MVP and Anxiety (My Agile Life)

(This column is posted at, Steve’s LinkedIn, and Steve’s Tumblr)

This is an odd post. In some ways it’s about psychology. In some ways it’s about my use of “Agile” and Scrum  in my life. Either way, I think you’ll find it valuable, even if you’re not reading those posts.

Imagine that you have a problem to solve, but you’re not sure how to solve it. Worse, this situation is complicated by having many options – a common problem in a wired age with so much at our fingertips. You’re paralyzed by choice and fear of the wrong choice – so what do you do and how do you get out of this?

There is a solution – and one that comes from Agile and Lean techniques. Yeah, I know, trust me on this and keep reading.

The solution is something called Minimum Viable Product or MVP. In software and general terms, it means something that delivers the minimum needed to go to market and satisfy customers and get feedback. To get an MVP you carefully look over what you have to do, pick the effective minimum for the audience, and get it done right.

In fact, an MVP may be all you need for a while. Consider how many people or companies use bare-bones web pages with nice graphics and don’t need any more. You can apply this philosophy to your life.

To use MVP in your life, from plumbing to writing, ask yourself what is the minimum you need to do well to get something complete and ready. Sit down, list your concerns or needs or whatever, pick only the ones that must be done, and do them. You’ve solved your problem, and if it’s not perfect, you can tweak it later if you need to.

(And yes, that’s over-simplified, but it’s enough to get you started.  MVPs for products get more complex.)

Here’s a few examples:

  • You want to have premade lunches for a week so you make a big pot of chili and garnish it differently each day. Next week you might cook two different meals at once, but this is done for the week so you can relax.
  • You want to get a chapter of a book to an editor, so you make sure it’s clearly readable without fiddling with it endlessly. The editor can take it the rest of the way so you’re not caught in a writer’s panic.
  • Traffic is crazy due to construction, so you find a path to work that, if not the fastest, is the least likely to be congested. For the rest of the month your commute is longer than usual, but it’s predictable.

These solutions are not perfect but they are good enough and they get you on your way. In some cases they’ll save you time from worrying more than doing.

The other benefit of MVP is that going for the MVP prevents what’s called paralysis through analysis in the business world – overthinking. MVP gets you on your way and moving forward. In turn, the fact you are at least done means you can reflect on what you did, what you need, and improve things later. Sometimes you don’t even know what you need until you’ve done something after all.

In many cases – especially in life – the MVP is all you need for a long time, maybe forever. Sure you repainted the bedroom the exact same color, you didn’t spend hours debating colors like “Thupe” and “Preamble Brown”. Yes, the report at work could look a bit better but no one cares about the cover color. MVP can often bring you back to reality as well as keep you from anxiety.

Next time you have to fix something or do something, think about the MVP. It’ll focus you on value, keep you from over-elaborating, and reduce anxiety.

(By the way I do plenty of books for coaching people to improve in various areas, which may also help you out!)

– Steve