This blog article was written prior to LEO Learning becoming part of GP Strategies.
An MVP—or minimum viable product—mindset is a forward-thinking concept in learning design and delivery that can transform the speed and effectiveness of the learning development process and, in turn, benefit your organization. In this article, we explore the value of the MVP mindset in L&D, as well as its challenges and enablers, and dispel some common myths about MVP mindsets.
An MVP mindset is often considered a radical approach in the traditional world of learning in business. Starting to employ this mindset isn’t always comfortable, but it can be incredibly powerful as a strategy. It’s often only brought about by wanting to push a piece of learning out quickly. However, if followed up properly, this way of working can lead to huge improvements in the relevance, efficiency, and value of the learning delivered.
Working with an MVP mindset requires an appetite for experimentation and a willingness to learn. There are many misconceptions about the MVP mindset in learning. By learning about MVP mindsets and exploring some of the most common myths and challenges, organizations can use that knowledge to create successful outcomes for their learners.
What Is an MVP?
An MVP is a minimum viable product—it does just enough to validate an early hypothesis and allow it to be built upon. It’s focused on meeting the needs of your people by consulting on what they want, triggered by a first pass, simple but working solution. An MVP is often used to release and test an idea with early users and gather feedback, which is then used to further develop the product.
The world of learning design and development traditionally follows a waterfall process—full design, build to design, test, and release. An MVP mindset in learning is very different. It involves rolling out a workable but simplified version of a learning product, and testing and gathering feedback before developing further iterations until it reaches a level of agreed completion.
Why Adopt an MVP Mindset?
There are many reasons why an MVP mindset can benefit your learning development approach. Here are three of the key benefits.
1) Speed to Delivery
Compared with a traditional approach, an MVP mindset will often result in a much quicker initial release to the learners. As the first usable iteration will be developed quickly and rolled out to your people for their feedback, they’ll benefit from the first contact with learning much sooner.
2) Design Based on Real Need and Relevance
Unlike a traditional, complete “full design to build and release” learning solution, working with an MVP approach will provide learners with a core release straight away. Once they’ve completed this, they then give feedback to managers and learning providers about what they need to know more about next, or how to improve the value of the experience. Their input and feedback directly influence the ongoing design, and the next iteration, based on their real need.
3) Triggering a Continuous Improvement Mindset
Everything in an organization—and indeed the world—changes quickly, so it’s very easy for content from a year ago to quickly become invalid. Historically, L&D has often been quite slow to respond to organizational needs as they evolve, let alone keep content up to date at all times. Additionally, there can sometimes be too much of a focus on perfection and “overdesign,” and these ideas may be preventing learning from moving at pace. Adopting an MVP mindset embeds the idea of continuous improvement and evolution into the way of working—building resilience in the organization through constant reflection and change.
4) Learners Like Shorter Learning Experiences
Today’s learners are busy, and many are finding they want to learn in bite-sized chunks in the flow of work. By adopting an MVP mindset—essentially meaning we create learning that starts with just enough to meet the needs of the learners—the learning often evolves to be much more focused and modular. This allows learners to digest a concept or a piece of information, go away and experiment with this learning in their role, and then come back to the learning again for more, later. A shorter learn-apply cycle also means that learners are able to absorb and retain information over longer periods of time, leading to greater efficacy through spaced practice.
An Example of MVP Mindset at Work
An MVP mindset can be applied to many learning topics. Take, for example, an organization that is struggling to carry out and document effective appraisals.
Instead of creating a traditional two-hour eLearning course that covers all aspects of appraisals, we establish what a set of core MVP learning components are to meet the learner’s initial needs and address them in a simple but useful learning first asset set. For example, we might decide that the MVP is a quick reference checklist and a short video to explain the core principles of a good appraisal. We then roll out this MVP to managers for them to use and put into practice. We gather their feedback straight after engagement: What was useful, and why? What was missing? What would they like more of? What would they like to know next?
Having used the initial checklist and video, managers may feed back to us that they find the most challenging aspect of appraisals to be around how to drive difficult conversations to a positive result. With this information, we’ve learned that we need to create a module that covers this particular challenge, so this becomes our next focus. If, on the other hand, a manager feeds back that they struggle with filling in the relevant paperwork after the appraisal has taken place, we can produce a module on effectively filling in the appraisal forms.
We may continue with this iterative method, responding to feedback and, within a number of iterations, the set of components has become a much more useful set of tools, based on real need. In this case, the resulting blend could include drop-in sessions, scenarios, best practice stories, community boards, links to external resources, HR, and managers’ resources.
Instead of a traditional “design everything you need to know” learning solution, we’re involving our learners experimentally and then exploiting the resulting feedback loop to build the story together with the learner.
We can also use this method to learn what format an organization’s learners respond to best. For example, if we were to try a small scenario in one of the first releases, we could gather feedback on whether or not this worked effectively for the learners. If they found the scenario useful, we could create a set of linked situations as we move through the annual appraisal process, adding extra components to the blend as we go.
4 Key Challenges for Establishing an MVP Mindset
Many learning organizations have been creating learning using the waterfall methodology for decades, so to move from that into any other way of thinking is inherently difficult. A new mindset requires letting go of some foundations of the way we used to work. An MVP mindset requires bravery. Below are four key challenges when adopting an MVP mindset.
