Don’t climb the coconut tree, when a banana will do just fine.
My team and I spend a lot of time talking to customers about their mobile strategy. Generally, we hear the same two things: Either,customers don’t know where to start with mobile, or their strategy involves solving too many things (security, integration, etc) to deliver something. Regardless of which theme prevails, the outcome is the same – the customer is stuck while their competitors do more and win customers.
As my colleague, Robert, eloquently put it You are looking for the low hanging fruit. Don’t climb the coconut tree, when a banana will do just fine.
And you know what? Everyone wants bananas. In its report, Mobile is the New Face of Engagement, the research firm Forrester expects that mobile project spending by 2015 will double. How many organizations are doubling their internal mobile development resources? Probably not many.
With that relentless pace, no one has time to make mistakes, or build anything customers or business teams don’t want. This is where the concept of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) comes in. The idea of the MVP is to deliver the essential features an app must perform. There’s no fluff or anything superfluous. Instead, it’s a keen focus on what’s needed for users to effectively get done what they need to get done.
The MVP is your banana.
The MVP, as a concept, has been used by many leading startups. For example, Dropbox started as an MVP and embraces the idea that an app should do exactly what it is designed to do; and do it amazingly well. But the MVP also has a strong place in the enterprise and in mobile development. Too often, today, when a business unit has an idea for an application the momentum tends to stall right away as development and operations teams are swamped with requests. The MVP is a way to help clear that backlog.
When incorporating the MVP mindset, here are the five steps I tell my customers to do when they really want the coconut:
Step One: Find the Right Problem. Recognize what problem, or set of problems, you are trying to solve or improve existing efficiencies upon. From there, decide on what the required features will be. If the problem requires a bunch of work around integration, crosses organizational boundaries, or can’t be described in a single sentence, move on. This is the essence of your idea for a Minimum Viable Product.
Step Two: Eliminate the Stickies. Forget fancy tools for data modeling, or complicated annotations. Spend a day with the user and look for signals for how they do their job, and deal with the problem they are trying to solve. My favorite tactic is to look for sticky notes. Sticky notes are a great indicator of how users do their job before the tool, or app, you are about to build. Your goal should be to eliminate them. If you do, you know you nailed the MVP.
Step Three: Embrace Your Inner Artist. Grab a sketch pad, and a set of pens (personally I gravitate to crayons – they are colorful, tactile, and let your inner artist break through the corporate stuffiness) and draw the app you want. Don’t start with the data. Start with the user interface. Then, give these drawings to your user and ask them the scrawl all over it. Iterate until you have a drawing you all love. Stick it on the wall, and smile.
Step Four: Choose A Platform. It’s time to get building and a development platform needs to be chosen. To move quickly, don’t worry about underlying servers, storage, and access controls – instead choose a platform that supports those foundations so you can focus where you need to – on the application. Cloud platforms are the way to go. You don’t have time for infrastructure in the world of MVP.
Step Five: Build Mobile-first. Don’t get caught up on all the capabilities that your cloud platform can provide, stay focused on your MVP and ruthlessly eliminate any additional features or requirements. Always remember that you are going to iterate and iterate fast. V1 will be 50% better than what the user has now. V2 will be 50% better than V1, and so on. But always remember, you should cut the fat, not the essence.
Step Six: Measure success, iterate, or prepare to pivot. After the application is made available, it’s time to gauge the success. If the app is working as planned, and being embraced by the team (the stickies are gone) that’s a clear win and it’s time to build from there. New features can be added, dropped and tweaked as needed. If the app didn’t get the engagement expected, find out why and work on improvement. If the app is a flop, pivot and try another way, or move on to an entirely different app.
We all hear business maxims such as “fail early, fail fast, fail often,” or “embrace failure.” The MVP embodies this. By focusing on what is essential (the banana), rapidly weeding out what isn’t working, and iterative improvement on what does work (eliminating the stickies), you’ll be able to maintain agility (by choosing the right development platform) and meet pressing business demands – at least those that matter the most. Who needs those stinking coconuts anyway…