Monday October 12, 2015

Minimum Viable Perspective

Browsing Netflix a few weekends ago, I happened upon Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’ve been re-watching a number of TV shows from my kid/teenager years, so I watched the first two episodes.

Man, they do not hold up. The special effects were embarrassing, the characters cartoonish, and the stories painfully silly.

But, as may also be the case with you, I remember these episodes being pretty amazing at the time. And over the course of seven seasons the show improved its special effects, developed interesting and nuanced characters, and produced (mostly non-silly) great stories. The whole show’s universe matured and deepened. Not to mention the entire audience.

For me, this is the best corollary I have found to the software concept of Minimum Viable Product (or initial release). These initial episodes weren’t really missing anything—they had actors, a story, lighting, a director, etc.—they were just less formed than each episode that followed. Although now—decades later—I can pick out low production values and other shortcomings, most of these issues were arguably not evident in 1987. They were the norm, if not above the norm. Most of the faults that I find with these episodes today only come from comparing them to later, more polished episodes and a perspective gained from decades’ worth of overall growth in how TV shows can now be produced.

An MVP has to be a whole thing. To the user, it cannot appear to be incomplete in any way. It has to be awesome. And that can be a hard thing to judge since we software-makers have a different perspective than our users. We have access to roadmaps, knowledge of unimplemented features, and a sense of what we’ll need to adjust to as the future unfolds before us. We often have the curse of being able to see 1987 through today’s eyes, and today through eyes that are never satisfied, always looking to the future.

I’ll try to remember those first few episodes of ST:TNG when I’m thinking about whether software is ready to launch or not. It may be incomplete and flawed from my perspective, but it must be whole and amazing from the user’s perspective. Keep those production values high.

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