Last week, in a post ostensibly about fixing printers (so all is forgiven if you glazed over and didn’t read it), I talked about rapid and iterative design, but wondered how minimal a minimum viable product could be:

There is a risk the other way too, though: how good does it have to be to reach the minimum standard? Is anything functional good enough for a first attempt?

That stemmed from a concern that minimum and minimal are too easily confused, particularly for people with a history and culture of development not rooted in agile approaches.

Then today, through a tweet by James Moed, I came across a post by David Aycan with a title which encapsulated my thought much better than I had managed myself: Don’t Let the Minimum Win Over the Viable:

An MVP should be the easiest way to test your hypothesis, but that doesn’t mean that building one is easy. A common mistake is refusing to tackle the tough technical problems that create revolutionary offerings. As Ries writes, some entrepreneurs hear “minimum viable” product as “smallest imaginable” product. This misunderstanding of Lean Startup tenets can have expensive consequences.

As part of my own journey towards understanding and internalising some of these concepts, I started being very uncomfortable with the idea of minimum viability. I find it hard to separate from connotations of the least you can get away with, which in one sense is not the idea at all (though in another sense, it is absolutely the idea, which is perhaps the source of the confusion). So I came up with the idea of the Maximum Attainable Product, not as a way of describing a diferent thing, but as a different way of describing the same thing.

Maximum attainable doesn’t mean building something big and unwieldy. Just as the best camera is the one you have with you, so the best product is the one you can start using. It means making the best and most ambitious thing possible within the discipline and constraints of the development approach being used. It means not compromising on quality and effectiveness while deliberately focusing on a reduced set of scope and needs addressed. In other words, it means (I think) the same as minimum viable.

Now I am not so sure that maximum attainable is the right phrase either. Its connotations of bloat and delay are no more escapable than the opposite connotations of minimum viable.

So I think I am hankering after a way of saying maximally attainable minimum viable product. Or possibly the other way round. Only with fewer words. All suggestions for a more felicitous turn of phrase are very welcome.


  1. Best possible/available/deliverable product?

    Maybe ‘sufficiently effective release’? At least that conveys that its a step in a process rather than an end result…

    Hard not to use words which hide a multitude of assumptions though.

  2. Good enough is too much like getting by, and best possible misses the tension. I think maximally minimal is getting closest to the sense of what I am trying to get to. Or maybe to mangle one of Dominic’s, smartest soonest.

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