“You simply don’t grasp the basic underlying principles of the exercise you have attempted”
When I’m asked for feedback on a bloated MVP, I get the same sinking feeling as when I’m asked for feedback on a badly-written essay.
This is the less-than-polite thought that goes through my head:
You have failed. But it’s going to be hard for me to explain why you have failed. You simply don’t grasp the basic underlying principles of the exercise you have attempted.
Recently I was helping a friend edit an essay, and it wasn’t going well. Finally I told him he just needs to start over from scratch.
The essay lacked organizational structure. That’s kind of vague, so I can give a more operational definition of the problem:
Given the paragraphs on the page, I (the reader) couldn’t work backward to infer a bullet-point outline of the underlying claims and arguments.
Tangent: Why I love bullet-point outlines for organizing all kinds of ideas
A bullet-point outline is a great representation of the structure of connected thoughts.
It’s almost as expressive as a fancy Mind Mapping tool like MindMeister, with a couple worthwhile compromises:
- Child bullets can’t point back to ancestor ideas — but come on, who wants that?
- Child bullets can’t have multiple parents — ok, this is basically the one compromise that a bullet-point outline makes vs. a mind map. But it’s not a huge deal, you can always copy paste a bullet into two locations in your outline, or factor the bullet out into a separate linkable section.
In exchange for these compromises, you get the property of “serializability”, which is a big win: The outlines can be edited with simple text-editing tools, compared to more general “mind map” editing tools.
Back to our main analogy
The problem with my friend’s essay was that given the paragraphs on the page, I (the reader) couldn’t work backward to infer an underlying bullet-point outline.
Ok, so what if I couldn’t infer an underlying bullet-point outline? What’s the big deal?
The big deal is that having the reader be able to infer a bullet-point outline is a necessary and sufficient condition for a coherent essay.
The ability to extract a bullet-point outline from an essay isn’t an arbitrary exercise. It probably seems arbitrary to most amateur writers, but it’s not. We’re talking about a proof that the writer ever had a coherent thought.
Essay : Outline :: MVP : Value Prop Story
- An essay contains coherent thoughts if-and-only-if I can extract an underlying bullet-point outline from it.
- An MVP product has a plausible mechanism of creating value if-and-only-if I can extract at least one value prop story from it.
My point about bloated MVPs
What if your friend is proud of his singing skills, but he can’t even sing a scale without botching the notes? As you listen to his “performance”, you get a weird feeling. How is your friend oblivious to the flaw in his singing?
That’s the experience I get when I read a so-called “essay” that the author thinks is good, oblivious to the fact that it lacks a coherent bullet-point outline.
And that’s the experience I get when I look at a so-called “MVP” that lacks a coherent value prop story, or has a weak value prop story compared to the scope of the MVP.
In this blog, I hope to popularize the principle that MVPs should be scoped by working forward from a coherent value prop story.