- The Not-Yet-Viable Product
By Paul D. Roberts
I think we can all agree that there is a general acceptance of the concept of a Minimum Viable Product, upon which we iterate to build the final product, all the while learning as we go. It is the basic principle of Eric Reiss’s Lean Start-Up model and many other Lean approaches to the back end of innovation for new product development.
What is strange, is that we don’t often apply the same concept to the front end of innovation. If we are iterating towards the final product, there has to be a step that comes before the Minimum Viable Product: the Not-Yet-Viable Product. This might be a concept or a prototype, that doesn’t quite work. And of course, something comes before that: The Not-Yet-Not-Yet-Viable Product and so on, back to the moment when a group or a person is sitting with the problem they are trying to solve, and thinking about how to solve it.
Yet, we have all seen this in classic brainstorming sessions, when a great Braveheart cry of “FREEEDOM!’ launches the “bring your crazy ideas” and the storm begins. But when it comes to decision time—just like poor William Wallace—we hang, draw, and quarter the rule-breaking ideas; we use operational thinking to choose the safe ideas to move forward. We look at all the ideas and say “that won’t work, that would be difficult…” and take a great red pen and slaughter anything that didn’t show up in a paper version of a minimum viable product. We choose the safe ideas that we already know how to do.
The energy and exuberance of the brainstorming felt great, but it didn’t really move us forward. Not because brainstorming doesn’t work, but because choosing only the viable ideas doesn’t produce breakthrough.
We need to put down the red pen, and look at all the “ideas” as potential “Not-Yet-Not-Yet-…-Viable Products,” on the path to becoming breakthrough Minimum Viable Products.
How do we do this? Choose the ones that resonate with us, for some unique reasons that we feel, that appeal to our lizard brain, that we viscerally understand, that excite us, even if we have no idea what they are going to turn into, and then start to move them iteratively and creatively along the path to becoming a Minimum Viable Product on paper.
Don’t slaughter them in their infancy, develop them on paper, it’s more effective and cheaper—Freeeeeeedom!