Embracing the Minimum Viable Product Approach in the Non-Profit Sector

As a supervisor to and manager in the non-profit sector, I’ve witnessed individuals grappling with completing tasks and progressing to the next stage. Perfectionism, fear of feedback, and procrastination can stem from the implicit assumptions of delivering a flawless final product. This pressure increases stress for staff and hinder an open, collaborative, reflective way of working. The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach offers one alternative way of approaching tasks that can reduce stress and foster greater focus on learning in an organisation. 

The MVP concept originated in software and website development, but its benefits extend to various domains. Typically, an MVP involves creating a product, service, or web application using minimal resources that can be launched and used by customers, clients, and members at an early stage. This approach reduces risk and generates returns sooner; however, the true value lies in understanding how and why the product is used in the real world, enabling subsequent development to focus on user needs and avoiding wasted effort on features with limited value. 

The Non-Profit Dilemma: 

To illustrate the relevance of the MVP approach, consider the development of a website for a non-profit organisation. Web developers often make grand promises, assuring organisations that they can create a bespoke website with any desired look, functionality, and user experience. Unfortunately, many have experienced the disappointment of investing significant sums into developing a website, only to discover that it garners little usage, requires further customization, and offers a subpar experience. This misalignment between the non-profit’s expectations, user enthusiasm, and the motivations of the web developers highlights the importance of adopting a different approach. 

When subpar outcomes occur, it is tempting to attribute them to insufficient project scoping, feasibility assessments, or communications about the launch. This often leads to justifying increased spending on experts and staff time. The MVP approach challenges this conventional thinking. Rather than fixating on delivering a finalised offering, it encourages non-profits to release the core of something new to the world and observe how people engage with it. By embracing an iterative process of learning and adapting, perfectionism is replaced with a focus on understanding user behaviour and responding to their needs. It also helps guard against overvaluing particular aspects that might not have the desired impact. 

Applying MVP in the Non-Profit Sector:  

The MVP approach can be applied both to daily tasks and larger projects in non-profits. For instance, when writing a report, the emphasis shifts from attempting to answer all questions comprehensively to providing minimum recommendations and essential information. Structuring the report with bullet points and setting a time limit to write it can be completed sooner. In website development, I advise non-profits to build small, low-cost websites that leverage off-the-shelf functionality where possible. Staff must remain open and receptive to feedback about the contents and presentation of the report, or functionality and user experience of the website. 

The concept of piloting new programmes and services has many similarities with the MVP approach. Both focus on iterative development, gathering feedback, learning, and reducing risk to the organisation. Starting with small pilots to test effectiveness before scaling up aligns with the MVP concept. Expanding on this familiar concept to more tasks and activities can benefit non-profits.  

Embracing a new mindset: 

During supervision sessions, I often challenge individuals by asking, “What’s the smallest version of this that you could put out there, and with the least amount of work?”. The question encourages breaking free from the traditional expectations of delivering a finished and flawless product. Instead, it directs focus toward quicker outputs with learning baked into the process. Adopting an MVP mindset can allow the non-profit team to reduce stress, build reflection and learning into their work, reframe perfectionism, and lead to better outcomes.  

Next time you notice yourself or colleague grappling to complete a task and move on, ask yourselves this MVP-inspired question. The answer might just help guide you on what to do next. 

Leave a Comment