Lean Product in a Huge Company by Adam Piel
Adam is a Product Manager at Pivotal Labs in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is also the executive director of a STEM education program for children in Cambridge, and worked at Spotify before coming to Pivotal. His keynote on “Lean Product in a Huge Company: How to Stay Daring” was the first talk on the final day of the Productized Conference 2017, where Adam discussed the strategies Pivotal Labs used with a client to hit a 28-day product launch. He discusses the crucial importance of language, and the Product’s Manager’s role as story-teller, and of keeping the team outside of its comfort zone. Below are some takeaways you should hold on to as you build your product.
As a Product Manager at Pivotal Labs, I work in the trenches with large enterprise software teams; I demonstrate and teach them Lean and Agile methodologies. While most large companies are eager to learn, we often receive pushback when we try to move in the blazingly-fast manner dictated by agile development and Lean product management.
An MVP is a version of a team’s product released just days or weeks after work begins. These are embarrassingly bare-bones products designed to solicit REAL user feedback. By launching a version of our product early, we can overnight quadruple what we know about what we think we’re building.
Eric Ries writes:
“The idea of minimum viable product is useful because you can basically say: our vision is to build a product that solves this core problem for customers and we think that for those who are early adopters for this kind of solution, they will be the most forgiving. And they will fill in their minds the features that aren’t quite there if we give them the core, tent-pole features that point the direction of where we’re trying to go. So, the minimum viable product is that product which has just those features (and no more) that allows you to ship a product that resonates with early adopters; some of whom will pay you money or give you feedback.” source
MVP is often one of the first things corporate stakeholders learn about when they begin their agile transformation. While in one sense this is good, it also becomes one of the most talked about aspects of a company’s digital transformation early on. It is discussed in many meetings, ends up in a lot of slide decks, and eventually the traditional, waterfall values of the company begin to leech into the term MVP.
Very often when I work with large companies, there is significant corporate oversight regarding what is or isn’t “in the MVP.” MVP quickly becomes MVBP (minimum viable beautiful product), or MVPTICSMB (minimum viable product that I can show my boss) or, worst of all, it simply becomes the same as“Release 1.0.” Often this “MVP” is launched in 6–18 months.
On a recent engagement with a large insurance company, my colleagues and I noticed this dynamic. Instead of fighting over the meaning of MVP, we simply “invented” a new phrase: “The Shoddiest Viable Product,” or SVP. It was defined exactly as Ries had originally defined MVP.
Language is powerful and by creating a new term we gave ourselves complete power over it’s definition.
Our intention was to inexorably staple the “embarrassment factor” to the term. “Sure we can launch an MVP in about a year,” we said, “but in the meantime we’re going to work towards launching this other thing, the SVP, and it should take a couple of weeks, max.” We launched to production in 28 days, shattering previous records at that company.
SVP is not nearly as pretty as the MVP is going to be, but it’s going be something that starts to validate our risks and assumptions really early on. It allows us to get something in front of real users within weeks, and not months. Rip up everything what is not absolutely crucial in what you are trying to do. That is exactly the kind of attitude we take with our clients.
People’ve asked me: “Does the shoddy mean poor quality?” The answer is “No.” The reason we chose the word “shoddy” is because we wanted to staple that Reid Hoffman idea that you need to be embarassed of this thing “quality directly to the term” to sort of fight that corporate leeching.
This is not the Product Innovation. This is the PR Innovation. Language is powerful. By creating a new term we gave ourselves complete power over it’s definition. We changed the narrative around the initial release and successfully piloted our team towards very quick learning about our users.
Rip up everything what is not absolutely crucial in what you are trying to do.
All of the key terms in the Lean playbook have a tendency to drift back into our comfort zone. As product managers, we are the storytellers of our team. We tell the story of what we’re building and why to stakeholders and back to the team. By continuously reexamining the language we use to tell that story, we can help even the most entrenched teams to harness the original, daring ethos of Lean.
Access Adam’s slides presentation below:
About Adam Piel
Adam is a Product Manager at Pivotal Labs in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is also the executive director of a STEM education program for children in Cambridge, and worked at Spotify before coming to Pivotal. His keynote on “Lean Product in a Huge Company: How to Stay Daring” was the first talk on the final day of the Productized Conference 2017, where Adam discussed the strategies Pivotal Labs used with a client to hit a 28-day product launch.
About Productized Conference
Since 2015 that we gather annually in sunny Lisbon thought-leaders from Product Thinking, Product Management, and all kinds of innovators to discuss how companies are using startup style innovation to create new products customers love.
The Productized Masterclasses are 2 days of hands-on masterclasses and insightful keynote speakers. On 27 & 28 May you’ll enjoy 4 masterclasses of your choice, get practical tips, and network with your peers. Come and meet Dan Olsen, Kandis O’Brien, Radhika Dutt, Ken Sandy, or Daniel Zacarias, among many others and get ready to be inspired to learn more about Enterprise Product and Consumer Product! SAVE THE DATE — MAY 27–28 2021
Want to be a part of the Productized community? Sign up for our newsletter here.