MMFs – enabling incremental delivery

I just checked back to see how much I’d written about MMFs (minimum marketable features). This is a technique I use and talk about a lot so I thought I’d written more that I have.

I’ll provide here a few of the ways I use MMFs and why I feel that they are so helpful when devising incremental delivery strategies.

So, first thing first. MMFs are really a business tool and are a simple technique for devising and expressing the businesses strategy for delivering some outcome. The sweet spot for this technique is in providing an escape from classical big project thinking.
The MMF describes simply the smallest set of features that could achieve some outcome. This is only useful if you have decided to operate in an incremental manner. If you would like to generate benefit (read cold hard cash) early and make decisions based on real data from experiences gained in the market place then MMFs are for you.
An MMF may focus on:

  • providing a workflow, e.g. subscription for a news letter
  • satisfying the need of some stakeholder e.g. generate a report
  • satisfying some persona e.g. advanced user

The key to an MMF is the natural provision of a scope test. Since the first “M” is minimal we should include no feature that could be removed without impact to achieving the benefit. This rule need not be applied dogmatically. However, where I have seen the technique used to greatest effect the challenge was levied often “What if we didn’t have that feature, do we still achieve our goal?”

Using MMFs effectively relies on the understanding that there will be a series of MMFs. I’ve seen dysfunctional behaviour where an organisation had a habit of planning multiple releases but delivering only release 1.

We should remember that an MMF is not a promise to release. Rather it is a recognition that some benefit could be achieved. There are many business reasons for not releasing the minimum that could work and business motivations change over time and as the development progresses. Two examples are:

  • A team with fixed release dates

This team identifies an MMF that fits comfortably into the development period and a set of desirable additions beyond the minimum. The team commits to delivery of the MMF and typically delivers a small umber of additional features from the desirable list. This benefits the business since the delayed delivery of the MMF is offset by the improved predicability.

  • An organisation trailing in the market and keen to make a splash.

This organisation developed the product using MMFs. Each delivered MMF represented a deployment opportunity as well as a chance to solicit feedback. The MMFs helped provide focus throughout the project on achieving a viable product. However, the business waited until the product was competitive in the market place before true go-live.

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