Frank Robinson’s Minimum Viable Product Definition

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in MVP, skmurphy

The concept of a minimum viable product that is the result of product development and customer development proceeding in parallel (“synchronous development”) was first articulated by Frank Robinson in 2001. 

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Minimum Viable Product™ (MVP)

PROBLEM: Teams often brag, “We added 800 new features.” Some even consider feature count a badge of honor. Unfortunately adding features doesn’t necessarily improve the business case. It may take longer, make the product less usable, and carry more risk.

SOLUTION: The MVP is the right-sized product for your company and your customer. It is big enough to cause adoption, satisfaction and sales, but not so big as to be bloated and risky. Technically, it is the product with maximum ROI divided by risk. The MVP is determined by revenue-weighting major features across your most relevant customers, not aggregating all requests for all features from all customers.

From “MVP: How it Works” Oct-3-2008

This is a product offered for sale in a B2B setting. It does not waste a prospect’s time with a pre-arranged failure of a credit card transaction or other “smoke tests” and assumes that a startup to put skin in the game and make a real offer to get a real answer. It does not preclude earlier conversations based on data sheets, illustrations, mockups or other models but does not confuse what is essentially messaging or sales collateral with a product.  not used as a provocation for a conversation or to find prospects. I find this approach respects a prospect’s time and leads to the most satisfactory outcomes over time.

Synchronous Product and Customer Development: MVP

Since our first use of the term in 2001, the MVP concept has spread quickly and has become part of technology-business lexicon. […]

We define MVP as that unique product that maximizes return on risk for both the vendor and the customer. […]

The MVP solves a variety of problems, especially on a product’s first release. Products without required features fail at sunrise but products with too many features cut return and increase risk for both vendor and customer. More, the return-on-risk ratio drops exponentially with an abundance of features. The permutations and combinations of use cases that must be designed for, tested, and fixed increase development staff, development complexity, quality assurance cost, cost of sales, and time to market for the vendor. It increases time to adoption, training, customer dissatisfaction, and level of service required for the customer.

Too large or too small a product are big problems. The MVP is the difficult-to-determine sweet spot between them. Teams flounder tactically in trying to determine the MVP.

Minimum Viable Product starts with Minimum Viable Market: “What market segments and customers in them should we target who have representative yet modest requirements who are easily accessible through our existing channels?”

Answering that question puts a team well on it’s way to an MVP.

From “Minimum Viable Product

This is a more recent write-up; it offers an antidote to the desire for a perfect product or a product launch on the part of some founders. The short answer is that you will learn more and get to a successful outcome by making a minimally acceptable offer and encouraging feedback from the customer than working in isolation attempting perfection.

Goal:  Synchronize Customer and Product Development

Cardinal Rules of Synchronous Customer and Product Development

  • Meet Customers as a Core, Cross-Functional Team authorized to act within a defined envelop.
  • Report to a “Board,” to explain and defend your strategy and business case
  • Meet Customers’ Decision Making Teams not just users
  • Meet on Site in the customers’ habitat: Home, office, lab, factory, or playground. See what they do. Meet their colleagues, form relationships, help fix stuff now, and return as required
  • Test Sell a Validation Prototype: Renderings, specs, and props. Don’t sell a vision! False positives result.
  • Ask questions. Take Notes. Ask question of fact, not opinion and shut up. Take notes. Tag data and quotes.
  • Disclose Limitations to surface objections. It enhances your credibility, too.
  • Conduct Trial closes. There are thirty good ones starting on slide one.
  • Meet in Waves to get bonked over the head by patterns, two customers per day, Tuesday to Thursday.
  • Find and Fix Bad News. Bad news early is good news, if you find and fix it early.

Frank Robinson in “Massacre at IBM

Again these rules are for high dollar value B2B products that face a complex sale (and call for an enterprise or orchestrated sales effort to multiple stakeholders in a firm including not only the economic buyer but users, influencers, and gate keepers). Key item is “Test Sell a Validation Prototype: Renderings, specs, and props” which enables a conversation around a product that can be delivered in 30-60 days or at least made available for detailed evaluation in that time frame. The most challenging case is probably that of a semiconductor device where the prototype might be a simulation model that could be used to develop software and/or assess performance.  The other two key points are to work in small batches of sales calls (referred to here as “waves of six calls, two per day”) and to huddle with a board of advisors (either disinterested but knowledgeable personnel in a larger firm or a mix of investors and outside advisors in a startup).

SKMurphy Take: Empires Build A Death Star,
Rebels Build X-Wing Fighters

While there is a strong desire to “do it right the first time,” you have to bear in mind that a new product is more appropriately a vehicle for exploring customer needs, technology capabilities, and business feasibility. If you offer value with your first product but plan on several generations of evolution making improvements in response to customer experience and feedback as well as your own internal learning curve in support functions you are more likely to be able to persist to success.

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