Business 2.0, Design

Minimum Inspiring Product

In agile management and lean startup circles I’ve seen mention of the concept of a Minimum Viable Product. A very rough summary of idea is: to create only the necessary features to get a product (or service) into the hands of actual customers to get feedback and start to evolve, refine and further develop based on actual usage, rather than hypotheses of what people might use.

The aim is to both reduce waste (by not investing effort where it’s not needed/warranted) and to help increase innovation potential by observing how people actually use the product, perhaps uncovering unexpected uses or directions that aren’t immediately obvious to the design team.

To be sure, this remains a pertinent goal, but in chatting with the crews at Interaction Consortium and infoding this past week, we’ve lamented the fact that creation a “minimum” and just “viable” product is just a little uninspiring — not necessarily something that gets the creative juices flowing.

In these conversations I suggested instead that perhaps we should aim for a “Minimum Inspiring Product” (MIP). “Inspiring” in two senses — firstly, it’s about building something that will not just meet minimum requirements, but what is likely to get people excited about the product — that unique twist that makes something remark-able (in the parlance of Seth Godin).

But inspiring also in the sense that it inspires use and action, and new ideas. Something that people will want to engage with. If the product is just the bare minimum, it’s less likely to inspire the level of engagement required to actually achieve the benefits of the incremental development approach (as outlined earlier).

This, perhaps, is what Buster Benson was suggesting when he said “People who talk about minimum viable products tend to focus more on the minimum and less on the viable.” (thanks to @infoding for the reference.)

I hate to drop in an Apple reference here, but I think that’s perhaps a fair description of what they have done with the iPod, iPhone and iPad lines. Each was lambasted for what it left out (suggesting a minimal approach), but they also managed to provide inspiration that ultimately drove commercial success. These weren’t a minimum viable product, as there was clearly much more delivered than a bare minimum, and each emphasised that inspirational aspect. They inspired action, play, exploration — and, I think one could argue, lust ;) — that has in part led to the success of the apps ecosystem.

Internally, of course, it’s still important to build iteratively, and in this sense the minimum is sometimes necessary — especially to make sure we respect the YAGNI principle. But in terms of releasing a product or service into the wild, perhaps the MIP is a better target.

3 thoughts on “Minimum Inspiring Product

  1. adriaan

    Great post – like the “MIP” idea, think it has a good ring to it to.

    I’m not sure Apple is the best example for it though. My view of Apple is a bit more cynical than that. They definitely put out inspiring products. And they do leave stuff out in initial releases. I just don’t think it is because they want to get early user feedback to see how to further develop the product (ala lean startups). Some of the things they leave out are so obvious that I’m pretty sure they already know and have decided how to further develop and just want everyone to buy a new version of the product a year later.

    I am also wondering if the MVP and MIP would have slightly different use cases. In a way, if someone gets excited about my MVP that’s more telling than if someone gets excited about my MIP (because I was trying harder with my MIP). So an MVP could be the better test for the viability of a product. An MIP seems more appropriate if I am already committed to a product and need to get other people on board. In other words: an MVP is to convice myself about my product and an MIP is to convince others. Any thoughts?

  2. Hi Adriaan — I agree that Apple probably isn’t the best example, especially from a lean startup perspective (it was the one that came to mind when I wrote that post). I’ve written previously in a similar vein… I too am a little cynical about Apple’s approach here, but I think it goes beyond the “upgrade path” — there seems to be a very deliberate choice as to what to include and exclude that goes beyond hardware or software capability, and an emphasis on delivering the inspiring elements first (touch screen, apps, etc.) over more “staid and traditional” functionality that many people would (and in fact did) consider a “minimum”.

    I’m not sure I fully grok what you mean about different purposes for MVP and MIP? I don’t necessarily see a difference in intent between the two, other than to consider including something inspiring/unexpected/remarkable in your product rather than just purely working from a perspective of delivering minimal functionality to meet a user need/requirement.

Comments are closed.