July 22, 2010
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Minimum Viable Product

by Nick Hornby

There was much talk at LeanCamp about launching the minimum viable product: the smallest and simplest offering that could possibly succeed in the marketplace. This is the business-side refactoring of the Agile Programming adage that one should build the simplest thing that could possibly work instead of designing things to work beautifully under all anticipated conditions.

This works in programming practice because, in reality, you never do manage to anticipate everything. In consequence, you try very hard to prepare for every foreseeable eventuality, but your system still breaks down sometimes because there is always something you didn’t expect. Meanwhile, you’re paying for defenses against things you worried about, but that may never actually happen.

Nick Hornby eloquently states the contrary argument in Juliet, Naked. Ten years ago, Tucker Crowe made a landmark album called Juliet, one of the great achievements of rock. In its wake, he lost it, lost everything, and retired. Now, his record label has released the demo tapes for Juliet, the first versions of each song performed by the artist unaccompanied; the characters think of this bare-bones version as Juliet Naked. At first it seems fresh and exciting, but on reflection it's just incomplete, unfinished, half-baked.

Sometimes, if you aim for the minimum viable product, you aim too low.