Why create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?

The concept of creating a Minimum Viable Product (aka MVP) before investing in a full featured product has been frequently written about in the past few years.  What is a MVP you ask?  Everybody seems to have to have their own definition or analogy, but one of the best I've seen lately that helps explain this concept to anybody (even someone not experienced in technology or building products) was created by Anders Ramsay here.  He writes:

The Hudson Bay Company, which sold provisions and gear to fur-trappers in northern Canada, encouraged their weather-beaten customers to conduct a “Hudson Bay Start.”  This meant that, after they’d finished picking up their gear and provisions from the northern Canada store, they’d make a couple hours trek into the woods, set up camp, and then just stay there for a few days.  Now, why would they do that?  Hey, they ain’t gonna be doin’ no fur-trappin’ that close to town.  No, what they were doing was conducting an MVP.

The gear and provisions they had brought with them represented their best prediction of what they’d need over a period of several weeks in the Northern Territories. Simply camping out in the woods for a few days quickly revealed any major flaws in this prediction.  The cost of making this discovery at that point was low, just a couple hours trek into town. Making the same discovery out in the middle of nowhere might be costly indeed.

So which part of this is the MVP?  The process of selecting gear at the supply shop?  The camping out in the woods to see if they had the right gear?  The discoveries they made by doing this?

The answer is…all of the above.

Making decisions on the best way to create an MVP is difficult.  But thinking about it in terms of what am I testing (what gear do I need to worry about), how do I test it (deciding to hike only a few hours out of town), and what have I learned (did I have all the gear I needed) is a great analogy to keep in mind that can make framing discussions a little easier.