Stop building to deliver and start building to learn.

Last week I attended Agile Day Chicago, a one day cheap-as-dirt conference put together by the wonderful folks from DevJam. The conference is very focused on product design. It was refreshing to be in a room full of people less concerned with technology than what is being built. As much as I like to geek out about transducers (which are hella sweet), it’s our job to help customers be successful. At the end of the day, de-complecting conj out of reduce doesn’t affect that. Neither does heads-down focus on delivery and project management.

What does help build successful products? Getting things into peoples hands as quickly as possible certainly helps. We want to iterate to perfection! But doesn’t that contradict my statement above about not focusing on delivery? Not exactly. We do not want to focus on delivery. We want to focus on delivering the right thing. This of course relies on delivery, but focusing on delivery alone is a surefire way to continue building the wrong thing. You may get lucky but playing the lottery is bad business, especially when the lottery ticket is a three month half-million dollar project.

We’ve all heard the term MVP or Minimum Viable Product. While this term is unfortunately susceptible to perception and often conveniently misinterpreted, it always focuses on getting something out the door. At the conference David Hussman introduced an alternative term, MVL or Minimum Viable Lesson. It’s the smallest thing you can deliver that will help you learn what direction to take your product in. This minor change has a major shift. MVPs imply you know what your users need and what minimum set of features to ship for them to start falling in love. They also imply what you need next are the features which were cut when it could be something vastly different. MVLs on the other hand introduce a humility which states you want to connect with your users. It shifts the focus from delivery of something you think people will love to measuring the satisfaction of what you’ve built.

Brilliant! And in the spirit of the theme, I will end this blog post at that.

But before I go, I have to give a shot out to Jeff Patton for giving me a signed copy of his new book User Story Mapping. Jeff’s been a big influence on the way I think about product design and how to go about building systems users will love. I think his book is the most important piece of literature on proper story mapping, release planning, and product design.

DevMynd is chicago custom software development company with practice areas in digital strategy, human-centered design, UI/UX, and web application and custom mobile development.

Joe is DevMynd’s CTO and leads the company’s software engineering practice. He has been with the company since 2012.