The Beauty of Minimum Viable Decisions (MVDs)

Startups often talk about their MVP with pride. The culture exported from Silicon Valley has taught everyone that a poor-looking—and barely functioning—product is the way to go in the beginning. The idea works well, and you can find many successful companies with embarrassing early releases.

The MVP approach made me think we need something similar for decisions. There are plenty of frameworks to sort through options, foresee obstacles and determine the best approach. I personally use the 3 Os framework with my client.

3 Os
3 Os: Outcomes, Options, Obstacles

The beauty of the MVP concept is that it helps you close what I call learning gaps. These are situations where you have an assumption about how the world works, but the reality may be different. The quicker you can close learning gaps, the faster you can reach your objective of higher revenue, lower costs, higher profitability, more users, and so forth. 

Every time you make a decision, you have an opportunity to learn something. Conversely, wrong decisions show you the gap in your knowledge and how to improve in the future. For example, if your company launches a marketing campaign that flops, you will be closer to knowing your ideal customer, what they care about, and how to reach them.

You don’t want to spend too much time on a decision. Instead, you want to validate your knowledge as quickly as possible. That’s where MVDs or minimum viable decisions come into play. 

MVDs are the decisions where you don’t have all the information you wish, and you might even be embarrassed about what you know. However, you’re making the decision anyway and learning along the way. 

The Beauty of Learning Gaps

There’s plenty of talk of “life-long students” or “beginner’s mindset” in our culture today. However, to continue learning, you need to discover—and close—new learning gaps. 

Language learning has apparent learning gaps. When you’re learning a language, you’re painfully aware of everything you can’t say. For example, you might not know how to conjugate a verb in the past or how to talk about uncertainty. Over time, you close these gaps as you get closer to fluency.

Organizations also have learning gaps. The world is always shifting under a company, and gaps are constantly created. For example, inflation is changing consumer expectations for what they care about and which products are optional. Netflix started with the assumption that its customers didn’t want to watch ads. As inflation becomes rampant, Netflix has been forced to adapt by releasing something that it would have never considered in the past: an ad-supported subscription plan. 

Discovering and closing these gaps can be beautiful. They can lead to that rush of excitement when you learn something new or an idea clicks in your head. A successful company is rapidly closing these learning gaps through innovation and growth. 

Closing Gaps with MVDs

One of the strategies for closing these learning gaps is using our concept of MVDs. If we wait too long to make a decision, we could lose the opportunity, as happens to many companies who watch competitors pass them by. MVDs help individuals and companies make decisions even if they don’t feel ready

MVDs aren’t irresponsible. An organization that works in healthcare will still need to think through legal implications, but it doesn’t mean that it needs to take a long time to execute. A good MVD focuses on closing a learning gap while having contingency plans. When an MVP launches, companies are ready to grandfather users in old methods and offer specialized support to specific customers. Worse case, they maintain a feature for some time before phasing out. 

Most companies and individuals aren’t dealing with life or death risks like a surgeon. MVDs are a perfect way for companies to become comfortable with risk in small situations.

Mind the Learning Gap

Subway stations have obvious signs to remind passengers of gaps in the platform. We need a similar approach to the learning gaps all around us. It’s not enough to know what we don’t know but to do something about it. MVDs are one way to start closing these learning gaps.

Organizations tend to be highly aware of learning gaps but can be too slow to respond. Burucreative decision-making is the opposite of MVDs. By the time a company decides on a new strategy, it may find itself living in a different world.

Photo by Jo Szczepanska

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