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Introducing the Minimum Political Product (MPP)

You may have heard of the term MVP or Minimum Viable Product. This article is about a related concept: the Minimum Political Product, or MPP.

A MVP is the minimum product you can deliver to satisfy some initial set of customers. Then based on feedback from those initial customers, you deliver more features or tools. For an MVP, you deliver a usable product early and are able to test it iteratively. This reduces overall risk and hopefully means you don’t waste time delivering features that aren’t needed. Think of it as just in time product delivery grounded in customer value.

In contrast, the MPP or Minimum Political Product is grounded in political value.

You first need to recognize when you are in MPP land and second, how to manage your MPP.

Recognize when you need to deliver a MPP

Below are some signs you are on the hook for a MPP:

We “know” we need to do “this”. You are told it needs to be done and it’s going to be valuable but there’s no data or user research to back up the statement. We just “know” it must be done. And the solution or approach is pre-selected. At best, you have limited evidence that shows it’s the right solution or approach.

It’s narrowly driven. One or two people are driving or requesting it and you have trouble finding any one else who thinks this is a big issue to address or to address in this way. Alternatively, it was approved/green lighted outside the typical decision-making process.

Short term planning focus. Any planning discussions focus on the short term. Long term maintenance or viability never come up (because that’s not really what we’re worried about).

The deadline is not tied to the work. It has an extreme deadline regardless of how much time it takes to do the work. This means that they need the MPP by a specific date for a specific opportunity. Success is measured on being able to announce something for that date.

Managing your MPP

Now that you know you have an MPP, below are some tips to manage your MPP.

Assess if you can turn your MPP into a MVP. Does the MPP point to some larger issue or challenge that should be solved regardless of its MPP status? If so, try to pull in that larger issue and see if you can take steps towards solving it. Call it your stealth problem or opportunity statement.

Incorporate at least some research. Depending on the product and timeline, you may not have much time. But sneak in some time for research no matter what. Below are some simple, quick ways to do research depending on the project:

  • Email some friends. Can you quickly find who else has done anything like this or dealt with this issue before? Have some quick phone calls.
  • Talk to some users. If there are end users, grab a couple and do some quick interviews. You never know when you might come up with a great quote to use in your efforts to make this a stronger project.
  • Review prior reports or efforts. Make sure you understand what’s been done to date. If nothing at all has been done – find out why. You need to understand this in order to know if you can leverage anything or conversely, avoid some big mistakes.
  • Do some quick data analysis. If there is data about the problem, try to pull up some high level numbers that either characterize the issue or solution.

Scale your effort / approach appropriately. Based on the prior two steps, scale your effort appropriately. If your research suggests there is a real underlying issue or opportunity, focus on that portion. If that’s not the case, focus on delivering just the MPP.

Identify the key political requirements. To deliver an MPP, you need to know what the political requirements are. If this is a political product, it’s been in the news, discussed or covered in some fashion. You need to dig that up and find out what the key political issues are and how it’s been treated. Your MPP sponsor may or may not divulge this directly.

You’ll likely also receive specific instructions on what is needed/not. You need to make sure you address those instructions. If you don’t receive specifics, make sure you ask questions to find out. You’ll have to assess your sponsor to determine if you can change their mind based on any research you’ve done.

Present key tradeoffs for decisions. A MPP will usually involve some serious tradeoffs between time, cost and quality. Don’t try to make these decisions yourself. Instead, identify and present these tradeoffs to your MPP stakeholders as early as you can. Since it’s an MPP – they are the only ones that can make what are political not product decisions! For example, if the deadline is all important, they will know best if they can suffer some quality criticisms.

Lastly, if you find that you’re spending more time delivering MPPs than MVPs, you should step back and reassess your role. While we all need to deliver the occasional MPP, too many MPPs can strain your and your team’s morale over time.

Joy Bonaguro is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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