Retailers should embrace Maximum Viable Product

Never mind minimum viable product, what about maximum viable product?

I get the argument for Minimum – let’s fix something we can fix, get it done and working and then move on. And it has a place, but it won’t save the business. The danger is, the real problems in your business are not addressed. The best analogy I guess is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic; great job there dude, but we’re still all going to die.

The Swedes understand Maximum Viable Product, because they are all students of Volvo which, like most car manufacturers, builds prototype cars. If you had the chance to build the car you really wanted it would go very fast and yet be completely safe, look like a cross between a sports car and a family station wagon, and run on oxygen extracted from the air, and of course never need maintaining. And so on.

Maximum Viable Product has legs

Now of course, you can say, well, you’re off your head, no such car could ever exist, but no one thought Elon Musk could do what he has done, even though he is currently sleeping in his factory in order to get production moving faster. The point is, he dreamed big and ended up with a maximum viable product.

Maximum VP gets everyone on side, particularly if the product is brought to life in simple ways like video. Tell a story using real people interacting once the product is available and makes sure everyone sees it, refers to it constantly and sticks to it. This ensures that no-one goes off piste and tries to take a short cut to Minimum.

Big Question: What do your customers really want?

Don’t worry if your business can’t currently offer any of the capability shown in your video. This is not about you but about your customers; what do they want and what do they expect you to be able to do? In retail, this is about seamless journeys, identity recognition, flexible service, bespoke packaging and delivery, and tailored communications.

So, the place to start is to ask your customers what they want. You won’t necessarily like the answer because the gulf between you will be deep and wide. But, consider the alternatives. The high street is overstocked with brands that don’t appear to have read the writing on the wall – customers have changed and retail is struggling to change with them. To the victors the spoils, to the losers, store closures, bankruptcy or a CVA.

In fact, you can build your own Maximum VP to benchmark yourself against your competitors, so it will be easier to build a business case and budget. And, if your Maximum VP is purely rational, it probably won’t work. It needs some inspiration. In fact, it really needs to look like it couldn’t possibly work. That’s the point of prototyping; it starts as a unicorn with two horns, so you can still end up delivering something amazing.

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