Design Events

What’s love got to do with MVPs?

At this Sydney Agile Business Analysts & Product Owners meetup Erwin van der Koogh set about educating and dispelling some myths about the emerging and illusive term — the Minimum Viable Product, or MVP.

So what isn’t an MVP?

  • It’s not what can be built before the deadline
  • It’s not what is possible for a given budget
  • It’s not the first version that is going to be delivered
  • It’s not the least you can get away with.

It is a product, whether built or prototyped or simulated that is designed to get a market signal to test. Erwin related the MVP concept back to Kano model theory making the point that an MVP should not be the “minimum” product that you can get away with — as that would only elicit an “indifferent” response.  This might sound pithy in a blog post, but if you learn about these concepts MVP does then rise as a term that is about building products customers will love, rather than a production term wholly associated with being lean and agile. Erwin adapted a couple of Eric Reiss quotes to make the point that an MVP should be that slice of end-to-end functionality that you can get away with, that also behaves and performs as users expect. Or to bring the love into it

A minimum viable product is that version of a product which allows a team to collect a maximum amount of validated learning about true love [sic] with the least effort

Some examples further illustrated the point.

  • Dropbox was not the first file sharing service but it was the first that allowed synching to a desktop drive. To test the product a video was made that pretended that the product did in fact already exist to test whether anyone would use it and buy it. The Dropbox video MVP attracted 50,000 sign-ups in 48 hours.
  • Zappos, the first online show retailer needed to prove that customers would buy shoes online. The team went to a shoe store, bought a shoe, took a photograph which they posted online. Someone did buy it and while they lost money on their first sale they did prove that customers would buy shoes off the internet.
  • Intuit, wanting to help fight poverty in India had a hypothesis that fisherman with access to real time price information would be able to better manage and plan their business. This team created paper prototypes that people signed up to. Behind the scenes someone manually entered and texted market prices to the tens of people who signed up, and elsewhere in the simulation a couple of people pretended to be an IVR and quickly iterated scripts before the service was built.

In the discussion I asked whether or not minimum viable experience would be a better term, and the phrase minimum viable experiment was explored. Theory around the experience economy and the Cynefin framework was explained and again Eric Reiss was adapted with a bit of folly …

A start-up is a human institution designed to find true love [sic]  under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

And while this theory is a lot to get one’s head around it makes sense. MVP as both product and research approach is designed for operating environments of extreme uncertainty, and for creating products for an experience economy. I.e. product research that can be experienced by customers in real market conditions.

Attendees asked what the difference was between a MVP and a prototype with the answer that while a lot of MVPs are prototypes, not all prototypes are MVPs. This makes sense if an MVP is a product designed to test for a market signal, rather than other research objectives often associated with concept and usability testing.

The talk finished by encouraging Business Analysts to switch their mindset from a “solution finder” to a “problem understander”. Music to the ears of this designer.

Check out all of Erwin van der Koogh’s slides from this talk on Slideshare

MVP, You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it does from Erwin van der Koogh
Design Events

Meetup wrap up: Product Roadmaps, what are they good for? at Product Talks

I’ve not yet been responsible for a roadmap but I have certainly fed information into them, so I was very keen to check out yesterday’s meetup and hear from a panel who disagreed and agreed on the merit and use or uselessness of product roadmaps. The panellists were

  • Michael Pearson, Director Product & e-commerce at Expedia
  • Michael Bromley, Head of Digital Strategy and Chief Innovation Officer at SMS Management & Technology; and
  • Chrissie Zenonos, Head of Product at Mi9 (Channel 9)

While the panelists weren’t in perfect alignment they generally agreed on the following.

What is a product roadmap?

  • A communication tool
  • A list of priorities

What should a product roadmap communicate?

  • Needs, problems
  • Goals and objectives
  • The business value to be delivered
  • The vision
  • The capability

How should a product roadmap behave?

  • It should be flexible
  • It should accommodate a test and learn approach

What value do product roadmaps provide?

  • Provide visibility to different teams to enable them to align to a singular vision
  • Show how everything fits into a greater scheme, to provide context
  • Provide clarity to tackle ambiguity

What a product roadmap is not, or should not be or do

  • Should not be a features list
  • Should not describe granular detail
  • Should not explain how something is to be delivered

The aversion to product roadmaps was best expressed by Michael Bromley:

“Because I can’t predict the future I don’t try.”

