The Minimum Lovable Product
May 6, 2013

The Minimum Lovable Product

by Brian de Haaff

A can of cat food may seem like a viable option when you are starving, but it is highly unsatisfying and unlikely to generate a loyal following of (human) foodies.

And therein lies the problem with the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). It strives for “barely enough” and never good. And heaven forbid, the goal is never being great. It results in products that mostly work, but never delight.

No matter your source, the definition of the MVP is generally similar to the following: “The MVP is a new product comprised of only the necessary features for deployment, but no more.” However, I would like to add another definition to the list.

The MVP is a curse for ambitious technology companies that want to grow.

In an increasingly transactional world, growth comes from long-term customer happiness. And long-term customer happiness comes when customers adore your product or service and want you to succeed.

Although the MVP is seen as a strategic approach to getting product out the door, it usually yields unsatisfactory products. In my experience, when the MVP is the dominant product development mindset in an organization, it becomes the overarching goal of every future release and dictates the team’s output.

I have been in multiple large organizations where the concept dominated executive, product, and engineering mindshare. Rather than asking what customers really want, or what would delight them, the conversation always returned to the minimum viable product…and when can we get it to market.

The problem is that the two major principles driving the MVP are flawed.

The MVP reduces waste The MVP never reduces waste because it presupposes that there will be iteration after iteration before the product truly meets customer requirements. Couple this with the fact that agile engineering environments prioritize “rapid output,” and it is even more likely that what is delivered will not be tied to the organizational strategies and product vision.

The MVP accelerates time to market The MVP may very well get you something to market first. But even in an emerging market, you will not be a serious contender. Loyal customers who depend on your product are what matter. The MVP is useless in established markets where major disruption is what is required. (There were helpdesks before Zendesk, tablets before the iPad, electric cars before Tesla, and CRM tools before Salesforce.) Customers already have tons of viable products to choose from and some are probably even pretty good. Only a terrific product can win.

The MVP forces you to sprint faster and faster, chasing fool’s gold.

And the more desperate you become to lead, the more you are likely to die from incrementalism. It is a vicious loop that will turn you from market innovator to hopeful fast-follower. Even the product managers who are responsible for shepherding the product become intoxicated with the praise they get for (mediocre) rushed work.

Instead of doing the bare minimum, you should be thinking about what it will take for customers to love you, not tolerate you. Really think about the type of mindset change required — what would it take to create a Minimum Lovable Product (MLP)?

Assuming you are ready to think about creating love and others are willing to give you a chance, here are a few ways to determine if you have succeeded in identifying a Minimum Lovable Product — before you spend one minute developing it.

Remember that the goal is to find the big idea first. The more of these characteristics you can check off for your idea, the more lovable your product will be.

  • At least one person tells you it has never been done

  • Customers visibly smile when you describe it to them

  • Someone swears when they hear the idea (in delight or disgust)

  • You dream of using it and all of the features you could add

  • Only your CTO or top architects think it is possible

  • People start contacting you to learn about what you are building (old-school word-of-mouth)

  • The top industry analysts are not writing about it

I hope that this inspires and excites you. If you are interested in learning more about building great products, visit our product management guide.

We all have the opportunity to do something fantastic and deserve to be happy doing it. And I personally guarantee that changing your focus and setting your sights on creating the MLP — not the MVP — will bring you great joy and make the world a better place.

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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