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Your First Idea Sucks

Updated: May 2

We all want to do what we do well. We work hard to make sure we are spending our organization's precious time, energy and resources on the exact right thing: to deliver that perfect program or service to the customer, to design that perfect experience or product. The thing is, nothing is perfect, you're never going to make everyone happy. What matters is learning. And trust me, your first idea sucks anyhow...

Which approach seems smarter?

Minimum Viable Product

In the software and Agile world, the minimum viable product (or MVP) is the concept from Lean Startup that stresses the impact of learning in new product development. Eric Ries, defined an MVP as: the version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort. Or, said a different way, how quickly and inexpensively can you learn if you're onto something before wasting those precious resources of your organization: time, money, people.

Don't Let Perfect be the Enemy of Good

Your first idea or your first iteration of that product, program or experience is highly unlikely to be your best. So why spend endless time energy and money on making what you think is the most perfect version of it? Produce the MVP, get it in front of your customers and learn. It will cost less, get the idea to market faster and you will immediately have customer feedback on how to improve.

I've lived through this. I've watched an organization spend literal millions of dollars to chase a completely invalidated product to its final form. It arguably was the death knell for that company. I often wonder what would have been different if the owners had taken a more agile approach to developing their idea instead of going all in on something that was not validated. famously launched an MVP of pictures of shoes online and a "buy now" button that took the consumer to an Error page. Why would they do this? Simple: They weren't trying to sell a product, they were trying to learn. They were literally counting clicks. Would people actually buy shoes online without being able to try them on? The answer was yes. And they spent not a whole lot of time or money to figure that out relative to what it would have cost to launch an online shoe store in its final form (warehousing, inventory. coding, web design and on and on). Of note, their second iteration was the same photos, and the same buy now button, but you could actually buy the shoes. The owners then went to their local shoe store, bought the shoes for retail and shipped them continuing to build on that MVP. It wasn't about making a giant company at that point, it was about proving they COULD build a giant company one iteration at a time. In other business terms, you could call this de-risking your business model.

Move Fast, Be Ready to Adapt

Ok, so how can you actually implement some of this agile methodology into how you think about your product or offering? Don't worry, you don't have to be a tech startup or a software developer to apply this to your world.

Lose the Ego - Don't get too attached to your idea (there's a better one coming right behind it). Be willing and able to accept that your idea won't work or your customers aren't interested. When you create that MVP, look to be invalidated as much as you are looking for validation. What matters is delivering a winning product or experience to your customer, not that you are right or that it's your idea that "wins".

Minimum Really Means MINIMUM - The MVP could literally be a customer focus group. It could be a couple phone calls. Who can you trust to tell you you're insane to pursue this idea? It could be a drawing on a piece of paper with a sharpie, it could be a guest survey. The mindset is: "What's the cheapest fastest easiest way I can learn if I'm wrong?"

Acceleration = Innovation - The more quickly you can iterate based on valuable customer feedback, the faster you'll innovate on your idea or what the market needs. Noticing a theme here? Don't spend all your time and money on V 1.0 only to learn nobody cares.

Empower Your Teams to Fail Towards Success - If the people who work for you or with you are scared of reprisal if an idea doesn't work or if there's a failure along the way you simply will not innovate. So ask yourself: "Do my teams have ample safe space to take calculated risks and fail doing so as long as we learn?"

Start with the Value to Your Stakeholder - It doesn't matter what work you "think" you should do, or what idea you "believe" is going to be the next big thing if you don't understand who your stakeholders are and what value they are looking for in the marketplace.

In summary: Being "Agile" basically means having an organization that is both willing AND able to adapt. There are plenty of resources out there to help you get there as a business. At Rise Above, we have Agile certifications and training for product development and strategic planning to help you cut through the BS and iterate your way to success.

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