We are hearing so much about Agile and Fast IT at present and so I wanted to share an example of a key Agile concept in action within Cisco IT – that of ‘Minimum Viable Product’ (MVP). This simple yet powerful concept empowers you to get your product out into the marketplace as quickly as possible with only the essential feature sets. From here, you can gain experience, hear what your users have to say and assess your next steps.
The advantages of this approach are many:
- Avoid the pitfall, common to waterfall, of having such a large scope that you fail to deliver at the first hurdle.
- Your product is out there in the market place, gaining market share as you continue to build. Every day that your product is undelivered has the opportunity cost of your audience finding other solutions for their needs.
- Learn invaluable lessons from having a baseline product in active use. These lessons will guide you through your future product iterations.
Towards the end of 2012, I was part of team working on the vision of a single internal App Store for Cisco (eStore for Mobile). As the Agile Product Owner, my role was to develop the vision for the product, define a meaningful ‘product backlog’ and triage and prioritize it. The challenge with this task is that each and every feature can feel essential and the pressure mounts to deliver as much as possible. There is always someone to tell you that their feature is critical – that you must have search, you need featured content, your UI has to handle rotation…. But the simple concept of ‘Minimum Viable Product‘ allows you to focus on what is absolutely essential to get your product launched, knowing that you can come back to these other features in due course.
Here are three examples of features that, using the powerful rationale of Minimum Viable Product, we were able to exclude from early product launches but have subsequently incorporated into the eStore for Mobile product:
1: Search: Clearly this is a very important feature; however, on first launch, with only approximately 30 Apps, we assessed that our users could manage without it. And so, our first launch of eStore for Mobile was without Search capability. Nonetheless, this was one of the highest priority features that we then added in before GA and before our catalog grew larger.
2: Featured Content: A “bells and whistle” feature that we couldn’t hope to achieve at first launch. However, as a result of laying good foundations, we added this in a single (very intense!) 3-week Sprint just before the GSX conference. This was done with the knowledge that the conference would drive a large numbers of users to our app, all of whom we were keen to impress.
3: Rotation: For some mobile apps, it is essential to rotate between portrait and landscape mode. For example, users of a TV viewing app would struggle without this feature. For an app store though, this would be nice but was not critical to our basic function of finding, installing and updating Apps. And so, this feature has remained in our product backlog and some, 14 months after our GA, will be released to our users in February 2015. Would it have been nice to have at day 1? For sure….. Was it essential? No.
Summary: The simple concept of ‘Minimum Viable Product‘ encourages and empowers you to find the core of your product vision and get the baseline out early. In so doing you will avoid the risk of non-delivery that is associated with waterfall practices. You can establish your market position as early as possible and then learn along the way. For the eStore for Mobile team, ‘Minimum Viable Product’ has been an invaluable tool in our Fast IT, Agile toolbox.