Maximum Viable Product

Eric Ries, pioneer of the Lean Startup movement defines a Minimum Viable Product having just those features that allow the product to be deployed, and no more.

I’ve worked on many projects where we’ve defined the bare minimum feature set for the product to have any kind of success. I’ve yet to work on a project where we define the most we could or indeed should do to maintain the success of our product.

Introducing The Maximum Viable Product

We can define the Maximum Viable Product (Max VP) as a product that has just those features that allow it to be successful and no more. Customer needs are being met.

The Max VP is reached when you're at the top of your game. Your product hums like a finely tuned engine. Business is booming.

But there’s that fear it’ll end. Maybe competitors are snapping at your heels or your internal process are at max. The most common course of action is possibly the worst course of action. Keep adding features.

At what point does the addition of extra features detract from those features already present. This is not just the law of diminishing returns. Adding more bells, whistles and enhancements can mean that finely tuned engine that is your product sputters and stalls.

More features does not equal better

Adding in features is good right? It shows your product is evolving. Well not always.

Fellow cxpartner Giles Colborne in his book Simple and Usable gives us the secret to designing the perfect product. Customers don’t choose our products based on features, they choose our products based on their desired outcomes and stick with our products because of the experience.

There is a point where the feature set we have meets our customers desired outcomes, our Max VP. Where adding more features begins to have a detrimental effect on the user experience.

Jared Spool calls it Feature Rot:

Each additional feature we add chips away at the user experience.

Finding our way

In product planning we have the concept of the product roadmap. The planned features and enhancements laid out chronologically. In 2 months we’ll add feature X. Then we’ll work on feature Y.

Yet we forget what a roadmap is. It is simply a way of getting to a final destination. That final destination should be defined as the product vision or purpose and within that a series of product goals.

Fictive Kin, developed Slash Purpose to help organisations to define what it is they and their products should do.

When we plan we need to define the purpose of our product. A set of criteria for us to judge when our product is at maximum viability, where nothing more can be added without a detrimental effect on the user experience.

Symptoms of Max VP

It’ll be a feeling. The team won’t be excited anymore. You’ll be copying features from your competitors. You’ll feel like you’ve lost your edge.

In the course of my job I see this again and again. More often than not the cause of a poor user experience in a mature product is the addition of superfluous features. Features for the sake of features.

The team can’t get excited about copying a me-too feature a competitor has introduced, adding a feature everyone knows is a bad idea because, well, there aren’t any new ideas to do instead. Innovation is not existent.

When Max VP is reached there is only one course of action before team morale hits rock bottom, go back to the drawing board.

This doesn’t mean we stop

In 2012 the creators of Basecamp rewrote the product from the ground up.

They realised they had hit the limits of the original Basecamp. Adding more features and enhancements was not going to improve the product. They realised they needed to start again. Jason Fried from 37 Signals:

The MaxVP may not remain static, a good MaxVP can evolve with market conditions but there needs to be a limit.

Don’t stop when you hit Max VP. Go back to your original purpose, re-evaluate what makes your product the success it is.

Focus on what makes your product great, not on adding features for evermore for the sake of it, you’ll have a better product and a happier product team.

Joe is an esteemed former member of the cxpartners team. His articles are still here to enrich us.