Release that MVP ASAP

Releasing that Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is More Important than Ever Before

When I teach agile planning, I emphasize the importance of defining the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and its influences on the product development lifecycle. Eric Ries best explained how to apply the MVP concept to entrepreneurship in his renowned book The Lean Startup. His definition of the MVP is “that version of a new product that allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”

I’m usually hired to consult with clients long after the time to release the MVP has passed. Often, I find myself looking at a poorly designed product with a convoluted user experience. 

I recently worked with a client developing a SaaS product without a well-defined MVP. They churned back-and-forth on design requirements for months to produce a product with a confusing user experience. Because they missed too many MVP deadlines, they decided to call their first release Alpha instead. Sound familiar?

Report Pre-Launch Cost of Redesign to Investors?

Many executives, like my client, find themselves running out of development budget runway and desperate to get their product to market. Even if my client’s product launch is successful, this negative impact to corporate solvency could easily have been avoided.  

If more businesses had to report to their investors dollars lost due to pre-launch rework and redesign, the MVP would be treated with higher priority. In today’s competitive landscape, businesses must get their products into the hands of potential customers faster than ever before. This suggests businesses who continue to haphazardly develop new products have even less chance of survival.  

Most have heard some rendition of the quote: “Fall in love with your customers, not your product.” You read this and nod your head. Yet, somehow many who develop new software products tend to fall in love with the technology first and assume their chosen customers will fall in love with their vision for it too. Technology may be cool, but people pay for transformation. Your product must solve a real or perceived problem, and it must be easy to use.

Why is the MVP so Important?

The MVP process is crucial to identifying what features to release first. Without feedback about whether or not the product developed satisfies customer needs, it’s anyone’s guess whether or not people will purchase the product and recommend it to others.   

The good news is that agile Epics and Stories already focus on the customer viewpoint and experience. 

How Do You Define an MVP and Build a Better Product Backlog?

Stop thinking you are the customer and start looking at your product from the viewpoint of actual customers who need to solve a problem.

Learn about the problem from the customer perspective:

  • What problem(s) do your customers need to solve? 
  • When would customers access your application? At what point in the resolution process?
  • Why do current products miss the mark? 
  • How do customers expect the application to work? 

Define a user experience that makes it quick and easy for the customer to accomplish their goal. The MVP proves the concept; it is not the end product. The most technologically cool method may not get you to market quickly enough. 

Design an MVP that Leads to Continuous Improvements

Organize the MVP features in such a way that the new product can hold its own in the marketplace. The MVP must be a quality product that can stand up to the competition. It must look complete, even if it only includes a fraction of what you plan to include down the road.

  • Design a way to get customer feedback as quickly as possible. 
  • Test your assumptions. 
  • Enhance what works. Pivot when necessary.
  • Release improvements along with new features.

I’d love to hear stories about how your teams have successfully implemented an MVP. Do share!

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Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn


Cynthia Kahn

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The Agile Mindset is a Superpower

Why an Agile Mindset Helps Overcome Uncertainty

We all have favorite super heroes. We all hope to travel to brave new worlds, including outer space some day. But, in our wildest dreams, we never thought we’d be asked to “boldly go where no man has gone before” by staying home. 

I read and watch and listen to various authorities explain how my world is forever changed and my business must adapt or it may go bankrupt. Luckily, I have an agile mindset, so I know that I can meet these challenges and come out the other end with a successful agile business and brand. 

If you’re like me and you have an agile mindset, you have a distinct business advantage. Your brain is already wired to look for and take advantage of new opportunities. So, get up off that sofa, turn off the TV and take action!

Our agile mindset gives us laser focus, a desire for continuous learning and the ability to identify when we need to pivot to stay relevant and competitive. These three attributes form a superpower that helps us navigate through uncertainty and succeed.

Laser Focus

Every sprint is timeboxed, to ensure we remain focused on completing a specific set of accomplishments. In scrum, our sprints are usually two weeks. In times of uncertainty, we may only be able to plan for one week at a time. 

Our work and our business lives have now merged. We need to apply our laser focus holistically.

