Why Minimum “Viable” Products will always be enough

Viability: capable of living or developing into a living thing. It originates from the latin ‘vita’ — to live

Eric Ries’ revolutionary book, The Lean Startup, argues that every product in a business environment should be no more and no less than what is minimally viable. In other words, all product developers should be committed to developing a Minimum Viable Product.

The concept is representative of the idea that it conveys: it’s simple and just detailed enough to be useful. It’s also very well accepted in modern businesses.

However, I have recently come across various opinion pieces contesting that it is not enough to be viable: products have to be desirable, feasible, and even delightful. These articles argue that by focusing on that which is viable is too “business-centric” and draws attention away from the user experience.

The most popular of these is the concept of having a “Minimum Desirable Product”, and developing a desirability-first strategy, whereby developers test out the product on desirability means, rather than viability.

MDP is defined as follows: “Minimum desirable product is the simplest experience necessary to provide a high-value, satisfying product experience for users, independent of business viability.”

These theories miss the point of what viability is as a term. Not only is it concerned with creating a living and survivable product in the most broad and holistic sense, but it is not limited to providing an initial criteria in the design phase. It is also a term that sets a standard for long-term outcomes.

Viable is, by definition, everything that you need to be in order to succeed..

If a product is not desirable in some way from the user’s perspective (and if the market demands that it needs to be) the product by default will cease to be viable. The same goes for feasibility, “delightfulness”, or indeed any other adjective that might be placed of importance.

The irony of these theories is that in their creation, they are unnecessarily expanding the concept of Lean beyond what is minimally viable! Human nature instinctually tends to complicate concepts, add rules, until what is truly needed is lost in the details. Minimal Viable Product is the fight against that.

Instead of trying to redefine Minimum Viable Product, there needs to be more focus on user stories. In my opinion, user stories give meaning and direction to what it means to be viable. A replacement for viability does not need to be suggested. Listening to users, and creating adequate stories that are fulfilled in the best possible way, is the difference between success and failure.