1) It Requires Project Manager Acceptance of Experimentation
A key component of working in an MVP mindset is a more agile way of developing learning, that not only builds a solution iteration by iteration, but is dependent on trying things out, seeing how they work, and then improving them or trying something different. This way of working requires an acceptance or permission to experiment, and the understanding that the feedback may initially seem negative before it gets better. It can be difficult for some waterfall-based project managers to see the positivity in a process based on constant reflection and change.
2) Learning Designers Must Be Comfortable Producing Simple Solutions
Starting with a release that is a MVP requires bravery and a willingness to publish a simple but, what you believe to be, a workable solution, and work onwards from this. It often takes courage to declare learning “good enough” but not perfect. Learning designers sometimes overcomplicate as they work hard to create an award-winning, first-time version. An MVP is far simpler to create in the first instance and the journey to success may depend more on the process than the creativity of the designer—something that is also sometimes hard for a creative designer to accept.
3) Stakeholders Have to Lower Their Initial Expectations
Learners need to both understand that this is a new way of participating in the learning process, and that they will see a version of something that will then be improved upon over time. The first version release will most likely not be the finished, complete solution. If a learner is receiving MVP learning content, they’ll need to accept it for what it is, work with it, give good feedback to improve it, and understand that’s how the process works. Many learners aren’t used to engaging in this way, so it’s important to manage expectations at the start of the process.
4) Procurement Departments Must Be Flexible
With MVP-based projects, procurement departments cannot contract to a detailed statement of work, because no one knows exactly what form the final version will take. This way of working requires a change to an agile mindset based on a broader set of goals or a number of sprints or days to be worked, and it may require more flexibility and openness to change than usual.
3 Key Ways of Enabling an MVP Mindset
Despite the potential challenges of an MVP mindset, there are several enablers that can help streamline the process.
1) Be Clear About MVP’s Limitations and Expectations
It’s vital to be clear with learners and stakeholders about what they’re getting involved in, and why it’s a process that results in a fully relevant, optimal solution. It’s also important to be clear with the development team about how the iterative build process will work. It’s a good idea to run a set of practice workshops on working in an MVP and agile way before you embark on a project in this mode—doing so ensures everyone involved will understand and know what to expect at every step of the process.
2) Establish a Culture of Transparency and Trust
Transparency and trust among all parties are crucial to the success of the project. An MVP mindset is very much a two-way conversation between learners and developers and cannot be achieved without this communication. Learners will value knowing they’re being listened to and that the learning is going to be improved based on their feedback. If learners can see that something has been changed since they last used the resource, a level of trust will be built up between the learners and developers.
3) Create a Collaborative Culture of Delivery
Everyone who is a stakeholder in the learning content experience—learners, subject matter experts (SMEs), and developers—work in collaboration, and everyone has a part to play in creating the best results. This can work very well if your organization already has a collaborative culture. In a more hierarchical or compartmentalized working environment, you may need to gently establish collaborative reflection and feedback loops before adopting a whole new development approach.
MVP Learning Solutions – 5 Common Myths Dispelled
Although there are many benefits to adopting an MVP mindset, there are also various misconceptions when it comes to MVP processes.
Myth 1: “It Will Never Be Finished” or “We’ll Be Stuck in a Permanent Beta Phase”
The Reality: The process will finish when you’re ready to finish it. If you feel that what you have reached your set goal expectations and is serving the intended purpose, it’s time to stop iterating. However, continuous development and feedback-based improvement is an important part of an ongoing success culture, regardless of the mindset with which it was originally developed.
Myth 2: “We’ll Spend a Lot of Money on Constant Evaluation”
The Reality: For any learning solution to be effective, it’s important to continuously evaluate and gather feedback in order to improve. The evaluation and feedback process for your MVP learning solution doesn’t need to be excessive, and it may be in part compensated for by not spending so much on a design phase at the start of the project. And the feedback doesn’t need to be a burden on the learners. Once a learner has completed one of the appraisal modules, for example, it will typically only take them a few minutes to give feedback about what they used, what they liked, or what else they feel is needed.
Myth 3: “It Will Take Longer Than a Traditional Method”
The Reality: On the contrary—with an MVP mindset, you can roll out an initial learning solution much faster. The iterative design process will only take as long as you need it to. Moreover, the decision to continue to iterate and take longer will be yours at each stage of the process.
Myth 4: “We Can’t Release Less-Than-Perfect Learning Materials”
The Reality: Good enough is just that—good enough. It’s important that your learners are involved in the process and that they understand that they’re seeing an MVP as part of a process to drive greater relevance and usefulness. It’s more likely that they will respond well to being involved. You may choose to test earlier iterations with a smaller, more focused user group, and then once you’ve gathered feedback and developed the solution further, open it up to a wider team.
Myth 5: “This Is Just Another Name for Agile Learning Development”
The Reality: Deploying an MPV mindset is about working in a more agile way, yes, but it is more about shifting the relationship between the developers and users of the learning than working in sprints. Learners, managers, SMEs, and developers are involved in an MVP learning solution in a very different way, which leads to a richer and more relevant outcome for your learners. Your organization as a whole will become wiser and more engaged.
Final Thoughts on Bringing the MVP Mindset to Your Learning
Deploying an MVP mindset in the way you develop your learning requires an openness to experimentation, critical feedback, and flexibility. Using this mindset can lead to hugely successful outcomes for your learners and your organization.
Even if you don’t decide to adopt the approach, you should consider adopting at least one part of an MVP mindset: at the start of the design process, ask what an MVP solution might contain. This will give you a clear idea of your core learning goal and need right from the start.