I love the term minimally viable product. It means your product can be used; it’s just not ready for prime time. It’s where you start to get feedback from customers on whether you’re on the right track. I recently wrote a post on this topic for the NY Times.
Too often I see companies wait until they’ve built the perfect mousetrap before they let others see the work they’ve done. My advice is get your new product out there as fast as possible. It helps you do several things:
You’ll avoid the sunk costs syndrome.
If you wait until you’ve built the perfect mousetrap you’re likely to have put so much time, effort, and money into your project you won’t know when it’s time to quit. You’ll keep going down the road you started, even if there’s lot of evidence you need to pivot and move to a different strategy.
In the world of behavioral economics we’ve learned that when someone puts lots of effort into a particular project they aren’t willing to throw in the towel. Think about your own situation. Has there ever been a time where you’ve spent more than a year working on a project? What was your reaction if you found out your mousetrap needed to be scrapped? Were you willing to do so without lots of convincing?
You’ll see if there is something worthwhile to work on.
You know my favorite mantra is fail fast/fail cheap. When you ship a minimally viable product you’ll find out quickly whether you’re moving in the right direction.
This doesn’t mean you’re going to ship junk. It means you’re willing to let the market tell you whether you’re on the right track. Often a new product just bombs when it first is introduced. If you haven’t spent too much time and effort on it, you’ll likely take new information and make improvements your market wants.
You’ll learn what is the most important thing to fix first.
With a minimally viable product you’ll learn a lot. You’ll learn what works and more importantly you’ll learn what you need to improve. Make sure you set up a feedback process so you can hear from your early adopters what you need to change.
You’ll learn that making mistakes is part of the process.
You know how much I love mistakes. Especially when they’re part of a process to bring a new product to market. If you learn to value the mistakes you and your team make you’re much more likely to introduce a product that isn’t completely done.
My favorite software is all released in this manner. They get a product out the door, let people play with it, and then make changes as they learn what’s working and what’s not. These companies have learned that mistakes are good when they help make their product better.
You’ll develop a culture of continual improvement.
Culture isn’t something that you decree. It’s the manifestation of how things work at your company. If you really want a culture of continual improvement you have to move fast. You have to allow mistakes. You have to demand that when mistakes are made you learn something. You also have to make sure that you continually make things better and ask if what you have is good enough. The answer to the last question: No it’s not.
Don’t fall prey to people in your company using the right words and not doing the right things. Watch the actions your people take. That will tell you whether you’re moving towards a culture of continual improvement.
Are you ready to ship? Are you willing to learn from an incomplete product? It’s really the best way to make a product others really want to own.
We have a special report we’ve written on the three stages of business. Shipping a minimally viable product is part of Stage 2. Get this report to find out why Stage 2 is a really cool place to be.