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At BeyondCurious, Minimum Viable Findings (MVF) are central to our ability to break qualitative, contextual research down into smaller chunks that fit within a two-week sprint cycle. The term MVF first surfaced as a riff on Minimum Viable Product, or MVP, the software abbreviation for the least you can do (minimum) and still have a real version of whatever it is you are building (viable product).
Minimum Viable Findings may be a pun, but the ability to break qualitative research down into smaller chunks, delivering findings in as little as two weeks is no joke. Because this practice is so new, I wanted to spend some time here elucidating the principle of Minimum Viable Findings, and how we put it in to practice.
BeyondCurious has a unique approach to problem solving: Innovation@Speed. Without going into too much detail, I will say that our lean, integrated teams craft strategies and build digital products that help large brands get to market quickly. Because of our accelerated approach to product development, doing research in a “waterfall” or sequential matter as most firms practice, doesn’t typically work—as the research findings come far too late to be of use to anyone. Instead we have developed Agile Research.
MVF is a critical part of our agile research approach. It’s how we are able to do research in two-week sprints. Focusing on minimum viable findings allows us to use the same techniques—like ethnography, in-context research, and contextual user experience testing—that we’ve always used in our evidence-based design methodology. But the difference is that instead of boiling the ocean, we hold ourselves accountable to a specific inquiry.
The benefits of this approach are that while we get answers to the things that we need to know to project forward, the findings are also grounded in larger context. Because Agile Research sprints are sequential we get to ‘bank” the stuff that may not be relevant for our particular area of inquiry for later sprints. When that information accumulates through several sprints, we are able to build experience strategy principles and models of the experience like we would in a more traditional approach to qualitative research.
So how can you apply MVF to your own research? Here are some tips:
- Identify key areas of inquiry. Your key areas of inquiry are your north star. With MVF, it’s both your research objective and your deliverable. In the planning stages, ask yourself- what are your minimum viable findings? In other words, when you exit this sprint, what is it that you MUST know?
- Align with client and team. It’s all very well for the research team to agree on MVF targeted research objectives. But it’s useless unless you’ve also gained alignment with your internal team and your client. I can’t stress how important this is. You must insist on focus, so that you can deliver the MVF that your team needs to push the product forward.
In The Field:
- Focus. Stay focused on the prize: focus on getting to those answers; your minimum viable findings. Keep reminding yourself of your MVF. Go back to them. If possible, post them on the wall. Remind everyone on the internal and client team about your objectives.
- Be open. Keep your eyes wide open. Know that you are going to learn more than just MVF; report on/capture what you learn. Make sure that you capture all the extraneous insights that seem so obvious to you now, so that you can return to them later.
- Focus. You’ve learned so much, but make sure that the MVF is the centerpiece of your analysis and report-back. If possible, make recommendations on how to address the MVFs.
- Expand. Report other opportunities to push the prototype forward—the non-MVF things you learned.
- Do it all over again. Make a recommendation of what to test next. Know what your next set of MVFs will be.
- Take a step back. The power of Agile Research is that the findings are cumulative. Don’t forget to build in time to your overall sprint plan to do meta-analysis. Your MVFs are key to pushing the product forward but when you look back at all the data you have accumulated you will see larger themes. Build off of what you have seen in sprint-over-sprint, and develop experience strategy principles and experience models to guide the path forward.
Minimum Viable Findings are an essential organizing principle for sprint-based research and they are a critical tool for facilitating alignment and progress with client and internal teams. They are also the powerful basis for a broad and deep understanding of your user. When the MVF’s and attendant findings start to accumulate they tell a powerful, comprehensive story. If you use these findings to build Experience Strategy Principles and Experience Models, you will have incredibly powerful tools that can help clients understand their customers better, inform business strategy, and point to opportunities to make the experience better.
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