Emergency Minimum Viable Product in a Time of COVID

Business and Covid virus


We’re a full twenty years into talking about agile development and Lean Product Management, so I assume that everyone has at least heard the term Minimum Viable Product (MVP). In ordinary times, I’m the first to encourage people to look for a different perspective, the Earliest Lovable Product (see Henrik Kniberg’s description of Earliest Lovable Product if you want a great take on that).
These are not ordinary times.

From mom and pop restaurants to large grocery chains to equipment manufacturers who have historically sold through distributors, the market that COVID-19 has brought to us is unlike any other. In some cases, it has accelerated trends that were already occuring, like the need for manufacturers to have a direct relationship with buyers. In other cases, it has brought completely new challenges, like the inability to offer a dine-in experience.

Suddenly, the bare minimum is more than acceptable. It’s mandatory.If you’re looking at a 90% decrease in revenue, anything that moves the needle TODAY helps. A perfect solution that takes six months might leave you out of business. Faced with the need to establish new business models in a hurry, what should you NOT do?



  1. DON’T pretend this will be over soon. In a few weeks, we’ll BEGIN to move to a new normal. It will be months before we’re completely there, and we don’t know exactly what the new normal looks like.
  2. DON’T try for a perfect solution. Good now is better than better later.
  3. DON’T overspend. Your cash flow is already hurting. Stop the bleeding, then use the improved cash flow
  4. DON’T paint yourself in a corner. Preserving options is almost as important as preserving cash flow. When we reach the new normal, you need to be able to take advantage of it.

So, what SHOULD you do?


  1. Identify the fastest paths to servicing your old customers or new customers. Even if that means pretending it’s 1997 and putting a form up on a website so that a customer can submit an inquiry and have you call them back to take the order.
  2. Identify the specific problems you need to solve to service customers. If you have to move from a channel sales model to a direct model overnight, someone has to figure out how to ship product to your buyer.
  3. Prioritize the problems based solely on how they impact your ability to collect revenue and meet your service commitments.
  4. Assign every problem to ONE specific owner who is motivated and trustworthy.
  5. Assign a date for solving every problem. Remember, an okay solution by the due date beats a perfect solution two weeks later.
  6. Give that person clear direction about cost or compliance constraints.
    As soon as they solve that issue, hand them the next most urgent issue.
  7. Repeat until we reach a point where the combination of your old revenue streams coming back online and the contribution from your new revenue streams stabilizes the business.


Then, we all get to figure out the new normal together.

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