Perhaps more than any other idea, The Lean Startup popularised the idea of an ‘MVP’ (Minimum Viable Product) in product development. Product companies – especially start-ups – use the approach to avoiding developing new products that no-one wants. However, not all businesses are product-based: some provide services.

Just like product companies, service providers also develop new offerings in an attempt to increase the scope of their business and grow their customer base. Service providers can also innovate by applying the idea of an MVP – a Minimum Viable Process.

There’s more than one kind of MVP

The most famous kinds of MVP are software product startups. TechCrunch’s report on the original Twitter release describes a far simpler product than the Twitter we know today, after nine more years of product evolution.

Amazon was a different kind of MVP – a service for buying things online. The initial ‘minimal’ service only sold books, the first being shipped from Jeff Bezos’ garage. Like Amazon, many of the ‘products’ that result from the MVP approach are really services.

The key idea of a Minimum Viable Product is to formulate a hypothesis about a potential product or service, and then design an experiment to test the hypothesis as cheaply as possible. The MVP approach is really about feedback and iteration. You can also apply the MVP technique to business processes for ‘services’ that an organisation provides to internal customers.

A minimum viable business process

Within business organisations, especially large ones, a BPM implementation project comes with a number of well-known risks, such as Adam Deane’s top five:

  1. failing to tackle and solve the main business pain
  2. applying BPMS software to problems outside its capabilities
  3. scope creep
  4. poor preparation
  5. insufficient user acceptance.

An MVP is a good way to discover and address these kinds of risks early, and to minimise the time and money you spend on processes that turn out not to work in practice. Specifically, there are several MVP techniques that you can try:

  • Concierge MVP – providing a personal service to the first customer
  • Wizard of Oz MVP a.k.a. Flintstoning – faking automation with a (slow but intelligent) human back-end
  • Landing page – offering the service before it exists to measure demand
  • Crowdfunding

In this sense, MVP is ‘just’ another approach to risk management and incremental/agile implementation. It’s still valuable though, because the more ideas we consider, the more inspiration we have when faced with the usual implementation challenges.

Photo: Nikos Koutoulas / CC BY 2.0

Published on: November 24th 2015 - Last modified: January 31st, 2018