“The Minimum” and “Minimal” != A Small Amount

November 10, 2010

As usual, my work schedule prevents me from writing a comprehensive post, but I wanted to quickly jot down a couple of “thoughts in progress”.

  • Minimum Viable Product“. This is an extremely useful pattern to follow – develop and design only what you need to test and deliver the first version of your idea. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get this wrong, and misconstrue “minimum” as “the smallest amount of features and effort needed to launch”. My problem with this interpretation is that the word “viable” is forgotten; to be viable, you sometimes need a lot more than bare-bones. Some, put in charge of the initial iPhone product, might have just developed a touch-screen phone. This could be a “minimum viable product”. But the actual minimum VIABLE product, to separate it from the crowd and to give it a unique proposition, is actually a lot of hard work: at minimum, it had to have a beautifully sexy interface, a standards-compliant web browser, and much more. Remove any one of these, and perhaps the success story might be different. In summary: the minimum “viable” product is often much more than one or two features; test the wrong “minimum” and you may mistakenly think that your idea is a dud. Sometimes the minimum is actually fairly close to the maximum.
  • User Experience“. Along a similar train-of-thought, the word “experience” is easy to miss. Focus purely on usability and you end up with square blocks and character-less aesthetics (what I like to call the “37 Signals” approach). I’m not saying this doesn’t work (37 Signals make extremely lucrative products with this technique, and this blog uses a dull blocky WordPress template), but it might not necessarily work for you, especially as good usability gradually becomes less of a differentiator. It’s not that difficult for a developer to pick-up the basics of good interface design; adding character and a real “experience” is a challenge that, when it pays off, can really add value to your apps, that is difficult to imitate (I’m not talking about rotating globes and splash screens; the “experience” and personality of an app should never detract from usability).

That’s all for now; apologies if this is obviousness-dressed-up-as-insight (though it doesn’t seem to have harmed Seth Godin’s career); I’ll try my best to post some cool developer-y code-y things in the next month or so.

Edit: Removed “App Store” from list of features that the iPhone launched with because… it didn’t, thus invalidating my entire argument.

2 Responses to “ “The Minimum” and “Minimal” != A Small Amount ”

  1. Frankie Roberto on November 10, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Small point of fact: the iPhone did indeed originally launch without an App Store.

    See also: http://ma.tt/2010/11/one-point-oh/

  2. Dan on November 11, 2010 at 1:36 am

    Thanks Frankie; for some reason, I knew that the iPhone didn’t launch with the App store, but still I kept it in the list… Still, I stand by the fact that the iPhone was more than what many would class an MVP (or ‘1.0’ as Matt says). It did more than one new thing, in more than one new way.

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