Minimal Viable Progress

Published on June 14th, 2019

In his book The Lean Startup (published 2008), Eric Ries popularized the concept of a minimum viable product (MVP). Sidenote: I highly recommend reading the book if you own your own business or have an idea for a new company or product. One of the main objectives of an MVP is to release products or features as soon as possible. A rule of thumb is that this means the minute a customer could receive ANY value. By doing this, you shorten the amount of time it takes to get feedback. This is critical for many startups because it minimizes the cost (time, effort, money) to validate an idea. Before the book, there was still a tendency in the tech startup space to spend months to years on a product to get it perfect before shipping. This was all well and good IF the product was a success. However, if it missed the mark, a tremendous amount of resources was wasted on a lousy hypothesis or execution.

We can take the same concept of an MVP and apply it to our own passions and goals. Ever notice yourself wishing about going after some big dream for months, years, or even decades and yet the only progress made has been the thoughts in your mind? This hits home with me too. I see the end product so clearly and flawlessly, but I know it may take so much effort to do it right that I end up not doing anything at all. This is especially true if you have perfectionist tendencies and can’t stand the idea of revealing to the world something half-baked.

But I would challenge you just as I often challenge myself to think in smaller chunks. What would be minimum viable PROGRESS towards this dream? Is it making a phone call? 5 minutes a day of practice? Getting a coach? Interviewing someone else that has already done it? Instead of taking a leap, what is something that gets you 1 millimeter closer. A warning, thinking doesn’t count because that can leave you stationary for a lifetime.


Want an example? 7 years ago I put out a proposal for a white paper. I did this because I knew it might take me over 100 hours to complete the project, but I wanted to see if people cared enough to warrant the effort. I was overwhelmed by the response. Not only was it the most commented article I've ever posted, but there was an outpouring of people and companies willing to pay money to sponsor. This was my clear indication that this was valuable. The total amount of time it took me to write the blog post was probably 2-3 hours. However, the feedback gave me the confidence, motivation, and financial support to make progress towards the larger goal. Had I just started off on the white paper itself, I may have lost motivation before finishing. And this one document was instrumental in boosting my social status in the Drupal community, which has paid dividends for years since.

My minimum viable progress was a few hours to write one blog article. And had it failed to get any interest, I could have just walked away with closure.

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About Rick Manelius

Quick Stats: CXO of Atomic Form. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.