Minimum Viable Dessert

Like many methodical people, I have established and trusted procedures that I apply to daily life. Thrilling, I know. My morning commute follows the exact same path. I’ve optimized getting on Bart at the exact spot that will deliver me closest to the escalator at the Montgomery station where I get off. Some of my routes are optimized for efficiency, while others are for reducing hassle or safety. There’s even reasoning behind what foods I choose in order to optimize for a successful (and delicious!) outcome.

Take the following food decisions: chips vs. fries, pie vs. cake, dates vs. figs. All of these foods can be delicious. However, when there’s not significant data to prove otherwise, I strongly believe that the best outcome is to choose the chips, the pie, and the dates. Think about it. The most mediocre pie, will be leagues above a mediocre cake. Cakes can be soggy, too dense, or bland. They often have extraneous, tasteless frosting, or cheap, honking roses. On the other hand, even your most basic pie will have contrast between the crust and the sweet, gooey filling, and some nice tang is common enough. Same goes for chips and dates — it’s really, really difficult to get bad chips and dates that don’t taste like regular dates. The margins for error for fries, cakes, and figs are much greater in comparison.

At Mavenlink, we use Lean methodologies for developing product. Lean is rooted in the scientific method. Your minimum viable product is really an educated guess or a hypothesis for how you can best serve your customers. As the daughter of a scientist, that educated piece of the hypothesis was impressed on me numerous times for science fairs growing up.

In the world of food, the hypothesis about whether the cake or the pie will have a more successful outcome can be informed through similar patterns of our product development process. There’s data to look at such as reviews, there’s user testing by sampling a small prototype of that cake. Sometimes, however, you won’t have an ROI effective way to further strengthen your educated guess — there might not be free samples or Yelp reviews to make your decision, so you select the pie.

So when is it worth it to go for the cake? Certainly when you have the data to prove that it will be better than the pie, but there are other factors to think about too. For example, what will satisfy the market the most at a birthday or a wedding? The answer is almost certainly cake. In a more competitive setting, you could consider whether it is the pie or the cake that will differentiate you better against the competition. If your resources are limited to a box cake mix and a frozen pie crust, which will a greater number of people continue to have demand for?

When you do have enough data, however, you’ll want to select the fries, the cake and the figs. The most delicious cake, I contend, will be far superior to the most delicious pie. The craft of that superior cake is much harder — it takes chemistry, luck, longer periods of experimentation, and can be at a much higher cost. The same process is true in defining your Minimum Viable Product. As you’re considering the timeframe, your research, the market, and the requirements, there are opportunities where going for the pie is not only the most sound business decision, but also the most satisfying choice for your customer. There are also certain opportunities where making that additional investment is worth it to take the cake!

Photography: Sheri Tennison Berg | Cake & Cupcakes: Sweet Cheeks Baking