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.