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Lean and MVP

What are Lean thinking and MVP in Agile product development?

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What are Lean thinking and MVP in Agile product development?

The following article is part of the self-preparation for the modern BVOP® Scrum Master Certification program.

Both Lean and MVP are Agile concepts aimed at optimally producing and creating the optimal product. The purpose of both ideas is to optimize costs and waste, as well as to satisfy the customer and user needs.

  1. What is Lean?
    1. Lean thinking
  2. The search for perfection through Kaizen.
  3. What is MVP
    1. MVP is not rushing to do everything
    2. Providing feedback on MVP
    3. MVP is recreated in cycles

What is Lean?

Lean thinking is a business idea that aims to provide a way of thinking about organizing human activities to provide more benefits while eliminating waste.

Lean thinking comes from Toyota Motor Company, which went from being a bankrupt Japanese carmaker business in the early 1950s to becoming the dominant global manufacturer it is today. At every stage of its expansion, Toyota is targeting new markets for products that are considered relatively unattractive. The organization avoids standard practices and thus seeks to increase the value of its operations and investments.

The company has applied the practice of appointing a unique group of elders (Sensei) and coordinators (teachers from Japan), dedicated to helping the company’s managers to think differently.

Toyota’s training focuses on developing people’s thinking skills, not forcing them to perform specialized tasks, and use standard practices, tools, and procedures.

These “sensei” have caused managers to look at their jobs differently.

Some of their teachings are focused on the following topics:

You go and see the working conditions first hand and discover the facts for yourself instead of relying on reports and meetings in the boardroom.

The workplace is where real people deliver real value. It should be evident that managers support and respect their employees for adding value to the organization through their ideas and initiatives.

The imposition of the idea that customer satisfaction is paramount is embedded in every step of the company’s process. You have to stop at every problematic part, analyze it and get to the point where you and everyone in the team do not let it be the reason for a defective product and do not accept defective work. The work process stops when things go wrong.

Understanding the cycle time and creating a rhythm. This “rhythm”, whether it is for the production of automobiles or software projects, leads to the creation of stable value flows, where stable teams work on a stable set of products in stable environments and with stable processes.

Reduction in production size. Every traditional business has strong desires for a large amount of work produced. High volume production can lead to waste.

Lean thinking

Lean thinking is trying to optimize the flow of work to meet current demand, not future demand.

By reducing time and difficulty in our work, it is possible to get closer to perfect results. In this way, we can dramatically minimize the overall spendings of our business by reducing the need for additional costs for outsourcing, fees, procedures, materials, equipment, and more.

Preview work and processes through Kanban. As much as a manager or an operational officer is experienced, process failures always occur. That is why, visualizing tasks, jobs, and processes through Kanban can make apparent work issues and greatly help everyone.

The search for perfection through Kaizen.

The old Sensei argued that it was not of the highest importance to use tools and standards for each process or activity but to develop the spirit of each employee.

Perfection is not achieved through better, smarter systems or characters, but by a desire to improve performance step by step together.

Kaizen’s practice is what creates deep and reasonably productive thinking in people’s minds and ultimately leads to complete transformation. Practicing Kaizen on an organizational level increases collective and self-confidence so the organization can face more significant challenges and solve problems.

What is MVP

MVP stands for “Minimum viable product”. A minimum viable product has sufficient functionality that satisfies early adopters who provide feedback on its future development.

MVP is not rushing to do everything

When you create an MVP this means that you are more focused on the essential concepts initially instead of rushing to implement every single thing you or your managers have decided, which can affect the product negatively.

Providing feedback on MVP

Providing feedback means that when you have a minimal product, you will be able to see the reaction of your users and customers. Do they like your product? Is it useful for them or not? On this basis, you continue your research and work.

Gathering initial information about your MVP is often less expensive than developing a multi-function product, which increases the cost and risk in the event of failure.

A minimum viable product has enough basic features (or functionalities) for effective initial product launch and nothing more.

Developers usually focus on a group of potential customers - such as early adopters, who are thought to “forgive” more minor issues, are more likely to give feedback and can understand the product’s vision from its early stages.

This strategy aims to avoid creating features that customers do not want anyway.

MVP is recreated in cycles

MVP is recreated in cycles and iterations by generating ideas, prototyping, collecting data, analyzing, and learning from the results so far.

