Death to the Minimum Viable Product!

I am declaring death to the Minimum Viable Product!

And I don’t do that lightly considering our advisory board consists of the father of the Lean Startup, the author of Lean UX, the author of UX for Lean Startups, Marty Cagan, and several other awesome Lean thought leaders..

…so please humor me for a minute to explain why I want to kill (actually tweak, but “kill” sounds more dramatic) the core principle of Lean.
Tweet: Death to the Minimum Viable Product!  #lean #leanux

What is an MVP

Let me start by clearly defining the MVP:¹
Minimal Viable Product Definition



Sounds simple…so what’s the issue

The MVP is the most misunderstood term I have ever experienced in business.

Tweets about Minimal Viable Product

So many people have read/heard this definition and concluded that the MVP is really just a [crappy] version of your product that is an embarrassment to show to customers. I have heard so many times, “let’s just remove these features and call it the MVP version.” And so you get blog posts like this one from a company that I greatly respect, but really, really misses the point of the MVP.

Or tweets like this one..which..ugh, I don’t even know where to start.

Tweet about Minimum Viable Product

Again, the point of the MVP is to LEARN about customer demand and usability before over-committing resources. To make sure that you are only building what customers want. An MVP is NOT a fully usable product that will delight customers. It is simply a learning vehicle. A focus on Learning before scaling is one of the core Principles of Lean UX. In Jeff Gothelf’s words:

Principle: Learning over Growth. It is difficult to figure out the right thing to build and scale a business around that thing at the same time. They are contradictory activities. Lean UX favors a focus on learning first and scaling second.

Why is there a disconnect?

I think the root of the disconnect between theory and practice is the use of the word Product in the term MVP.

Lean practitioners have a very different definition of the word Product than most Product Managers that I know. When Eric Ries says, “that version of the collect the maximum..validated learning” he is much more focused is on learning, than on product. The point of an MVP is to validate or invalidate a specific hypothesis. That is why Lean uses the concept of a concierge MVP and heavily relies on user testing of prototypes. An MVP can be coded, but the key is creating a product version focused on hypothesis validation, not growth.

But for some reason, most people hear the the word Product and assume that it means the first version of a product that is coded and “launched.” And so, they build that version, release it and guess one likes it. Well…no duh!

What’s the alternative?
Tweet: Death to the MVP. Hello MVE. #lean #leanux
I would like to introduce the MVE..the Minimum Viable Experiment.

What’s the MVE you ask? Well, it is a prototype or a concierge MVP or anything else that you can use to validate or invalidate a product hypothesis.

See what I did there? Genius, right? I basically hijacked the definition of the MVP but am using a word that [hopefully] won’t be misinterpreted. My hope is that by replacing the word Product with the word Experiment, that the expectations are now better aligned with the results (ie learning) that you are likely to get.

No one expects an experiment to grow or scale. So no one should be disappointed when it doesn’t.

Again Jeff’s book Lean UX gives us great guidance here:

Lean UX makes heavy use of the notion of MVP. MVPs help test our assumptions – will this tactic achieve the desired outcome? – while minimizing the work we put into unproven ideas..This concept is an important part of how Lean UX minimizes waste.

Your prioritized list of hypotheses has given you several paths to explore. To do this exploration, you are going to want to create the smallest thing you can to determine the validity of each of these hypothesis statements. That is your MVP. You will use your MVP to run experiments. The outcome of the experiments will tell you whether your hypothesis was correct and thus whether the direction you are exploring should be pursued, refined or abandoned.

Dude, will the MVE go Viral?

I doubt it. First, MVE doesn’t sound as sexy as the MVP, an acronym that sounds like an award for a pro athlete. Second, I am not going to market it beyond this post.

But popularizing the term MVE wasn’t the point of this post anyway…happy experimenting!



Luca Candela

about 4 years ago

I'm happy to read this, I've been vocal for a while about how the startup community hollowed out those concepts to make them fit whatever the individual practitioner has in mind. The vagueness of the original books helped get in this situation (yes, I'm saying "The Lean Startup" is a bad book), and it's high time we start being honest and recognize that the whole "lean" movement is just a framework for reducing risk connected to new products development.

Steven Cohn

about 4 years ago

Thanks for your comment Luca. You are right, it is all about minimization of risk.


about 4 years ago

Spot on, and the difference between MVP and MVE is critical for enterprise product managers who don't want to ship busted products that could damage their brands or cost $$$ to iterate on afterward. We've been writing about the same thing:

Steven Cohn

about 4 years ago

Thanks Nis. Love your blog too!

Nils Davis

about 4 years ago

Great article! I think people should be allowed to call it an MVP *IF* they use the term correctly, but if they are unable to, then perhaps MVE will be better. Unfortunately, people believe what they want to believe, so who knows if the name can have any effect at all! Luca's point is good as well, although as business books go Lean Startup is FAR less vague than most, you have to admit. But, like anything, you have to apply human intelligence to the content to make it meaningful. Eric describes the MVP, he provides examples, he explains what it's for, and so on and so forth. If people then go ahead and think, "Oh, the MVP is the first version of the product we can sell," then you just have to conclude *what* could he have said that people would understand? He could have called it the Bronchio Sigma Proposal and people would say "Oh, the BSP is the first version of the product we can sell."

Steven Cohn

about 4 years ago

Thanks Nils. I agree that Eric is pretty clear. I think most people who missed the point either skimmed the book or just discussed it with someone else. I find very few people who actually read the book in detail and get the concept wrong.

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