Dressing up the old MVP with a little spice
Notes on Process: Part 1 of 3
Last week at lunch I found myself using a plate of beans and rice to explain the basic tenants of MVP. This got me thinking. Could you take a basic burrito and use it as a metaphor for a software product? What if your software product was a burrito? What kind of burrito would it be? The burrito analogy actually started to work; so much so that I took some time to organize my thoughts a little more and wrote the first of 3 posts about my thoughts on process here at C5. Additionally, it seemed fitting that I should at least list my favorite burritos currently in the greater Mission District here in San Francisco. More on that later.
Here at C5, we’ve been happily entrenched in agile software development for years. We’ve been pretty successful in our ABD’s (The lean version of Blake’s ABC’s from Glengarry Glen Ross… At C5, its Always Be Delivering) and process has always been a big part of it. Every so often, we get a client and team match up perfectly: time flies, we deliver design and features with ease. The happy client loves it, they love the process and if we’re lucky, they still love us. These great projects seem to always end too soon which is a shame because we usually want to keep working on the product to make it better.
In our reflections, during and after each project is complete, we talk through successes, failures and what we can improve on next time. Inevitably, people (myself included) are always curious as to what made the project such a success. I like to think that sometimes things like that can’t be quantified and usually have an internal dialog saying… “You can’t bottle this…” Though, in hindsight, it is probably pretty important that everyone be brought up to speed and better understand the aspects of a successful project and process. This way, in the future we can better understand our team, project dynamic, goals and continue to help make great products.
Did someone say Burrito?
Lets get back to brass tacks. I love most food, but I have a special place in my heart for a simple burrito. So put aside thoughts of software development for a minute, and just think about what makes up a simple, basic burrito.
I’d say that the most basic burrito is made up of 3 parts. Feel free to dispute this but I’d wager that 3 is a pretty decent number for most things and the minimum that you’d want to have to bump up your flavor profile. For this example lets use beans, rice and a flour tortilla. There you have it—one meal unit. We can order it, we can eat-in, or we can eat-out. No problem. If you’re resourceful, you can even guard against “burrito blow out” by peeling the tinfoil back incrementally as you eat your burrito.
Whoa… That simple. Product and release! We just created a MVP burrito with 3 features and a release strategy to ensure that our product is successful. We can even repeat production as many times as our supplies hold.
Behold the MVP burrito.
So what now?
We have a product. Does it taste good? Does it feel right? Maybe, but I think we can agree that its probably not incredible. It is serviceable, repeatable and acceptable. You’d eat it if you don’t have any other options. Is it noteworthy though? Is it something you’d want to share with a friend? Probably not…
So how do you make it better?
Well lets start by looking at the parts of our 3 feature MVP burrito.
Beans, Rice, Tortilla.
Let’s just break down how we make the beans for this analogy. Making really good beans isn’t just putting them in a pot with some water and cooking them till they are soft. Cooking really good beans means picking a specific type of bean, understanding how they were grown and harvested. How long was their journey to get to your kitchen? How did you cook them? Did you start with them from a can? Or did you start with dry beans and figure out the exact soaking time prior to cooking? How many other nominal ingredients did you use in the preparation? Did you use the $ gem install epazote to help with the flavor of your beans and possible bean side effects? Did you make your product with the users in mind? Did you have metrics on the right things? What does all of this say about your recipe? What does it say about your dev stack? Did you specifically select each spice individually and methodically? Or did you use a spice-kit? Did you build your CMS from the ground up so that you can support each of your clients needs while still being able to build onto it later when it the product gets traction and you need to scale?
Repeat this for the Rice and Tortilla and you can see where I’m going with this… Hopefully you’ll start to see that every step in the process is important, for all parts of your product journey. Good ingredients, tried and true recipes combined with pragmatic choices along the way, will all lead you to a better product.
What is this better product you ask? It is the Minimum Viable Awesome Product (MVAP).
