It’s Really a Riskiest Assumption Test, Not a Minimal Viable Product

“There is a flaw at the heart of the term Minimum Viable Product: it’s not a product. It’s a way of testing whether you’ve found a problem worth solving. A way to reduce risk and quickly test your biggest assumption. Instead of building an MVP identify your Riskiest Assumption and Test it.”

– Rik Higham, The MVP is dead. Long live the RAT

MVP is used so much it’s lost its original meaning. It’s often mistakenly applied to the first release of a rudimentary product. As a result, the “MVP” ends up much more complex than the quick test it was supposed to be and far too shoddy for a released product.

A “Riskiest Assumption Test” is a much better term that is more aligned with the spirt of the problem that needs to be solved. There is no need to build more than what’s required to test your largest unknown. No expectation of perfect code or design. No danger it will prematurely become a product.

“An MVP seduces with false reassurances of a clear, linear path to an optimized solution.” – Rik Higham

A Riskiest Assumption Test puts the focus back on learning, the original intent of MVP. Once you’ve validated the riskiest assumption you can move on to the next largest one. Gradually building confidence in the viability of your idea.

The key to this is rapid, small tests. What’s the smallest experiment you can do to test your biggest assumption? As Tom Chi, co-founder of Google X, puts it:

“Maximizing the rate of learning by minimizing the time to try things.”

Identifying the underlying assumptions takes a lot of mental energy and discipline. Express the opportunity as a customer problem and work backwards. What has to be true for the opportunity to exist? Now take each of those assumptions and ask what are the main assumptions behind them? Repeat until you’re reached the root assumptions. This is similar to the 5 Whys. Working your way back up from the bottom identify evidence that supports each assumption. You should now have a clear idea of where the critical gaps in your knowledge are. A clear idea of what your Riskiest Assumption Tests need to be.

Riskiest Assumption Tests prioritizes the key tasks required to validate your idea quickly. They remove the temptation of prematurely creating a rudimentary product. But they are not easy. You need to be relentless in your pursuit of them. Vigilant of scope increases.

Higham, Rik. The MVP is dead. Long live the RAT. Hacker Noon. Sep 27, 2016.