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Feb 01, 2024

Viable > Lovable

The term "viable" (as in Minimum Viable Product or MVP) may be the least understood term in software development. In common parlance, an MVP is often used to describe something that sucks but may get better. This negative connotation causes many to prefer the term Minimum Lovable Product (MLP). "Viable," as it is often understood, means unlovable.

I would like to redeem the word "viable" because it has a lot more to offer than lovable. I think of viable as having some kind of advantage that would make a customer choose it over another option (either a competing product or making do without it).

Thinking about viability in this way helps you ask better questions to understand the value of the solution. What problem are we solving and are customers motivated to solve it? What alternatives are there? Why is this solution better?

Viability in a mature market is very different than in a new category. In a mature market, viability depends on differentiation: a new approach, a different price point, etc. In a new category, viability depends on customers relating to the problem and understanding the benefits of solving it in an innovative way.

The company behind the solution also factors into its viability. For a portfolio software company (that sells many solutions into an enterprise) viability for a product could mean being almost as good as a best of breed choice -- appealing to customers who want the simplicity or savings of a single vendor. For example, most users prefer Slack and Zoom but enterprises often buy MS Teams. Startups have a higher viability bar. Their solution needs to be appealing enough to overcome any concerns about the instability of the company or friction from dealing with another vendor.

Pricing factors into viability. People will not invest in a costly solution to a minor problem.

We lose all of this nuance when we talk about "lovable." A viable product can still be lovable but what makes a product successful is its viability.