Adding that ‘A’ to MVP is the hidden step to making sure your product is going in a positive direction. What makes it awesome? Well, we’re in California, so it makes total sense to use the word “awesome” and mean it. Joking aside… I’d say these 3 things are crucial to the recipe: First, the MVAP represents putting your best foot forward and making sure that you’re delivering the best product that you can given the goals, scope and limitations of your tech. Secondly, it means that you’ve taken the time to think about the product from a more global goal oriented viewpoint. Lastly, if you’re doing one and two, it means you’re most likely having fun, which is crucial—because you’re learning and creating something that your whole team is behind. Which in all projects that I’ve worked on, makes for a pretty good time. Taking account of these 3 things allows for the insurance that the context and delivery of your product is as close to the ideal mark at every step along the way. Its the convergence of the idea, the features, design and the delivery. All of this is wrapped up neatly in a big awesome context tortilla.
Context & Your Burrito
Understanding limitations and context in a more wholesome and responsible manner is crucial to the success of any product. Knowing the limits of your flour tortillas, so to speak, because once you have Burrito-Blow-Out, the burrito stops being a burrito… Additionally, you can have the best tasting bean and rice burrito in the world, sell it in a place that no one goes and you’ll probably get a cult following of people willing to make the leap to get to you. There are rare cases of this breaking out, but more often it doesn’t. Or you can have a mediocre-at-best burrito and be everywhere (see The Green Burrito). Either way you are creating a context for the delivery of your product. Finding the right space for your product on the spectrum is about setting the stage for a proper release and making sure that your product matches your goals (more about that in part 3).
The Plate of Beans & Rice vs. The Bean & Rice Burrito
So why not talk about just a plate of good beans and rice? Here’s why: The burrito is a self-contained product, it is a product that we can enjoy on a plate, on the go, anywhere really. Beans and rice on a plate have the potential to taste awesome, but you end up with rice on the table, or lap. You can dip your chips in it, etc. etc. but chances are things may get a little messy and lets face it, not as portable. Good products are the ones that we continually use, talk about, frequently return to. They are the ones we can enjoy in the intended context and are equally successful outside of its original context. They hark back the original idea and flavor all the while supporting the brand from which it originates.
There is a great benefit to a brand or product when its users start taking their products outside the original context. As a user, you begin to curate your own experience on top of the the prescribed—making a hybrid product experience where you get the best of everything. Just like a really good burrito. You most likely are happy eating it at the Taqueria from which it was made as you are taking it out and eating it in the park with your friends and family. The authenticity hasn’t changed and your still getting the same value, but with a new twist—the ideal MVAP.
So thats it. We’ve done our research and testing we’re set up to make a MVAP burrito. We’ve set the table and are ready to start adding features as well as exploring the options… In part 2 from the Process Kitchen, we’ll talk about getting the right cooks and staff to ensuring that your products are being made correctly and with a touch of flare. Stay tuned.
Now lets go make something!
Like I promised… My Favorite burritos in the greater mission district. Please note these are totally subjective to my preferences and do not include some amazing other places here in San Francisco.
Off the shelf—Nothing needed just order it:
La Taqueria, 25th St. & Mission St.
You can pretty much do no wrong ordering any burrito off the menu. All burritos have no rice here which makes them less of a gut bomb. You can add avocado to anything and it’ll be even awesome-r. Tacos are amazing too. They slay it here. The hot sauce on the table is epic as well.
Hotrod it—Make it up as you go:
La Coroneta, Diamond St. & Chenery St.
My current fav is this: Black beans, Carne Asada, Cilantro & Onions & Salsa Rojo. So good, so simple. Meat, beans, some salsa and all wrapped up.
Bonus note: Call in ahead of time if it’s near rush hour, save yourself the line or just order the fixings in to-go containers and make your stuff at home!
Some shout outs to people along the way who are thinking about similar things. Like it or not, they were catalysts in getting me to write down my thoughts about process. Coincidentally they were both speakers at the RE:DESIGN/UXD Conference this past April where we met them both.
Ben Clemens is doing good thinking and talking about Stories and why they are still important.
Emily Wengert at Huge has been talking on Context and why it’s more important than you may think.