The Engineer’s Paradox

When wrestling with finding Product Market fit, via a Minimum Viable Product, (MVP), I constantly find myself referring to an issue I call the Engineer’s Paradox:

Engineers want to build for adoption, that is a carefully designed system that accommodates user adoption with the requisite features and performance they require, or else they will risk losing customers. Yet, to truly understand what users want, and how they will use the system, one needs to release a “suboptimal” product in order to gain customer feedback.

So, if you release junk early, no one will ever want what you build, but if you release a fully operational system too late, it may not conform to what user’s want. So, let’s see how we can find a happy medium…

Overcoming the Paradox
Getting to MVP requires a disciplined desire to understand the real market use cases, and how the product can adapt to that. So it is essential to compromise the technology in search of that. To do so you can:

  • Find a group of dedicated users who can give you active feedback on your intended solution
  • Find a group of desired users who you can watch do their common tasks, using their existing methods, otherwise known as ethnography
  • Find as many real applications as you can to “dogfood” your own product
  • Show off your demo to as many people as you can – no “stealth mode”

All of the above need a comfort with the notion that technology is easily adjusted, but building markets is difficult. So, rather than build the elegant thing no one will use, instead try to engage the market as soon as possible through various prototypes. Moreover, if you have a close relationship with an early market, where you show genuine effort to incorporate feedback and respond quickly, you’ll be surprised how much they’re willing to tolerate. So, the overall approach is a great way to manage their user experience.

The greatest perfection is imperfection
I’m sure Lucilio Vanini wasn’t referring to product-market fit, when he said “perfection depends on incompleteness” (or “perfectio propter imperfectionem”).

If you’re still concerned, take comfort – odds are no one will use your early product anyway.

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