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Changing the Way We Think About Products

Knowing what it takes to generate a minimum lovable product

A can of cat food is a minimum viable product (MVP) when you are starving, but it’s highly unsatisfying and unlikely to generate a loyal following (of humans).

And there you have one of the problems of the MVP approach. It strives for “barely enough” and never good. And heaven forbid, the goal is never being great. It results in products that mostly work but never delight. No matter your source, the very definition of an MVP is generally similar to the following: The MVP is a new product with just the necessary features to be deployed, but no more.

The MVP is a curse for ambitious technology companies that want to grow. In an increasingly transactional world, growth comes from long-term customer happiness. And long-term customer happiness comes when customers adore your product or service and want you to succeed. You should be thinking about what it will take for customers to love you, not tolerate you. Really think about the type of mindset change it would take. What would it take to create a minimum lovable product (MLP)?

While the true adoption of the MVP is a strategic approach to getting product out the door, when applied it yields unsatisfactory products. You might argue that is is best for prototyping and feedback gathering. Yet, my experience is that when it is the dominant product development mindset in an organization, it becomes the overarching goal of every release and dictates the outcome. Even the product managers who are responsible for shepherding the product become intoxicated with mediocrity.

I have been in multiple larger organizations where the concept dominated executive, product, and engineering mind share. Rather than asking what do customers really want, or what would delight them, the conversation always returned to what’s the minimum viable product and when can we get it to market.

The problem is that the two major principles driving the MVP are flawed.

The MVP reduces waste

The MVP never reduces waste because it never delivers what the customer really wants. It presupposes that there will be iteration after iteration before the product truly meets customer requirements. Couple this with the fact that agile engineering environments prioritize “rapid output”  and it’s even more likely that what’s delivered will not be tied to the organizational strategies and product vision.

The MVP accelerates time to market

The MVP may very well get you something to market first but even in an emerging market you will not be a serious contender. Loyal customers who depend on your product are what matter. There were helpdesks before Zendesk, tablets before the iPad, electric cars before Tesla Motors, and CRM tools before Salesforce.com. The MVP is further useless in established markets where major disruption is what’s required. Customers already have tons of viable products and some are probably even pretty good. It’s your insight that matters and only a terrific product can win.

Ultimately, chasing the MVP forces you to sprint faster and faster chasing fool’s gold. And the more desperate you become to lead, the more you are likely to die from incrementalism. It’s a vicious loop that will gently guide you from market innovator to hopeful fast-follower.

Now, even if you are convinced that striving for mediocrity is an atrocity, you likely need to convince others. There is no easy way. One approach is to just yell like a crazy guy the next time you are in a strategy or product meeting and someone starts talking about the MVP. You might just be able to get the group to focus on what’s necessary to create a minimum lovable product.

Assuming you start thinking about creating love and others are willing to give you a chance, here are a few ways to determine if you have succeeded in identifying a minimum lovable product before spending one minute developing it. Remember that the goal is to find the big idea first. The more of these characteristics you can check off for your idea, the more lovable your product will be.

  • At least one person tells you it’s never been done
  • Customers visibly smile when you describe it to them
  • Someone swears when he hears the idea (in delight or disgust)
  • You dream of using it and all of the features you could add
  • Only your CTO or top architects think it’s possible
  • People start contacting you to learn about what you are building (old school word-of-mouth)
  • The top industry analysts are not writing about it

I hope that this inspires and excites you. If you are interested in learning more about building great products — you may want to use our interactive tool to discover how lovable your product is.

We all have the opportunity to do something fantastic and be happy doing it. And I personally guarantee that changing your focus and setting your sights on creating a MLP will bring you great joy and make the world a better place.

Sign up for the free 30 day trial of Aha! Follow the company @aha_io, and the author @bdehaaff. (Comments on Hacker News)

(This guest post comes courtesy of Brian de Haaff, founder of Aha! Labs, Inc.)

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