment for the product to develop.
What are your thoughts about MVP and Innovation?