There’s a wonderful quote by Patrick Lencioni: "If everything is important, then nothing is." It seems obvious, but too many of us wind up with overflowing to-do lists, either for ourselves or for the work and products we deliver.
Not everything is important, but the essential is always important. The key to success is knowing what to focus on and what to let go. For example, if the focus of an initial product release is to gauge initial customer interest, it would make more sense to work on building customer feedback functionality as opposed to scaling to millions of users. Wasting time on unimportant product features can put a product release at risk.
The best way to do this—and to improve the delivery and quality of our work—is to begin with a strategy and distill what’s truly important and prioritize accordingly .
Many people seem to misunderstand the term MVP. A minimal viable product only includes what is essential. Essential means of the utmost importance; basic, indispensable, necessary. There are no “nice to have” or “we’ll need that in the future” features in an MVP.
The first step is to brutally define what is essential and cut out everything else. What do I have to do today? What do I have to deliver today? What does my MVP have to include? That’s difficult to do without context. We need to first understand what our goals and objectives are to define our essential feature set. Goals are more general and long term, while objectives are more specific and short-term. Goals help us set our direction, while objectives help us to make progress towards our goals. In short, we need a strategy.
We need to ask ourselves: What do we want to accomplish? What do I want to accomplish today? What do I want to accomplish with the work I’m delivering? What do I want the MVP to accomplish? Answering that helps us tease out our goals. An example could be that a goal of an MVP is to increase the number of registered users by 20%.
We then need to break down our goals by specific, measurable steps or objectives. Following our example, associated objectives could include creating a mechanism for customers to register, creating a report to track registered users, or creating a mechanism to reach out to candidate users.
Now that we have our goals and objectives defined, it’s easier to identify what is essential: Everything needs to map back to an objective. User registration screen: essential. User registration report: essential. Upload user candidates: essential. Track web traffic: not essential.
Once we have our essential list, the next step is to prioritize it. That may be an even more difficult task. How do we pick our favorites? One way to think about it is to define both the importance (I) and the urgency (U) of each item. Prioritization (P) is a function of the two, where P = I x U . Prioritization becomes almost algorithmic.
By prioritizing everything, nothing has a priority. We need to define what is essential. To do that, we need a strategy to help us define goals and objectives. All our essential work must map to an objective. If something doesn’t map to an objective, it can’t be essential. Once we have our list of essentials, we can then prioritize by both importance and urgency. That is how we make progress.