The key is to determine what needs to be accomplished now. No one really knows with any certainty what our lives will be like at the end of this quarter, let alone at the end of the year. Those quarterly and annual plans have become irrelevant. However, we all have work that needs to be completed by the end of this week. Apply that laser focus to your short-term goals. Take back control and move forward.

You cannot operate in a vacuum. Your customer’s businesses have changed. Talk to them. Make sure you are focusing on the right things. 

Continuous Learning

Continuous learning is the way we enhance the superpowers of our agile mindset. At the end of every sprint, even if your sprint is only 7 days, conduct a short retrospective. What worked? What didn’t? How can I improve the way I work in my business and with my family? 

By continuously monitoring what’s working and what’s not working, we learn from our interactions with others and we remain competitive. Keep in mind that what worked last week may not work in the upcoming week, so retrospective is more important now than ever before.

Ability to Pivot

Through retrospective and the art of continuous learning, we grow as human beings and business people. To fix what is not working, we may need to change our business model. For example, in-person training pivoted to online training. Restaurant dining pivoted to take out and delivery. What needs to change in your business?

Our customer’s problems are different now. In fact, they may be changing week by week, just like yours do. Listen closely to what your customers are telling you. What problems can you help them solve? Customer feedback may be telling you that you need to alter your product offering or your messaging or both. 

I’m even reaching out to potential customers who I don’t know, expanding my reach and understanding beyond my current customer base. More of us are working from home and feeling isolated. There’s never been a better time to reach out and connect.

If you haven’t already pivoted your product offering and messaging, you’re late to the game. Stop selling and start listening. Adapt and pivot and remain competitive.

Do you have any advice to share about how your business is coping? We’d love to hear from you.

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn


Cynthia Kahn

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Dealing with the Office Saboteur

How to Deal with the Office Saboteur

I have never understood why some co-workers feel compelled to gain the upper-hand by acting like a saboteur. Is it insecurity? Possibly jealousy? Or maybe they’ve been facing challenges at home and need to take it out on someone at work.

I’m not talking about The Arrogant Bore who tries to take over your meeting or The Know-It-All who is all too happy to tell you what to do because they of course know best. I’m talking about the person who creates real havoc in your work life. I’ve come across many types of saboteurs, and I’ve grouped them into the following titles:

  • The Sniper
  • The Passive-Aggressive Disrupter
  • The Smiling Assassin

Before I talk about our 3 featured villains, I want to stress 2 very important concepts:

  1. Most people do not come to work each day with a mission to sabotage your project. So, before you act, make sure that you’re reading the situation correctly.
  2. Most important, do not take things personally. I repeat, do not take things personally. Bad behavior at work is the result of many different factors.

Always address the behavior in a professional and objective manner, citing facts to back up your observations.

Now, on to our bad guys.

The Sniper

This saboteur throws you a curve ball or directly opposes you (out of the blue) at a meeting. The Sniper seems to like striking in public, where they can do the most damage.

In my experience, The Sniper is often motivated by the need to have some control over what is going on or what is being discussed. This saboteur is best diffused by including him in pre-meeting discussions. I ran into one of these guys during a consulting job for the government, where I was a project manager.

At a major status briefing, when I came to a statement concerning his area, he sabotaged my briefing by saying the facts I reported were wrong. I didn’t say anything negative about his area, but he found it necessary to degrade me in the meeting anyway.

The next week, before the status meeting, I met with him and explained what I was going to report. I asked him if my report on his area met with his approval. I also made a point of asking him if I could count on his support at the meeting. He agreed, and I never had further trouble with him.

All he wanted was to be recognized and offered some deference. After I started looping him in prior to meetings, he turned into one of my most effective supporters.

The Passive-Aggressive Disrupter

This saboteur can create quite a bit of havoc when she has a beef with you. The Passive-Aggressive Disrupter comes to you in confidence and tells you something negative that another person said about you.

I’ve found the most effective way of dealing with this behavior is not to act on the information you receive. I worked with a woman several years ago, when I was managing a team of 125 analysts. One day, my co-worker approached me and told me that someone complained to her about one of my team members.

I decided I wasn’t going to play this game. I told my co-worker that if someone has an issue with a member of my team, then that person must come to me and discuss it themselves. I do not engage in watercooler talk and react to hearsay.

