How to use an MVP (minimum viable product) to improve personal productivity

Have you ever built an MVP? MVP stands for minimum viable product. Today, it's common practice to work with MVPs in software engineering. Today, I want to focus on how to apply the principles of an MVP beyond programming. I think it can be especially valuable on a personal level.

Have you ever built an MVP? Most of you know. For all others, here’s the reminder: MVP stands for minimum viable product. Today, it’s common practice to work with MVPs in software engineering. In other domains, however, it is not.

Build your MVP step by step

Building an MVP means producing as little as possible. Launching this minimum product early to get a valid feedback from the market. Sometimes we might not even launch a product in the real sense but just a landing page or something similar. It’s designed to test your core assumptions about the market and about what customers really want. The key is to produce something that lets the users experience the core value proposition of what you are building with as little effort as possible. MVPs are a way to becoming more agile in many contexts.

I do not want to dig into detail on how to build a good MVP because that has been covered zillions of times.

Today, I want to focus on how to apply the principles of an MVP beyond programming. I think it can be especially valuable on a personal level.

How can an MVP mindset boost your productivity?

Why is it important to think about minimum viable products?

An MVP allows you to test your hypothesis about what your customer actually needs and wants ´. You get early feedback on the critical aspects and check if you are on the right track. As changes are much more costly later, it can save you tremendous amounts of time and money.

As an MVP can be used by your customers, you can learn a lot about how they use it, what is important to them and what is not. You might even discover insights about your customers that go far beyond your current idea. In turn offering you completely new opportunities.

You will also be faster, as you do not work on unnecessary stuff.

MVPs are common practice in programming today. But how can we apply the principles of an MVP on a personal level?

MVP applied to a personal level

To apply the principles of MVPs on a personal level, we need to get a useful understanding of the three core concepts: minimum, viable and product. Let’s start with what we mean with ‘product’

What is a product?

A product can be anything you produce. It can be software, of course. But it could also be a report or a presentation. It could be an event you host, a physical product or even a service. You could consider the outcome of every major task you have to do a product.

What is viable?

Literally, viable translates into ‘being able to live on its own’. This means it must make sense and add value as it is. If it is only a description, it is not really viable yet. If it is not functioning, it is not viable. Thus, a viable product contains all aspects needed. It is in itself “complete”.

What is minimum?

We understood now that a *product* can be anything. We should aim for making *viable*, i.e. functioning, products in the first shot already. The rule of making the *minimum* viable product encourages us, to leave all details out, that are not absolutely necessary. We focus on the core function or core effect, which we want to achieve. In software engineering, this usually means focusing on a few core features. You need all levels of the software to work, from backend and database to the user interface. Only focusing on the backend is not building a viable product for example.

The same is true when applying the principles of an MVP to other domains. It is sometimes more difficult to do, but it’s usually possible. For example, if your product is a company presentation, start with two or three core slides with minimal layout and short messages. Get feedback from your customer (e.g., the head of marketing) and move on from there.

The first key is, to move quickly and iterate often. The second key is to deliver a value right from the start.

If you understand “minimum”, “viable” and “product” in a broader sense it becomes possible to apply the principles to many areas of your private and professional life.

Examples for minimum viable products (MVPs) beyond programming

These are some examples of how to use the approach of building a minimum viable product (MVP) outside programming.

The minimum viable business plan.

A business plan can be produced as a minimum viable product. Your customer in this case is probably some form of outside investor like a bank or a corporate committee overseeing the investment budget you need. You start out with a very rough sketch of your idea. You describe your value proposition, the solution you want to offer, and the customers you want to target. The result can be a one pager which can than be used to discuss the general idea. After initial feedback you can add rough estimates on market potential. If the concept stays promising you add more details: your go-to-market strategy, the needed investment, and a realization roadmap. Keep in mind, that a business plan is always stays a plan, it does not become a business. It is a product you produce to achieve a goal: Typically to get money from somebody. So, keep it as simple as possible to achieve this goal.

The MVP in writing a book

Writing a book is traditionally done in one giant leap to produce a couple of hundred pages. The agile approach to writing is completely different. You write in public. Start out with a blog post on your core idea. Maybe not even on your own blog, but as a guest article or with a story on Instagram or Facebook. Listen to the reactions. Do your thoughts resonate with people? What needs to be elaborated in more detail? From here you can go down the trail and add additional content piece by piece. If you keep up your work, you will have several benefits. You sharpen your thinking by realizing the flaws and critical aspects surfaced by the feedback. You enhance the depth and breadth of your message as you are pinpointed to related topics. You already build an audience for your book. After a while, you will have enough material to put together bigger articles covering all aspects of a certain topic. Later, when you bring everything together, these might end up as the chapters of your book.

Becoming a professional speaker, the minimum viable way

Many people have the ambition to become a professional keynote speaker. This is a classical rockstar market. Very few very successful people collect most of the revenues while most others only make very little. Getting all-in poses a big risk to fail. Still, you can enter this market in an MVP way. Instead of having the ambition to start performing on the main stage, you can create your own stage. For example, by starting a YouTube Channel. You won’t have to fill half an hour or more with content but can start on a smaller scale. You are also more flexible to run experiments. This way you can learn, refine your messages, build your audience and credibility all at the same time. Sure, you need to persist.

The minimum viable online shop: From one product shop to full category

If your want to build an online shop, the technical part is usually not an issue anymore. There are several great solutions out there which will deliver your customer a complete shopping experience. No need to build something yourself. You just set up your products and do some configurations. But what would a minimum viable online shop be? If you plan to build full category store for a certain niche, you could start of with the core product. Get shoppers on board and become the place-to-go for this product. Specialized search functions the mainstream retailers do not have can be an early differentiator. Then add adjacent products step by step. You can also add content about product recommendations, how-tos, user stories and other relevant information for your niche to your site. Thus, you can build up a reputation for the whole Niche step by step.

Challenges of MVPs in the personal sphere

Be prepared to through things out when building physical things

For physical things you will need to rebuild from scratch more often. Adaptability and upgradability are harder to realize than for software and services. This means you need to emphasize getting feedback early in the process even more. You also should get creative in how you might replace functions of your physical product through virtual elements, software, or services. These can be changed, adapted, and upgraded more easily. Another important guideline is: Build physical items in a modular fashion. This makes you more flexible later.

Yourself as a customer

Often, you might be you own customer. This makes it challenging to stick to the principles of building an MVP before setting up the big stuff. You think, you know what you want after all. But, getting an MVP of what you want to achieve can give you relevant insights. Maybe you can get on with much less than initially expected. This will save yourself time and energy. You might even realize that what you wanted was not really what you needed to make progress. This, in turn can ignite a pivot leading to an even better result.

Get yourself an MVP mindset.

Find the core of what you want to build. Start building this core. Get feedback and iterate to add more value. It can give your effectiveness a big boost.