What's your minimum viable product?

I've always liked a challenge. As a kid I wanted to be on the team with less players, most likely to lose, the team most likely to struggle in order to defy the odds. It was probably an early form of thrill seeking, but when I set out in business in my early twenties, with no experience and no capital, this mentality proved dangerous.

I would allow the scope of my projects to expand beyond what was realistically achievable, so that regardless of what I put my mind to, (a website, a brochure, a sales plan, an event) it had to be all singing and all dancing.

At best this unattainable pursuit of the ideal would paralyse me for long periods, at worse, my project would die waiting. It's a state of mind I think many of us find ourselves in from time to time.

So, having just attempted to breathe fresh life into a software project that flatlined in the past, I've been thinking about this frequently over the last few weeks.

An idea rooted in the startup community has resonated quite a bit - the minimum viable product - the notion of putting your work out into the open with only the minimum amount of features needed to make it viable, just enough to give it a fighting chance. Nothing more, nothing less.

The concept of a minimum viable product isn't particularly complicated. On the face it, breaking down products (and projects, goals, visions) into smaller, more manageable parts seems like common sense. Who doesn't do that?

But in sitting down to create a list of must haves, a list of required features, and in seeking to half that list by 50%, and maybe 50% again, it often becomes clear that there's a different kind of lesson to be learnt.

My own project, that of developing the world's best database and search engine of wines, ahem, demanded all sorts of support; it needed funding, man power, skillsets, audience, revenue streams etc, all the things you might expect for any kind of tech project of scale.

But, I crippled it. I loaded the plan with features and requirements, things that would take months, if not years to build - all without a single customer.

Developing a minimum viable product is essentially a philosophy that advocates learning as much as possible about your project and its chances of success for as little effort and resource as possible. It flies in the face of ideas that cater for everyone by attempting to offer everything.

Whether in our professional lives, or at home, most of us have long term projects we'd like to develop, but we're often guilty of littering the road ahead with obstacles and hurdles. Sticking to our goals and avoiding distractions is hard enough without adding ways to interrupt momentum.

So, if you're currently stuck, if you've jumped head first into something massive that now feels overwhelming, perhaps it's worth reigning it in a little.

We might ask ourselves, what is the minimum set of achievements that would get things moving or get you to the next stage?

Forget the journey or the struggle for a moment, and focus in on the absolute minimum next step that will help you learn where you go next. It may not be where you expect.

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