Mark Daggett's Blog

Innovator & Bricoleur

The Minimally Viable Party

Garry and I are planning our next big project together. In the spirit of agile development and with the reality of limited funds we are ruthlessly scoping our efforts around a minimal feature set. We want to develop just enough of the product to see if we have a hit. Typically, this process is described as developing the minimum viable product (MVP).

The MVP approach targets the hardcore vocal minority that understand your offering, and are likely to give you helpful insights on how to improve it. With this in mind we began to list our potential features and aggressively cut anything that wasn’t essential.

We tried a variety of approaches to identify our MVP. Which included:

  • Sorting features in order of complexity, and identifying those with serial dependencies
  • Selecting only those features that touch the revenue line (a topic for another post)
  • Determining those features which could give us a competitive advantage over other similar products.

These thought experiments were helpful, but the focus felt very myopic, and more about cutting than pruning; like shaping a bonsai tree blindfolded. However, while mowing the lawn (where I do much of my good thinking), I came up with a new approach: “The Minimum Viable Party”.

A party seemed like a perfect metaphor for these reasons:

  • The goal of product at this stage, is to meet people, show them a good time and give them a complete experience they can give feedback on.
  • Parties are events with a specific beginnings and ends. Being the host narrows your responsibilities to just throwing a great party. If you find yourself needing to first build the venue, or starting a catering company at the same time then you are doing it wrong.
  • Parties are fun, (even Goth Emo parties); they are about doing something you love, with others looking for the same thing.
  • A complete party is more than just good food. There are many aspects that can be considered including venue, theme, duration, etc.
  • If it all goes horribly wrong you can recover. You just clean up the mess, pull the lawn chairs off the roof, get a tow company to dredge your car from the neighbors pool and go on with your life.
  • By breaking a party into smaller components you can map them onto the MVP. Now, I am not for a minute claiming that there is an absolute one-to-one mapping between party to product. However, the metaphor did allow me to consider the attributes of my product in a more objective and holistic way. For example, a decision on whether to spend money on party invitations could be construed as a marketing spend on promoting our product.

Planning a Minimal Viable Party

Here are the rules for the Minimal Viable Party thought experiment:

  • You are planning a party for people you do not know.
  • You have one week to plan and execute your party.
  • Without specifying a specific amount you should assume that funds are very limited, which should force you to make decisions on how and where to spend your money.
  • The party is not a catered meaning that much if not all the work should be done personally.

These rules lead me to a series of questions to consider which i’ve detailed below:

Q. How many guests should I invite?

A. You should invite the number of guests you can host comfortably. Everyone wants to feel special at the party, meaning you should know your limits before the inviting others.

Insight: Many people focus on the hockey stick style growth from the outset, that is a result of a good product not the goal itself. At this stage the goal is to get to know the users, and the only way to do that is to ensure there is enough of you to go around.

Q. How do I entertain people I have never met?

A. Plan a party around the type of guest you’d want to see again. If you are a geek at heart then have your party on the holodeck and don’t mind the haters.

Insight: You can’t please everyone but it’s important that you understand who you’d like as customers and friends. Ensure that your product gives them a memorable and enjoyable experience.

Q. What kind of food should I cook?

A. Be honest about your own cooking skills, anything you don’t do well you should either eliminate or buy (even if this means you have to buy all the food).

Insight: No one wants to eat bad food, a strangers will not give you an “A” for effort when eating your half-cooked hamburgers. The same is true for a poorly executed product. I continually have to fight the urge to be an everything expert. While striving to learn new things is a positive, not knowing (or ignoring) your weaknesses limits you from being effective under a deadline.

Q. How many courses should I prepare?

A. What would your ideal guest expect? Not everyone expets (or even wants) a five course meal that takes hours to eat. What they will want is for it to feel complete, and that differs from person to person.

Insight: The expression “soup to nuts” is often used when describing a project completed from beginning to end. It alludes to a complete meal that included appetizers (soup), nuts (dessert) and everything in between. If you view your features through the lens of completeness it should help you determine if a feature is needed now or can wait.

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