The unnecessary and the insufficient

Ever since the term Minimum Viable Product came on the scene c. 2001, I’ve seen it used, abused, interpreted and reinterpreted in countless ways.

I can’t say that all of them were true to the original ideas of Frank Robinson, which by the way, weren’t limited to products. What I can say is that I’ve witnessed far too many heated exchanges about the meaning of each constituent word, but especially the word “minimum”. Those exchanges had one thing in common in that people couldn’t easily agree.

It appears to me that in order to agree on what is “minimum”, one has to first agree to some common frame of reference. For example, if a product has a goal, then it becomes possible to talk about what is “minimum” in order to achieve it. And here, my thoughts veer to an element of Eli Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints: the thinking processes, which is a collective name for a number of diagrams that visualize and help to critically assess cause-and-effect relationships.

If we have an effect, we can ask what causes it. In the case of a future effect, we state what we believe could cause it. This is the stuff of hypotheses. Whatever our causes turn out to be, we must ask whether all of them are necessary for the effect (and we don’t necessarily need multiple causes!). The other question to ask is whether all of the causes, when taken together, are sufficient to create the effect. It strikes me that if we find things that are unnecessary or find that what we have is insufficient, then we don’t have a “minimum” (relative to a goal, of course, such as a viable product).

When breaking work down or planning, do you routinely remove the unnecessary and correct for the insufficient? How would you know? Could you make things easier for yourself by making the final goal a succession of smaller goals?

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