Agile · Innovation · Product management

Minimum viable business case

I had the chance last week to “attend” a virtual product management conference with some great presenters. Many of the sessions generated great food for thought that I expect I will be processing and blogging about over the next few months. The very first session by the conference organizer raised an idea I wanted to explore further.

The conference was called The Everyday Innovator Summit and was organized by Chad McAllister who hosts a podcast of the same name. He led an opening session entitled Gain A Larger Product Management Mindset in which he shared the picture below.

IDEA framework

While there is a ton of information captured in this IDEA Framework for discovering and advancing solid innovations, the one box here that stood out to me is found in the lower left; there Chad highlights the value of creating what he calls a “minimum viable business case.” If you’ve been reading my blog you may have seen me write about the concept of a minimum viable product (I wrote about here for instance) and that is likely a familiar concept to folks involved in Agile product development. But pairing that with the idea of a minimum viable business case was a new idea to me and one that I really liked.

At my firm we started something similar about six months ago. In order to help people across the company take their ideas for product enhancements forward we proposed what we called a prioritization framework. In that context we asked people who had ideas to work with a member of our product team to fill out a very simple template centered around two questions:

  1. What is the business problem you are trying to solve? Any good idea should focus on solving a clearly identified business problem and so we have asked people to articulate in a few sentences what that problem is. We also ask for some evidence of that problem for existing clients or prospects so that we know this isn’t just an idea that we like internally but that no one is looking for in the market.
  2. Why is this problem worth solving? Here we want to know what benefits we or our clients will receive or what obstacles will be removed if we solve this problem. This could be new revenue, lower client churn, optionality to go deeper into an existing market or open up a new one, or improved processes that safe time and aggravation. We want to have some evidence that the work involved in solving the identified problem will payoff for us or our end users.

A brief written document outlining answers to these two questions – what is the problem to be solved and why is it worth solving – actually provides the core of a minimum viable business case. It allows our leadership team to evaluate whether an idea is worth pursuing at this point, whether it needs more investigation to understand its viability, or whether there isn’t enough compelling evidence to move forward with it. Since rolling out this simple template we have seen dozens of ideas from across the company about things we might work on. Some have been given a green light to go to a deeper stage – developing initial prototypes to validate with clients, pulling together a few people to do further research into the business problem and the specifics of the market our solution might serve, and doing preliminary estimates on the work required for transforming that minimum viable business case into a minimum viable product. Other ideas have been sent back for further refinement, and some have been shelved at least for now.

I hadn’t heard about Chad’s minimum viable business case until last week, but I was immediately struck by this insight and intrigued to see how it fit with what we were already doing.  The concept resonated with me, as did many of the ideas not only from his session but from the entire summit. We are still refining our processes and so have not incorporated all of the insights embedded in the IDEA framework of course, because in truth it’s not that simple.

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