(Photo: Wired UK)

Minimum Products

While working on a few recent projects I kept hearing the term MVP – or Minimum Viable Product. Although it was a new term for me, it made sense… get something built quickly and put it out in the world to test it. It’s a kind-of life-in-beta approach. Get stuff into users hands, to see what works and what people like.

But every time I heard someone say MVP, my heart sank. I’d see project managers making sure milestones were met, and lots of testing to see what features users wanted or used. I’d envision results that felt like Microsoft productivity tools or enterprise software. Something functional and utilitarian, but not very exciting… a little bleak. And I’d wonder, Why are we putting in so much effort to make something like that?

Talking about this with a friend, I was told about an alternate term: Minimal Awesome Product, or MAP. It may, at first, sound a little cheerlead-y. But I think it captures a truth: that in a crowded marketplace, if you can’t capture your audience’s attention they’re not going to use your product.

As an approach, MAP is beginning to get some attention. Evan Doll discussed how they use it at Flipboard to develop products that exceed customer expectations. Startup Blender’s Adam Berrey agrees, “viable” isn’t very compelling. “Using a merely viable product is like visiting someone in an intensive care unit. They’re alive, but not fun to spend time with.”

Although they may not actually say “MAP,” Inc’s Mark Kawano writes about how Apple regularly will push product deadlines so that they’re able to release something that will excite their customers. He believes that there’s a shift away from MVP because it too quickly becomes “moving too quickly” – never the best way to make something great. Even Facebook has apparently stopped using its internal slogan “Move fast and break things.”

The newly announced Apple Watch is a great example of an MAP. It has some aspect of Minimal – it’s still a work in progress & we don’t really know what it’ll be like. But it also has plenty of Awesome… the heartbeat, drawing chat, etc. are features that capture the imagination and get people excited. The original iPhone was no different – it didn’t have all the features we have come to expect from today’s models, but its combination of phone, internet, and music was cool and new.

Awesome is a way to get customers excited. A product that excites customers will be adopted faster, get better word of mouth, and have higher satisfaction. And excited customers will be more likely to adopt new behaviors around the product. Awesome encourages success.

Awesome also acknowledges the incredible amount of work that’s goes into a projects. It builds pride in the making.

Like all terms, it has the potential to be overused. This New York Magazine article is a great read about how trendy tech words like “delightful” and “frictionless” have been rendered meaningless.

But changing terminology can make a big difference in the culture. And using MAP in product development may help move the mindset from internal development cycles to a user-centered model. And that’s important.

(This article was also posted on my blog: http://www.inventinginteractive.com/2014/09/19/minimum-products/ )