Book Review: "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries

I recently read "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries. Much of his book focuses on creating a minimum viable product (MVP).  Often the MVP is cited by agile gurus as a way to create a simple product for learning. But, Ries says something about the MVP that is practically heretical for people who focus on quality software:
"We build a minimum viable product, an early product that is terrible, full of bugs and crash-your-computer-yes-really stability problems. Then we ship it to customers way before it’s ready. And we charge money for it. After securing initial customers, we change the product constantly—much too fast by traditional standards—shipping new versions of our product dozens of times every single day."
This process of creating the MVP, however, gets to the heart of agile software development: creating short feedback cycles to improve the Plan-Do-Act framework.
"The MVP is not necessarily the smallest product imaginable, though; it is simply the fastest way to get through the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop with the minimum amount of effort."
The goals of the MVP can be summarized as:
  • Get the product to the customer ASAP
  • Achieve good enough quality. "If we do not know who the customer is, we do not know what quality is."
  • Test the business model. "Customers often don’t know what they want."
  • Test business assumptions (get paid, share the risk)
  • Measure usage. Ries measure four key qualities: Registration, Activation, Retention, and Referral.
  • Learn what are the most important features & qualities
  • Iterate quickly over the phases: Build, Measure, Learn.

Sometimes it seems overwhelming to think about starting a business like this, but he has a case study of a business called "Food On The Table" that started with one customer and one grocery store. From that one customer they learned the requirements and eventually provided a service that spans across the US.

Key takeaway from the MVP process: "Remove any feature, process, or effort that does not contribute directly to the learning you seek."

As an aside, Ries says he didn't create the idea of a Minimum Viable Product. He cites a paper by Bill Junk from 2000, but it appears the URL is broken.

Bottom line: The Lean Startup is an inspiring read, but maybe not everyone wants to develop a business this way.