Keys to Project Happiness: Releasing Minimum Viable Product

In Best Practices, Tips & Tricks by Andy Yang

The pace of business has accelerated with the increasing commoditization of technology. Companies are encouraged to get product out the door quickly in order to gain time and market advantages while getting early feedback. Modern day systems, particularly SaaS systems, can be tweaked and made available very quickly enabling companies to capture benefits sooner.

Internal IT projects, such as a rollout of Salesforce, are very similar. With Salesforce, you have a very powerful platform that grows with your needs. Sophisticated features are available with minimal to no configuration compared to software of days past. In addition, most projects these days are run using agile methodologies – where getting product out the door quickly is encouraged. These trends, of getting to market sooner and having the technology and process to do so, are drivers for increased success.

Gone are the days of trying to include everything “and the kitchen sink” on release. That approach not only delays the time to value but also greatly increases project risk. In addition, by the time the project is delivered, the requirements will have likely changed. With a quick, phased approach, you get feedback faster – feedback that you can quickly react to in order to create a better solution faster.

But it’s critically important to define what these phases are. At each phase, a minimum acceptable set of requirements (or minimum viable product) should be defined and understood. Prioritization is absolutely key – what are the things that you must absolutely have to successfully release versus things that are nice to have.

To get to this stage, you always have to look at the business. What are the desired business needs to be accomplished with each phase? Then, orient the phases around this. It does require an understanding what it takes to build – every prioritization must come with not only the benefit but the cost in time, effort and risk.

For some there is the temptation to include as much as possible into each release. This creep can greatly complicate things, and in addition, it can increase the chance that something must be unwound after receiving feedback. Adding unnecessary “bells and whistles” not only increases complexity but time to market as well. Companies should really understand what is absolutely needed and nothing more. It has been said that perfection is the root of all evil. Going for the most perfect solution in stage one is a recipe for project failure. As a long time product manager (PM), the challenge for most PM’s is in recognizing that it’s not hard to decide what features to add but to decide what features need to be left out.

Everyone knows that IT project failure rates are well above 50%. You have a higher chance of failure than success. Know what you are trying to accomplish, keep it simple and resist that temptation of adding more and you will be on your way to a successful phase one. Take bite-sized chunks at each stage. You can always add less needed features later incrementally. For some organizations it is not uncommon to have weekly, or even daily releases. Salesforce is a perfect platform for getting a product out the door quickly and then improving it incrementally.