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The importance of good enough: “Greener Air”MVPs

Watch Alex Cowan talk about MVPs using the product example of Greener Air plant air filters.
We talked about how important MVPs are to successfully exiting the discovery phase, creating a focal point for that and having a practical vehicle to iterate through the validation phase. And it’s a lot about practice, so I thought I would do yet another fictional and hopefully fun example. This company, Greener Air, runs commercial nurseries that sell to retail. They’ve noticed all these posts about how plants can clean your air, and a NASA study that’s getting a lot of circulation. So, they thought, let’s go out and try to talk to some of the people that are reading those and see what this is about, because maybe, there’s a business here for us.
And they discovered that there is Heather the urban homeowner, who wants to have plants that clear her air, because she’s worried about air quality. And Henry the homeowner, who lives in a big city, and he wants cleaner air for his kids. And they think that there might be an opportunity here for them, but they’re not sure. So, there’s a intrepid product manager running a customer validation test now, where they’re going to use some MVPs to think about how they might prove or disprove whether there’s value here and there’s some kind of business they should pursue.
The problem scenarios here are, really kind of the parent problem scenario is keeping the households healthy. It’s kind of useful sometimes to think about the hierarchy of these. And then one of those, one of many, the only one that’s really pertinent to these guys is managing air quality.
One thing that I’ll note about these problem scenarios, make sure that they are neutral, make sure they apply equally well to the alternative as they do to whatever your proposition is. And the reason why that’s important is you’re trying to be unbiased and objectively test these things like a scientist. So for example, if you said it doesn’t work to manage air quality with an air filter, or making sure that you get plants to manage your air quality. Those are sort of self-fulfilling, leading problem scenarios. And I wouldn’t use those because they won’t lead to this nice focused, objective diagnosis of all right, look, there are these alternatives, there’s these things that we could do.
We are or we are not better than those alternatives. because remember, you’re not trying to prove, you’re trying to test, you know what I mean? When I hear about people proving their assumptions I think, well, then what if they’re disproved, then what happens? Was that a bad outcome? No, it’s not a bad outcome, that’s a good outcome. The only bad outcome is if you don’t run good objective tests and get to the right answer efficiently. The alternatives are doing nothing, getting an air filter. And they think that if they can get these people the right plans in the right place so that the plants are healthy and they flourish.
And the right amount of plants and the right type of plant, that they can say, yes, this one has been proven to create cleaner air. Then they think that that’s going to be valuable to the customer and they’ll sell them over the Internet or maybe dispatch orders, like FTD does, to their retail customers, for a fee, something like that. They’ll worry about the specifics of the business model a little bit later. What would be a concierge MVP, that they could run?
There’s a lot of ways that they could get a hold of these people and say, how would they, and then simulate this experience of okay, you live in this apartment, you want some plants that clean the air and you want the plants to be healthy. Here are some options, which one would you like? Well there’s a lot of ways they could do that. They could have a Google form that they drive people to fill out and kind of qualify them and then go to their house, their apartment and walk through and say here’s some options, we’ll go get the plants for you.
They could follow up in 30, 60, 90 days and see if the plants are healthy and find some way of testing whether the household feels like like their air is better. Are you planning to buy an air filter or anything else to improve the air, that might be a good proxy for their level of comfort with their air quality. The point here is that the concierge MVP should be very generative. You’re going for a lot of depth and a lot of observation. They could tack a sales MVP on to the end of this and see if they want to refer a friend. But probably they went through and just sold them some plants over the course of this.
And so, where this is focused on being a concierge, I mean, you could argue it’s sort of a sales MVP too, because they sold it to them. But we’re not so much testing the selling process, because they’re not planning to go door to door, that we’re really testing the experience. What about a Wizard of Oz? How might we sort of simulate the experience in a relatively abstract way so that we can see if the customer ascribes value to it or not? Well, they could create kind of like an infomercial and put it online.
Here is this customer, we walked through their house and look at all the beautiful plants that they have and how we diagnosed the square footage and the lighting to decide on the number of plants, the placement of the plants. And it works so well, this person is really happy. It doesn’t always have to be a video, it could just be a website. Hey, this is what we do. Step 1, step 2, step 3, and you’re in this happy place where you’ve got the right plants in the right place, and they’re fixing your air to an adequate degree. And again, it’s very common that you’re sort of pairing this with the sales MVP. If you like that, sign up.
So they don’t just look at, do people watch this and look at this, but can we drive them to action, that’s fine to do that. What about the sales MVP itself? What if we’re just really focused on, can we sell some people some plants? There’s a whole bunch of things we could do. Obviously, the Google AdWord ads is an option. They could open a pop-up shop in a neighborhood, in a city, where they think there are a lot of these personas that they’ve qualified, that will buy the plants, and see if people come buy the plants. See if they put materials or explanations out, do the customers interact with them? Do they have questions?
They could even kind of tack a concierge MVP on the back of their sales MVP and offer to do free follow-ups with these customers. They could go door to door in places where they think there are a lot of these subjects. There’s a few options there that could work really well, go to a homeowners association. I feel like I’m running this business. It’s kind of an interesting idea, so the key thing is as a product manager, this is part of your role if you’re doing a new product. You should be the lead on running a set of sprints or iterations, to run through these and help facilitate and introduce this process of testing for value before you build stuff.
It’s an important part of the modern product manager skill set to be able to test for value and make sure that you’re going to build something valuable before you go and actually build it. I know it seems like a lot of work and it puts you on the hot seat, you have to make sure that what you’re going to build is valuable, but you should do that. If you want to be a really great product manager, I highly recommend giving this a try. You’ll have a much happier team. You’ll probably make a lot more money, you’ll certainly avoid waste.

In this video, Alex uses the example of Greener Air plant air filters to discuss creating MVPs (minimum viable products). Alex states: “It’s an important part of the modern product manager’s skill set to be able to test for value and make sure that you’re going to build something valuable before you go and actually build it.” When watching the video, did you have any other ideas for testing the value of the Greener Air product?

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