Minimum WHAT?!? Ok. What are we talking about? Yes, an innovative planning approach boroughed from the start-up movement!
An innovative planning concept
Minimum viable products (MVPs) are the fastest way to get through the build-measure-learn feedback loop. The feedback loops are a cornerstone of adaptive programming (see blog post on adaptive programming). The goal of MVPs is to begin the process of learning and planning, not end it. Unlike ‘prototypes’ or ‘proofs-of-concept’, MVPs not just answer questions about product design or technical. No, they test out theories of change and fundamental development hypotheses.
A minimum viable product – MVP in short – is a product with just enough features to gather validated learning about a possible intervention or product. It is deliberately imperfect. Therefore, any additional work beyond what is absolutely needed to start learning is waste, no matter how important it might have seemed at the time.
The idea of Minimum Viable Products comes from product development of the lean start-up movement in the private sector. By the way, the most well know writer about lean startup movement is probably Eric Ries. He published a highly influential book on ‘The lean startup: how constant innovation creates radically successful businesses’(1).
Relying on empirical evidence
The underlying reason to develop an MVP is to empirically test assumptions and hypotheses about what works and what does not. In other words, it is a structured way to check that if we have an efficient and appropriate solution or approach. This is done before rolling it out or making a big investment. In this sense, the MVP is a key innovative planning concept.
Minimum viable product can range in complexity. For example, they can be extremely simple ‘smoke tests’. These are little more than an announcement or advertisement for a service or product. ‘Smoke tests’ are at the very beginning of the planning phase. On the other end of the scale, they can be actual early prototypes with problems and missing features.
Videos, concierge and wizards
Some forms of minimum viable products to consider are:
- Video MVP: This includes simple, short video that demonstrate how a programme, project, policy, product or service works.
- ‘Concierge’ MVP: These test a programme, project, policy, product or service that works with a single or very few clients.
- ‘Wizard of Oz’ MVP: In this case, clients believe they interact with an actual service or product. In fact, they interact with a service or produced that is only simulated by humans.
In Papua New Guinea, UNDP tested this planning approach. It was know that corruption and mismanagement gobbled up 40% of the country’s budget. Therefore, UNDP tried to find out whether a low-cost tool can help the government address corruption and mismanagement. In 2014, UNDP partnered with local Telecom companies to design a simple SMS-based minimum viable product. They subsequently tested the MVP with 1,200 staff in the Department of Finance, and updated based on user-feedback. Within four months, it led to over 250 cases of alleged corruption under investigation. Based on the uptake of the first version, the government rolled out the service to six new departments and 25,000 government officials. (2)
Looking for more examples? Check out The Ultimate guide to minimum viable products by Scale up my Business for examples from a business start-up perspective.
So, are you convinced that MVPs can play an important role in innovative planning? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section.
This blog post is based on: The lean startup: how constant innovation creates radically successful businesses, Eric Ries, 2011, pp.92-113; Minimum viable product (MVP), Wikipedia; Prototype testing plan, Development Impact & You (DIY)
(1) The lean startup: how constant innovation creates radically successful businesses, Eric Ries (2011)