The goal is to minimize the total time spent in an iteration. The process is repeated until the desired product is obtained or until it is considered unsustainable.

The following issues related to chapter "Lean and MVP" are included in the certification exam. The sequence of questions is presented in the table.
The data is current as of October 22, 2021, 9:38 am

ID Issue Time Category
0 The search for perfection through Kaizen. 60 sec SM, PO
1 Lean thinking 60 sec SM, PO
2 MVP is recreated in cycles 60 sec SM, PO
3 MVP is not rushing to do everything 60 sec SM, PO
4 Providing feedback on MVP 60 sec SM, PO
5 What is Lean? 60 sec SM, PO
6 What is MVP 60 sec SM, PO

Comments from the BVOP™ community

Gabriella Doyle

Lean is a management approach that directs and limits the cost of production resources solely in achieving goals that create added value for the end customer. To be implemented as an approach in production, everyone must change their way of thinking. This way of thinking we call Lean Thinking.

Companies often waste resources

Companies often waste resources to achieve goals that do not create added value. Thus, they suffer losses, which are reflected in low productivity, increased cost, and unstable quality. This complicates the management system and it makes mistakes, which leads to more losses and more problems with productivity, cost, and quality. Instead of creating added value for the customer, organizations struggle with problems that may be challenging but do not make the product more marketable.

Lean analyzes what we need to do for the client

Lean analyzes what we need to do for the client. Resource costs are divided into two groups - useful costs that add value to the customer and unnecessary costs that prevent value-added. These are the so-called "Surplus losses". Lean's goal is to uncover them and eliminate them, or at least limit them to reasonable levels.

The seven wastes of Lean are:

  • Overproduction
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Defects
  • Over-processing
  • Waiting
  • Transport

MVP (minimum viable product) in the right way

Minimum Viable Product is a product with enough functionality to satisfy early customers of the product and provide feedback on future product development. Additional functionalities and ideas are not implemented at the beginning of development.

The MVP tests hypotheses and checks the viability of the product - how valuable and sought after it will be on the market.

The results of the MVP testing and the feedback from the target audience help to understand whether the project is worth continuing, what changes need to be made in the strategy, and what needs to be left as it has already been created.

The MVP approach begins in the early stages of product development. Our idea may seem unique only in our head, so we do not need to immediately invest a lot of money in development. It is better to start with low costs and careful analysis of consumer demand. After the launch of the MVP, we will determine the demand and find out if we are developing the project in the right direction.

The most valuable thing about MVP is gathering valuable information from early users. The end-user is the one who will tell about the correct implementation of the project. When we use the collected data we have the opportunity to plan future updates to prioritize tasks. Read more: Product Backlog Prioritization.

How to create an MVP?

Once we have understood in theory what a minimally viable product is, we need to look at the practical part. To get a good result, the work must be broken down into small iterations. We need to define the goals for the team and the tasks for each member of the team. But above all, the team must understand the general principles of work and product creation.

Defining the basic principles and techniques of MVP

It is a good idea to organize a general meeting of the team that will participate in the development of the MVP. We need to make sure that all team members understand why an MVP approach is needed. The vision of the product is discussed and the first high-level plan for further work is built.

Important topics for discussion with the team during the first meeting:

How to use minimum resources?

A minimum of time and effort must be spent on the MVP. The team needs to figure out how to spend less money while effectively testing the business idea. As a rule, the discussion on this issue helps to select the ideas that can be implemented at the initial stage of product development.

How to interact with consumers?

One of the main goals of the MVP is:

  • Hypothesis testing
  • Analyze demand and
  • Product balance

Reviews from the first users of the product

In order not to miss important information, all channels for interaction with the target audience must be planned.

How to use the first sales of the product?

The first sales of the product will provide the means to continue product development and will show whether consumers are interested in the concept.

Defining the problems that the MVP will solve

Once the basic principles of MVP have been defined, answer the question:

"What problem does the product solve?". Describe the value of the product in a few sentences.

Finding the target audience

A common mistake made by some teams is that they believe that their project solves the problems of a large audience. This approach dramatically increases the likelihood of failure.

Focus on a specific target audience. Create an account for a customer who will buy your product. Describe his gender, age, social status, income, needs, habits, hobbies.

Identify the main competitors

You need to take enough time to define your competitors. Good luck if your idea is still unique. If your product is not unique then you need to solve the following problems:

Gather as much information as possible about your main competitors. Analyze the first three players in the market. Study the history of their development and look for what products they offer. Learn about competitive advantages and appreciate the opportunity to offer something better.

