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Growth Guidance: Limitations of the Agile / Lean / MVP Philosophy

Most companies generally accept the wisdom of lean start-up and agile development when it comes to innovation and the creation of Minimum Viable Products (MVPs).

For many of our clients, it has become a mantra, the basis of the transition from old-style corporate to new-style, more entrepreneurial business.

At Sia Partners, we are also firm believers in the principle of agile development, although we tend to talk about Minimum Viable Businesses rather than MVPs, understanding as we do that success comes not just from the product but from the service, sales, marketing, payments, operations, service and other elements of the business.

But beyond this, there is a crucial weakness in the MVP approach that is either misunderstood or deliberately brushed under the carpet. Why is it that so many companies never get beyond the MVP? Why is it that so few companies know how to scale their early propositions, let alone get to the dream of ‘industrialisation’ or mass market conversion? Why is it that the issue is so rarely discussed let alone addressed?

Part of the issue relates to the so-called ‘Chasm of Death,’ which is essentially the truth that early stage technology propositions tend to appeal to early technology adopters, but not to later adopters or mass market consumers. Too often, the route to scale is believed to be in replicating the ‘MVP proven’ model and doing more of the same. But this does not explain the whole story.

The real challenge goes beyond the technology issue and into the business model. What works for the first early adopter consumers may not work for later adopters. Does that matter? Well, yes, if it means you have to rip up the first business model and create a new one for the next stage of business growth. And if you are one of those companies that hate ‘regret’ spending then the thought of ripping up one business model to create a new one will not sit easily.

At Sia Partners, we believe foresight is better than hindsight. The implication is that the business model roadmap should be designed before or alongside the MVP development, so that the investment in business model change is underpinned by the commercial case for such change.

In the end, the question you should ask is this: Is it better to have a great MVP or a scaled successful business? If you believe the latter, then you’ll instinctively know why the development of a business model roadmap is essential to get to the bigger rewards down the line.