In the field of entrepreneurship, and more broadly in the arena of new product development, the term minimum viable product (MVP) is very much in vogue. Coined by Frank Robinson and popularized by Eric Ries and Steve Blank, an MVP is a prototype with just enough features for early adopters to test and provide feedback to the developers.
I’m always on the hunt for new metaphors and it struck me today that this concept translates nicely into presentation design and knowledge-work in general. Instead of minimum viable product, consider the minimum viable presentation.
Imagine a person senior to you, perhaps your boss or another executive, asks you to create a presentation or requests some data. They have asked you for a WHAT and maybe they were even prescriptive about HOW to assemble the information. Regardless of their positional authority, you have the right and the obligation to work with them to understand the business objective (problem or opportunity) they are trying to address.
What strategic lever are they trying to pull? What decision are they trying to make that will lead to incremental action? In the course of problem solving to find the “WHY,” you may find: (a) the request was spot-on, (b) the request was not necessary, (c) the request was reasonable but there is a better way to address it, (d) there is an even bigger question you agree to go after. By analogy, start-ups must identify the core customer need their product addresses.
With the “WHY” established, turn your attention to the designing (at least in broad brushstrokes) what the optimal solution would look like. For the executive who requested the information from you, perhaps the solution is a mobile-friendly, real-time dashboard with alerting and visualization. For start-ups, the analogy is scoping the ultimate product to build if time and money were no object.
Finally park the optimal solution in the back of your mind and build the minimum viable presentation. This is the presentation that answers just the WHY… no more and no less. Often, you do not need a presentation at all – a conversation, Excel spreadsheet, or email may suffice. Even if you need to create slides, just address the WHY in the most efficient way possible. As you build the “infrastructure” to answer the question, knowledge of the optimal solution tells you where to apply brute force and where to design for reuse or expansion.