And with technology and the market changing so rapidly its easy to see why people need to work in differently. What the panelists had in common was a way of working which was flexible, agile, and iterative, applying a test and learn approach. From what I could gather Michael Bromley, of SMS and Chrissie Zenonos of Mi9 could do away with the traditional concept of a product roadmap deliverable because they worked with co-located teams. They used walls of post-its and the business model canvas as alternative tools. Michael Pearson of Expedia, unlike the others was still an advocate for product roadmaps. He works with distributed teams of developers and needs to communicate the wider context and timelines to engineers and call centre channel teams who need to know when a feature will drop. His version of a product roadmap is a JIRA workflow where the hypothesis to test eventually becomes the code then the feature.

My big takeaway was realising that so much documentation—product roadmaps, feature lists, test schedules, project plans, even the business case—are really communicating the same thing. The challenge is rationalising tools that so many feel so comfortable with to avoid duplication, focus on communicating the vision, and work iteratively and flexibly towards achieving it.

Product Talks is a meetup organised and hosted by Brainmates for Product Managers. Their next topic “Is UX a Part of Product Management” will be on 9 June.

Service design

A credit card that doesn’t want you paying excess interest?


OK so this might start sounding like an advertorial real quick. I organised a 28 Degrees Master Card to use as my travel money card after reading Choice Magazine’s 2012 awards. Seems like they want to retain that customer mantle. My last email from them included a message that they will illuminate the consequences of only paying minimal monthly repayments on credit card balances.

Having conducted and worked with a lot of customer research and data for financial services providers all I can say is this definitely serves a need and banks should take note of product design like this.

Events Service design

Service Design Drinks 9: Lauren Tan on social design in the UK 22 March 2011

Guardian infographic on public expenditure. “For 670 billion pounds, there must be a space for design there” — Lauren Tan

Earlier this week Lauren Tan presented at Service Design Drinks on her university research paper. In it she looked at 2007 DOTT (Design of the Times, internet archive link, may not be complete site) design projects in the public and social space.

“This PhD programme aims to identify and understand how design methodology is used in the public and social sector and the contributions it can make to the broader context of sustainable development.”
— Lauren Tan.  Reference:

Tan researched the methodology of a number of agencies and within the context of service design found the role of the designer to be that of a:

  • creator
  • researcher
  • provocateur
  • facilitator
  • social entrepreneur
  • capability builder
  • strategist

Lauren’s talk gave everyone the opportunity to compare their work with what is being done overseas. Lauren ran us through 2 case studies.

Case study 1. Alzheimer 100

The agency: Thinkpublic

Design role: Designer as co-creator

The problem: The difficulty faced by those recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and their support network of learning about the services available to them.

The challenge: Foreseeing the future of dementia services.

The approach: Co-design workshops with service provider stakeholders, researchers, carers and sufferers. These workshops were preceded by an extensive research phase that defined the themes of the design project.

The deliverable: Recommendations for a dementia adviser concierge service. A poster for carers to navigate the service network.

The outcome: Two years after the conclusion of the project the UK government published a strategy document. One recommendation, for a dementia advisor to facilitate easy access to care, support and advice following diagnosis, directly spoke to the research project i.e. the project was written into government policy. The Dementia Adviser Service is now being rolled out in the UK by the Alzheimer’s Society.

Case study 2. Low Carb lane

(internet archive link, may not be complete site)

The agency: Live|Work

Design role: Designer as provocateur

The problem: Reduce carbon footprints, while not compromising heating needs, and while tackling fuel poverty.

The challenge: By 2016 all homes to have a net zero carbon foot print with all carbon output offset by household activities.

The approach: Design research with residents of Castle Terrace.

The deliverable: A financial product concept articulated through a scenario. Called “Saverbox” it is an interest free energy loan for energy saving measures. Repayments are based on actual energy savings.

The outcome: Several years after the project a government agency released a similar product  for small business.

Ultimately what this talk spoke to was the growing scope of design. User experience design and strategy is slowly colonising problems belonging to other fields. It can do so effectively with the inclusion of the user in defining the problem and sometimes even helping to design the solution and through the use of design tools to communicate its outcomes.

Related links