Learning to Love the MVP


A minimum viable spouse – plenty of room for improvement, but cheap and widely available

At the “surprise ending” of the Dog Food Diet series we ran headlong into a situation where the product became invaluable way before we’d finished the backlog.  Without aiming at it, or even thinking about it, we’d run into the Minimum Viable Product.

When I train Scrum, I run into lots of excellent people who hate the concept of MVP.  The idea of doing a “minimum” anything is repulsive to them.  They tend to be the craftsmen among us, and their philosophy of work is that whatever they build, it should be the best.  They’re the kind of people I want building my products for me.  The “minimum” in minimum viable product is like nails on a chalkboard to them.


V = R/E

It’s useful in those cases to think of MVP differently – as Maximally Valuable Product.  Value has a numerator and a denominator – revenue divided by effort – V=R/E.  If you’re prioritizing well, there comes a time in the product’s lifecycle where the revenue you get from the following incremental releases starts to decline.  If effort remains constant the “value” of that release declines relative to previous releases.


Graph of relative value delivered by sprint on the Dog Food Diet project

In The Dog Food Diet’s Sprint 7, Scrum product ownership pushed us off the edge of this cliff really abruptly.  The team, even the Product Owner, didn’t see it coming.  But in Sprint 7 the customer said, in pretty clear terms, “We’ve got this.  We’re good.  Stop helping.”.

The market told us what the minimum viable product was. By delivering just that and  no more as quickly as we could, we built the maximally valuable product for the business.

How To Be A Startup CEO: Part 37

I’ve been droning on about Scrum (or hiding in my cubicle at athena) and haven’t handed out any righteous startup-CEO wisdom in a while so, based on a Quora query, here’s some advice for all you business types as you leap from the walled garden of corporate life into the wild world of startups.

manwithlaptopOnce you leave the corporate world for startup land you quickly discover all the things that corporate did for you that you now have to do for yourself.  Like “personal IT” i.e. the services you use and the devices you carry.  Here, from careful observation of several startup CEOs, I offer some distilled best practices when it comes to handling your own IT.

  • Keep the Windows XP laptop from your last job. Startup CTOs love Windows update.  And it’s okay if the thing crashes every couple of hours and only boots every other try, hard-reboot fixes anything.
  • Insist on leaving it just as it was so you can continue to use all the expensive Windows tools your old company paid for.  That way you can keep trying to domain-login to a network you’re not even on anymore.
  • One word: Outlook.  You MUST have MS Outlook.  Preferably the version that stops working when the .pst gets up to 2G.  Make sure to bring along that 1.99G pst file too.
  • Whatever you do, your laptop and all the programs on it must be entirely different from the laptop and programs that everyone else in the company uses.  This will ensure that your CTO never gets complacent.
  • Virus protection slows the machine down so turn it off whenever you need the machine to go faster.  Remember whatever trouble you get into, your technical cofounder can get you out of it.  After all, he’s a genius/ninja/rockstar.  You said so yourself.  Oh, and McAfee is the best – you can tell because their founder is a psycho.
  • Names are hard, and domain names are REALLY HARD.  So you need a shitload of them.  And you never know when your current startup is going belly-up so you should register all the company domain names in your personal GoDaddy account.  All DNS registrars are the same.  And keep adding domains to your personal account even after the CTO has setup a corporate account somewhere else.  After all transferring domains is easy.

If you’re one of my former cofounders and recognize yourself here, pat yourself on the back, but realize that you are not alone. Every one of these best-practices have been vetted by multiple co-founders.  In some important ways, all startup CEOs are the same.