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November 26, 2013

How MVP, Drupal & Open Source Technology can Reshape your Business

Thought by Ray Saltini, Director, FFW Center of Excellence

There is no shortage of buzzwords or fads in tech today and they tend to get thrown around carelessly. But there is a growing trend in the start-up sector that  offers an essential lesson for businesses small and large.

This is the concept of Minimum Viable Product or MVP. MVP is thrown around a lot. I’ll leave the history of the term for another time. For now it’s important to know two things:

  • It usually means different things to different people and most times is completely misunderstood;
     
  • Understanding and putting MVP into practice could determine the success or failure of your business or project.

MVP is not a plain doughnut.

To understand the concept and the trend throughly read Eric Ries’ 2011 book The Lean Start Up. In the meantime perhaps you've already begun to Google the term and come up with a few images of a plain doughnut. The first step to understanding MVP is that a plain doughnut is not a very good example. The only thing learned from the sale of a plain donut is that buyers like fried dough. It does not elucidate information about the buyer or the market that will help the business make good decisions about customer preferences and market conditions. MVP should be as simple as can be but not too simple. In other words, getting to MVP can be a complex process, but is should not be any more lengthy or expensive than it has to be to collect essential information that will inform your product development and marketing.

Here’s the point: an MVP is a tool to help businesses align product development with market demand.  Sometimes it’s an actual product. Sometimes it’s a facsimile used to collect information. One of my favorite MVP images is a stick figure lemonade stand that just collects emails. The best MVPs help businesses decide how to change a product or strategy. Here’s an official definition from Eric Ries.

"That version of a new product that will allow a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”

The purpose of MVP is to build an optimal iteration of a product that will give you the best alignment with market preferences and then…do it again - fast. This helps businesses get to what I and I’m sure others call the Most Valuable Product that has the best market fit. Either that or it teaches you your product won’t sell. A hugely valuable lesson best learned early.

Consider MVP against the backdrop of famous product failures - I’m thinking the Ford Edsel, New Coke and the Apple Lisa. These were all products that received millions of dollars in investment in product development and marketing before anyone had a reasonable assurance of their potential success. Marketing geek humor wouldn’t be nearly as rich without these gems but consider how much richer our lives might be if these companies had invested those dollars into successful paradigm shifting products brought about by great MVP iterations.

Contrast this with MVP success stories like Virgin airlines opening with only one flight, Dropbox receiving investments based on a video about how their project would work when built, Groupon as a bare-bones blog with no back end and Yahoo, originally just a list of favorite links put together by two students. What each of these stories had in common was not a rush to market but a prototype that helped align their product offering with consumer interest and subsequently market demand.

All this is especially powerful stuff when you consider that a tight funding and lending market is still bombarded by hyperbolic business plans instead of authentic business models. Looking for support with a smartly researched business plan and a demonstrated product development and marketing alignment process is an inarguable value proposition worth loads more than standard business propositions.

So what’s all this got to do with Open Source and Drupal?

Everything of course.

Software development best practice is an iterative process. This aligns perfectly with MVP principles. Who has time or money for waterfall projects that are kept under wraps until delivery only to be found to be significantly lacking or fundamentally broken - can you say Healthcare.gov?

Open source is mostly free to try. You don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands on licensing fees to experiment. Drupal is perfect for landing pages, A/B testing and rapid prototyping. You don’t have to fund an army of software developers to begin building out your MVP because so much is accessible via a powerful user interface.

More of a Platform than a CMS. Drupal enables you to build out complex internet applications that integrate with legacy and third party systems.

Open source is the great equalizer of the 21st century. You don’t need billions when you have boot straps that can measure for measure out pace proprietary solutions. 

Open Source is the closest thing to a perpetual motion machine ever invented. Community members donate code so more community members can improve it and make money from it so it can be used to build more code which can be used to solve more problems and create more value.

Open Source creates a Magic Triangle of Innovation, Integration and Adoption. A great percentage of the money saved on low-value costs such as licensing fees and under-achieving investments is going to go to creating new technologies and solutions and integrating those new solutions with existing systems. That is a powerful combination which will drive up adoption across organizations, sectors and regions increasing the overall productivity and return on investment to record levels.

What’s your experience been with MVP, Drupal and Open Source. Drop us your comments. We’d like to hear from you.

For more on MVP, register for our webinar with Acquia on December 19 at 1 pm.