An MVP or ‘minimum viable product’ is a simple, fast, imperfect ‘first draft’ or starting point. The concept was initially introduced by the start-up world and is a mainstay in the Bay Area playbook.
What is an MVP?
An MVP is the most basic version of a solution. MVPs are designed to have the minimum set of features required to address a need. The premise of the MVP approach is that an initial solution – however imperfect – is real faster and quickly generates actual user feedback about all the ways it could be better. All that feedback enables fast iteration and the development of a better, more mature solution over time.
Why are MVPs are useful in public sector?
MVPs are extremely useful in public problem solving for many of the same reasons they are useful to start ups – with a few riffs and additional benefits of note.
- Break down complexity, forcing a focus on entry points to big intractable issues
- Make abstract problems tactical and operational, for example – making healthcare access equitable seems daunting (rightly); understanding how to make a 6 week pen-and-paper enrollment process more user friendly in 2021, less so
- Force a citizen or frontline focus, which is sometimes conspicuously absent from even the most impact-oriented systems change efforts
- Create bright spots, which can be critical to keep energy high in the face of grave and serious issues
- Limit disruption that may not work or produces unintended consequences, which is particularly important when working on services or products that vulnerable populations depend on
What should a public problem solver have in mind when taking an MVP approach?
Reject the “move fast and break things” mentality that start-ups tout, and instead use the MVP to move fast more carefully. Small tests and pilots can help reduce unintended harm in public services, by forcing a focus on frontline feedback and observed outcomes before scale.
Look for ways that the MVP mindset can be adapted to systems and org problems that often hamper public and social sector work – e.g., solving for a minimum viable operating model to help sustain small community based organizations (you don’t have to be developing a product to use the MVP approach).
Share details about the MVP mentality with the groups that engage in the process – to spread the word and the thinking about how this kind of mindset can be imported, adjusted and most fully realized for good.