Determine the market shares of the main competitors. Examine the activities of the companies. Define their strategies, sales volumes. Calculate profitability. This will let you know how successful they are and how you can get ahead of them. And most importantly, how many resources you will need.

Investigate primary sources of information. Everything that competitors publish about their activities is the main source of data. Check out their official websites, presentations, advertising campaigns. This will help you understand the activities of competitors and give new ideas for product development.

Investigate secondary sources of information. News, videos, reviews, interviews, etc. Explore the media and independent sites.

Attend events where your competitors present their products or services (conferences, exhibitions, and any other appropriate venues).

Create a user flow

User flow is created to understand what the user is doing when interacting with your product, what the audience's requirements are for content, design, interface, etc.

The user flow card must be adjusted after receiving feedback from the first customers. They will tell you what is good and what is bad. Based on this, adjust the card so that the end-user gets what he wants.

Create a list of product features

Once the main user interactions with the product have been identified, the specific functions must be described. For convenience, a special map can be made: interactions and functions. Think about what needs to be done to ensure good interaction. Real users can provide objective information based on their experience.

Then prioritize all ideas. The most popular (which are used most often) are placed at the top of the list, the rarely used - at the end.

Define the features of the MVP (scope)

At this stage, the functionality of the MVP must be determined or, in other words, the volume of the minimum viable product must be planned. First, define a few basic functions without which the project cannot exist at all. This is the "base" or the smallest usable version of the product.

In most cases, this "basis" of the MVP is complemented by various additional useful features. It is necessary to define the basic and non-essential functions that are needed now and that can be improved later in the project development process.

Choose the most appropriate method for the management and development of MVP

When you are ready to start (the idea, tasks, goals, and scope of the MVP are defined), it remains to choose a management method to achieve maximum efficiency and adherence to the established development schedule. These can be Lean, Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming.

This stage is one of the most important because you can have a very good idea, develop a quality concept, gather a team of highly qualified specialists, but if you choose the wrong management model, forget about success. So think carefully about which system to work with when implementing this or that product.

Do alpha and beta testing

Use short iterations (sprints) to test your MVP: Alpha and Beta testing. Alpha testing - internal stage, after you have completed the development, use the product within the team for several days. If all goes well, start Beta testing - an external stage - give access to the product to the first users.

After the first Beta testing, collect opinions, visit statistics, behavioral analyzes, and analyze the entire data set. This way you will know what needs to be improved, what can be removed, and what new needs to be added urgently.

Comments of our guests
  1. Martha Garzon
    As Scrum addresses the topic of product value, Lean thinking, and products following MVP approaches should likely be an important part of the Scrum rules. It is commendable that you have placed these materials as part of your Agile Scrum Master training. Many Agile roles have little or no understanding of these topics. In my opinion, every Scrum team and product should include Lean and MVP rules officially declared.
  2. Emmanuel Musa

    I want to share my story. I work in a small manufacturing company. It doesn't matter what our business is. The most common production activity. All the people in the organization are 19 people, including the founders of the company. We face challenges every day. We must constantly optimize our production processes. Otherwise, we are doomed to failures and losses. And that could destroy our business.

    We have 2 teams with different production activities. Both teams are directly involved in senior management. When we talk about Lean thinking we should always look at the top management of the organization. They must be aware of the need for continuous improvement of work and conditions in the production line.

    I would like to recommend to every senior management of an organization in the world to work with its employees.

    This is the only way to see the problems and how work is done.

    Transparency among managers and employees would be invaluable. Also, understanding the tasks and responsibilities maintains professional growth.

    Team members should also be involved in optimization strategies. The results of the work are measured. The real contribution of each team member is evaluated. Work processes need to be simplified. Task time should be as short as possible. It is therefore advisable to keep the tasks small and easily achievable. The standardization of work processes and the creation of work frameworks significantly supports productivity and quality.

    Also, senior management expresses respect for staff and clearly understands their rights. Each team leader supports collaboration and teamwork.

    By following these approaches you will reduce errors and defects in your product.

    Conduct regular circles with team members. Discuss the goals and priorities of your organization. How each of you can help these goals.

    Gather information about the difficulties of each member of your team. I started to apply all these ideas and simple solutions. We are already making progress.


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