I sat in a check-in meeting with my manager at Facebook, going over a gargantuan project that was completely overwhelming me. I was leading the creation of a brand new internal website that was going to be used as a resource for a number of our ad sales teams.
There were pages upon pages of copy to be written. A brand new design to be developed. Special coding needed to be used to let us display different content to different people based on their location and sales team. We needed to find a sustainable way to make sure the information we included was staying up-to-date, as our ad products were always changing. Some of the content needed to be translated into 20+ languages. Oh, and everything needed to be reviewed and approved by numerous people.
Like I said — a gargantuan task.
I rattled off the large list of to-dos, hoping to get some guidance on how best to proceed (and yes, maybe a little sympathy). My manager replied, “Ok, but what’s the MVP?”
I stared blankly at my manager for a minute. Hadn’t I just outlined the long list of needs for this new, revamped, ideal website? I started in on the list again, when my manager quickly interjected: “No, what’s the MVP?”
Now, here’s something you will quickly learn if you ever work in the tech industry: tech people love to use acronyms. And they love to use them without explaining what they mean, assuming everyone else already knows what they mean (we don’t). I don’t know if it’s to save time or just to create some exclusive culture with its own language, but acronyms are de rigueur in the world of tech.
Having grown up in a sports family, to me, MVP stands for “most valuable player.” The best. The top. So, when I hear MVP with regards to this project, I think of what the perfect, ideal product would be.
But from the context of this conversation, I had a feeling my manager meant something different. So I slowly countered, “I don’t think I understand. What do you mean by MVP?”
“Minimal viable product.”
According to Wikipedia, “a minimum viable product (MVP) is a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers and provide feedback for future product development.” So, you know, the opposite of what I originally thought.
I sat there shocked. The perfectionist in me was appalled at the idea of releasing something that was just the bare minimum. Nor did I expect this to be something that was encouraged in a company with seemingly limitless resources.
But upon further reflection, I started to understand the sentiment. Facebook used to have an internal mantra: “Move fast and break things”. The idea was to just get something released (even if there were bugs or we knew things wouldn’t work perfectly) in order to test and iterate. With so many people using Facebook, it would be quick to get enough data to see how to update/fix things. Of course, this didn’t really account for the damaging effects on public opinion, so I should mention that this is no longer a motto (now, it’s just “Move Fast”).
After the meeting, I begrudgingly revisited the project and tried to “trim the fat”, figuring out what was the bare minimum we could do to get this website released. I hated it. But we got the project completed. Well, a version of the project. And it was another thing I could check off my list.
So, why am I talking about some project I did back in my days in tech? Well, it hasn’t been until this sabbatical, and really in these last few months as I’ve prepared for the arrival of our little guy, that I’ve finally understood the value of just aiming for the minimal viable product, the MVP.
Because working toward the MVP isn’t necessarily about compromising and accepting less; it’s about prioritizing and really identifying what’s most important.
Here’s a big example:
When Ryan and I ultimately decided that we would stay in our current apartment rather than moving, we knew we had a lot of work to get done in order to fix up our place and make it comfortable for our expanding family. In my head, I had this picture of what our perfect, redesigned apartment would look like and set out to make an extensive project plan and schedule.
But, of course, life got in the way. And we quickly got behind. I soon became overwhelmed balancing the apartment revamp with other obligations like school, theater, work, etc. This undertaking seemed daunting, and I had no idea how we were going to get everything done.
Then, I realized. We don’t need to get everything done.
So, Ryan and I sat down and sorted our to-do’s into four categories:
- Can wait
And like that, a weight was lifted off of my chest. This task was suddenly conquerable.
And with the baby due any day now, I can say that we’ve pretty much made it through our ‘must-haves’ and have even checked off some of the ‘love-to-haves’ and ‘like-to-haves’.
It’s not that we won’t get to the other items on our list. We just don’t need to feel the pressure to get to them right now.
Because when everything is important, nothing is important.