After this incident, I never had this sort of problem again, and people started coming directly to me with issues.

The Smiling Assassin

This saboteur can be one of the toughest to deal with, because on the surface, this person is nice to you and in agreement with you. Then, when you least expect it, The Smiling Assassin undermines you with your co–workers when you’re not around.

I have found a couple of ways to deal with this threat without resorting to an HR intervention:

  • Direct confrontation
  • Enlist co-worker help
  • Cultivate your network

Confronting The Smiling Assassin requires cool professionalism on your part. Approach him and tell him that what you heard he said. Give him a chance to explain or discuss the problem directly. Stay calm. Don’t get emotional. Listen objectively. If there some truth to the criticism, own it and work to correct it. If there is no truth, you have effectively shut this back-corner talk down by bringing it out in the open.

Enlisting co-worker help is a less confrontational strategy. Hopefully, you have co-workers that you are comfortable approaching for help. Ask them to shut down the conversation or come to your defense any time The Smiling Assassin speaks ill of you. This shows that negativity falls on deaf ears, and that soon stops the behavior.

Cultivating your network undermines The Smiling Assassin. I faced a situation many years ago where I was in line for a promotion. I found out after the selection meeting that a particular VP who didn’t like me vetoed the promotion. I confronted my Smiling Assassin and asked what I could do to improve his opinion before the next promotional cycle. He hemmed and hawed, and I figured out that there was little chance that he would change his mind.

I made a special effort to engage the Senior VP of that group and to worked to impress him. After the next promotion meeting, my network told me that the Smiling Assassin again tried to derail my promotion. But now, I had the Senior VP on my side and his vote overruled the other. I got the promotion. Afterwards, I avoided The Smiling Assassin as much as I could for the rest of my career at that company.

Closing Thoughts

Many times, workplace challenges are self-inflicted. Learn to honestly assess your own behavior before you blame others’ bad behavior on your negative outcomes. But, if you’ve done your soul-searching and you still think the problem is not yours, don’t become a victim and have faith in your power.

Always remember to stay professional, don’t waste energy taking things personally and try not to go over to the dark side yourself.

If you’ve run into a different type of Saboteur that you’d like to discuss, leave a comment and let’s see if we can add some more coping mechanisms to this post.


Gerri Slama Grove


Gerri Slama Grove

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Business Must Become Agile or Be Left Behind

How 7 Agile Concepts Make Better Business Practices

Every time I read an article that declares “Agile is Dead” I roll my eyes. The reality could not be further from the truth. In this ever-changing business climate your company will need the ability to move forward with limited information and pivot quickly to survive into the next decade.

The concepts in agile, particularly scrum, have relevance far beyond the Engineering and IT departments. In this post, I’m going to briefly cover 7 scrum concepts and how those concepts can be modified to run your business with agility:

  1. Organize Effective Teams
  2. Rethink Business Planning
  3. Write Better Business Requirements
  4. Execute Business Plans in Shorter Business Cycles
  5. Practice Continuous Improvement
  6. Measure Velocity
  7. Practice Transparent Status Reporting

1. Organize Effective Teams

The Engineering and IT departments have known for years that they can no longer develop software applications in isolated silos. Both traditional and agile development teams have members from multiple technical disciplines, such as programming, business analysis, data analysis, quality assurance, security and architecture. They understand the importance of engaging the right mix of technical talent to design, develop and test an application.

Why has this common practice remained isolated to the technical side of the business? Why do Finance and Accounting, Sales and Marketing, Product Management, Human Resources and all the other myriad of departments continue to work in silos?

Every year, businesses plan to achieve specific corporate objectives, then each department develops its own set of strategic plans to achieve those objectives. What if those departmental strategic plans conflict with each other or create duplicate expenses?

If the execution of strategic plans is vital to achieving corporate objectives, then businesses should organize blended teams with the skill sets required to achieve them. Cross-functional teams increase creativity and synergy. Why would any business want to continue working in silos? Those businesses who get this concept can become leaders in their industry.

2. Rethink Business Planning

High-level strategic plans cover the fiscal year, with key milestones and metrics measured either monthly or quarterly. Success metrics are numeric. Numbers can be manipulated. It happens all the time.

