MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and why you should worry about it
Updated: Jun 1, 2021
I work in the IT industry and a phrase I hear time and time again is, “We just need to deliver the MVP.” MVP stands for minimum viable product. The software industry has a long and proud past of failing to delivery anything, or delivering something that the customer doesn't want. This is normally because the customer asked for things that he or she thought he or she wanted but didn’t, much like a three-year-old getting to eat ice cream all day long, and being upset because they have a stomach ache. One of the cures for the industry’s unique ability to charge millions of dollars for failure has been the MVP. This makes perfect sense when the customer is going to change their minds anyway, and, like a toddler, they want everything now. The MVP gives a customer something that mostly works and then makes changes based on their complaints about using the product in real life.
Sadly, there now seems to be a crossover occurring between the software industry and fiction writing. Software industry workers who’ve charged off to make their millions in self-publishing have turned the technique to writing. So, rather than trying to deliver they best book they can, they deliver a MVP. They write the book quickly, get it on Amazon, and wait for reviews before changing it. Or they use the feedback for their next book. Or, they release as rapidly as possible, and wait for someone to volunteer to edit the book for free.
They’re all about, “Hacking the process.” They’re about producing quantity, not quality. Because, as per software development, quality doesn’t matter. You just need something that kind of works. It’s also becomes all about quantity so the author doesn’t drop off the Amazon Thirty Day Cliff of Despair everyone keeps talking about. By keeping themselves in the thirty-day zone, they use Amazon to sell more books. Worse, Amazon’s algorithms encourage the behavior. Amazon wants product as fast as they can get it, and as much as they can get. But this need for product creates a feedback loop where an independent author can’t write at a considered pace because suddenly six months is too slow. There are (apparently), unicorn authors out there churning out a novel every four weeks.
I’m not knocking authors that can produce books as fast as their fingers can type. More power to them. But I have to wonder where the reader fits into this. Is the new norm that readers accept a novel riddled with spelling and grammar errors and if they want a higher quality book, they offer to fix it for the author?
In my humble opinion, a deliberate by-passing of quality seems like the ultimate slap in the face. Here’s this book that sort of works, but the author has decided they don’t want to invest any more time or energy into it until enough people have coughed up the money to pay for the fixes.
It’s an attitude that’s prevalent in the software industry but doesn’t (and shouldn’t) be made to work anywhere else. Imagine paying to see a movie where it was roughly edited, with no soundtrack, and zero special effects but at the end of the movie you had the choice to give notes to the director and then they re-released the movie with a different title (because it’s part of a trilogy) and asked you to pay to see that version as well. It would be insane.
Seeing the bat-shit methodologies of the IT world translated into the world of fiction writing breaks my heart. I don’t want to be around people who regard book writing as an ‘iterative process’ that can be ‘hacked’ so ‘whales’ (a term for people prepared to dish out a lot of cash for a product/service) can pay them loads of money.
It seems inherently wrong, but because I work in the industry I know the battle is already lost. Techniques and methodologies and data analysis will be blithely applied to anything that can make money.
Ten years from now (or less) I predict those same newly rich indie software coders/authors will have figured out how to code AI that can write a sort-of-okay novel faster than any human. And you, dear reader, will be drowning in a sea of MVP novels written on the fly by AI churning out books every 15-minutes, based on whatever genre/topic is making the most amount of money that hour.
God help us all.