Did Covid change software development for the better?

The idea for the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) methodology for software development first appeared 20 years ago, becoming mainstream with the 2011 publication of The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Getting an application to MVP level has become the way enterprises create products that have just enough features to attract early adopters, providing the feedback needed to validate or abandon a product early on in its development cycle before too much money has been spent.

This agile methodology is supposed to enable enterprises to get products to market quicker. But in reality, there was often more talk about MVP than actually putting it to good use—and when Covid hit, suddenly, enterprises were under huge pressure to survive. The focus shifted from identifying what was the best product or platform to how to serve customers now, and save the business. As a result, we need a ‘Corona Viable Product (CVP)’ philosophy instead—one that focuses on meeting immediate requirements, rather than an MVP that focuses more on desirable features.

Companies are turning to CVP 

MVP is meant to be about making businesses agile and pushing through change quickly. The MVP is the functional first version of a product, used to test demand and usability before businesses invest further in the development of digital products and services, such as online shops, content portals, marketplaces or mobile apps. The original idea was, let’s try this out and see what’s really working and let’s see what has an impact. This was lost in translation over the past 20 years.

A whole billion-dollar industry evolved around MVP, especially within consultancies that tried to sell the MVP approach. And when it was hijacked by consultancies, MVP lost its way. It was no longer about creating a minimum feature set and just pushing it out to customers. In the worst-case scenario, it became about selling more Scrum Master webinars or badges.

MVP was invented at a time when there were no smartphones and the focus was mainly on the desktop environment. Digital experiences were still very mediocre or even poor. As e-commerce technology has been commoditized, the ‘how’ question is getting much more attention. It is not about what is the best operating system for mobile or what is the best way of delivering the e-commerce experience, or about what is the best logo for click and collect. CVP is about how can we deliver faster and on the ideas that work right now for all departments across our pandemic-battered brands. 

Things move fast in Covid times 

Companies are pivoting and doing this. In Spring 2020, as the coronavirus crisis took hold, using a CVP approach German hypermarket retailer Globus built a Click & Collect marketplace in under a fortnight, something that in pre-Covid times might well have taken more than a year. With an existing Click & Collect offering, Globus was initially well positioned to meet the challenges of a lockdown.

However when a partner filed for insolvency, the Click & Collect service came under threat. Nonetheless, Covid-19 meant it was imperative for Globus to be able to continue serving customers with little contact. CVP-style thinking allowed the retailer to get new commerce technology for Click & Collect live in just two weeks.

Carmaker Toyota also profited from a CVP approach during the pandemic. Jens Brech, Director Customer Experience and Network Quality at Toyota, says, “Our showrooms had to close, so people who needed to buy a new car could not physically visit us. We had cars in showrooms and customers wanting cars but we had no platform to connect them, so we needed to meet customer demands and keep our retailers alive.”

A CVP was what was needed: “We needed a solution now, but the expectation was we would get a solution in two or three months, which in normal times was very fast for us, but not acceptable in the crisis. Nonetheless, we were able to switch on the new vehicle stock locator on our website in three weeks, which was unbelievable.”

When it comes to making CVP rapid adoption possible, changing mindset is often a bigger challenge than changing the underlying tech. Globus and Toyota knew that when their stores closed, they needed to get the product in front of customers fast; there was an immediate understanding of this requirement because they had the right mindset. The more people are involved in decision-making, the more people need to be educated on the CVP approach. In fact, we know this ourselves—we have adopted the CVP approach internally and we are focused on doing things faster. For instance, we have agreed to stop discussing things in a way that will prevent us from doing and executing.

CVP is here to stay 

CVP does not replace MVP, it solves a different problem. MVP might still be the better approach to product development, focusing on building minimal viable products. But when it’s all about acting fast to save your business, then MVP is not the way to go.

The era of monolithic software platforms is drawing to a close. Businesses understand that they have to be in control of software development. They can’t rely on vendors that don’t allow rapid change. They can’t afford to wait for code changes and new features. Using a modern packaged business capabilities (PBC) approach results in software that makes you flexible enough to respond. The PBC approach works hand in hand with CVP to focus on speedy delivery of software products.

Of course, legacy e-commerce technology gave people what they wanted at that time—an online shop. Now, e-commerce technology has been democratized. With platforms such as Shopify, even a small local store can set up an online shop within a day, something that 20 years ago was exclusive to enterprise companies. Now that all companies have e-commerce platforms, businesses that can adapt fast are winning. Those that cannot adapt to new customers or to market change are losing.

The CVP approach is not a temporary sticking plaster in response to the pandemic. Now that businesses have had a taste of how projects can be accelerated, CVP will change software development for good. It doesn’t matter about the size of the business, funding resources or the number of stores you have. The CVP approach is all about accelerating your business. Companies that can adapt to this principle can respond quickly to changing market conditions of all kinds—and that’s why CVP is more relevant than MVP to real-world, 2021-style software development in a time of crisis.

Boris Lokschin, e-commerce expert, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Spryker

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