Agile changes the focus from numbers to delivering value to the customer. Isn’t the customer our main focus anyway? If companies organize around strategic plans and those strategic plans provide value to the customer at lower cost, the tactical plans could break down each strategic objective into concrete deliverables that provide added customer value throughout the fiscal year. Meeting deliverable timelines should be the true measure of success.

We could take the agile concept of Epics, which are high-level use cases, and apply them to business strategy. For example, if a business has the strategic objective to attract a new target market, the team could break down the objective into discrete business deliverables: new avatar of the ideal customer, new content that speaks to that customer, new variation of the product that attracts the target market, new marketing campaigns, new sales personnel, new targets for increased sales.

After all the strategic Epics have been defined in terms of business deliverables, all those deliverables could be organized into a strategic plan for delivery at specific milestones, in much the same way application and product development teams plan for releases.

3. Write Better Business Requirements

Every strategic business deliverable is probably made up of several small deliverables that must be completed by members of the cross-functional team. If business borrowed from the agile concept of user stories, each small deliverable could be defined in terms of business requirements (what needs to be accomplished) and acceptance criteria (how we know we did it right).

If we look at one of the deliverables above, new content that speaks to the customer, we probably need to write multiple types of content, such as content for the corporate website, social media and print advertising. Requirements for each content type should be documented in the form of a story that includes acceptance criteria with specific language that speaks to the avatar of the customer.

Do you have to know the detailed requirements and write stories for each type of content at the beginning of the fiscal year? No. But you do have to identify the high-level Epics, break the Epics down into business deliverables and set milestone dates for each deliverable. You should have some idea how long each deliverable takes, so stories are written and approved with enough advanced notice to give the team time to complete them.

4. Execute Business Plans in Shorter Business Cycles

Just like with agile scrum, the sooner you deliver business value and get it in front of the customer, the better chance you have to pivot if you’ve made an incorrect implementation choice. Instead of quarterly reviews, if businesses could practice monthly reviews as part of their month-end close, then the teams could report status more frequently and small problems could be addressed before they become big problems and the team misses a strategic milestone. If the team misses an objective, then the business does not achieve its corporate goals.

Evaluating the results of concrete business deliverables adds transparency to the status of team plans and strategies to achieve corporate objectives. If a strategy is not working, pivot and try something else. Write new stories for success. If a team needs help, reorganize and regroup.

5. Practice Continuous Improvement

The scrum retrospective is one of the most powerful concepts that should be adopted by all business teams. Conducted at the end of every monthly business cycle, retrospectives provide the team with an opportunity to review what when well and identify areas for improvement. The team reviews each problem area, brainstorms ideas and votes to adopt the best process changes.

Make small business process changes, before small issues become big impediments. Teams that are empowered to make their own choices about how they work together, work better together.

6. Measure Velocity

What is velocity? It’s a measure of how many deliverables the team can deliver in a business cycle.

This means that business stories must be groomed and sized, just like any other agile scrum story. Before bringing a story in for work at the start of a business cycle, the team should review it for completeness and assign it a relative size.

Simple tee shirt sizing works great. The key is to stop thinking in terms of hours to completion and start thinking in relative sizes like Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large.  If a story is Extra Large, try to break it down into smaller deliverables. Finally, assign story points to each size. A Small could be 1 story point, a Medium could be 3 story points, a Large could be 5 story points and an Extra Large could be 8 story points.

The idea is to plan for and bring in the right amount of work in each business cycle. After about 5 months, if team size remains constant, velocity should be a good predictor of how many deliverables the team can produce each month and whether or not the team has the capacity to achieve its objectives.

7. Practice Transparent Status Reporting

When you know the team’s velocity, you can size each business deliverable and roll that up into an Epic size. Status reporting against corporate objectives becomes more transparent.

If you know the total story point size of an Epic, then you can compare that to the total number of story points completed. The percent complete at the end of a business cycle gives upper management a concrete indication whether or not the team is on track to achieve its corporate objectives. Those numbers are not easily manipulated.

Wow! You can see how agile concepts apply to all aspects of business, especially corporate strategic planning.

Want personalized instruction?
Then come to our next GSD Scrum Training or call us for a consultation.


Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn  503.799.5500


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