Why Cities are Zombies (Part II)

This is a three part guest blog by ELGL member Mariela Alfonzo with State of Place.

Read PART I: CITIES HAVE A LOT IN COMMON WITH STARTUPS


PART II: MVPS AS ANTIDOTES FOR ZOMBIE CITIES

3) Build MVP Approach:

In Lean Startup terms, an MVP, or a minimum viable product, is “that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”

This doesn’t mean the product is “embarrassingly” minimal. The MVP still has to “deliver enough customer value” for the startup to better understand if their solution addresses a customer need (problem/solution fit) and if enough customers have the problem the startup is trying to solve (product/market fit).

The MVP isn’t about releasing early and often either: validated learning isn’t about deploying an early version of a product, acquiring customer feedback, quickly incorporating some of the feedback, and re-releasing the product.

This kind of feedback loop is not the same as the learn, measure, build loop we discussed last time.

The purpose of the MVP is to help you test your specific,falsifiable hypotheses as quickly as possible.


SO WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH CITIES?

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For example: A city wants to build pocket parks in a neighborhood that they believe is lacking in green space. It’s already passed the sniff test – or more precisely, the city has validated an assumption about its “customer problem” by conducting 10 customer interviews.

The city validated its assumption, as five of the ten customers interviewed indicated that they didn’t have enough green spaces within walking distance of their homes. Now it’s time to validate the MVP – in this case, the Minimum Viable Project.

Although the city’s proposed solution for its lack of green space problem is a pocket park, the approval process for that kind of project is lengthy and its cost, not insignificant. The pocket park itself is not an appropriate MVP. Instead, the city decides to temporarily transform two parking spaces into a pop-up mini pocket park and invites the five “customers” who felt their neighborhood needed more green space (the “early adopters”) to be part of the process and test out the space (Stay tuned for how State of Place can help with this process!).

This MVP still delivers enough of the value the city wants to deliver to its “customers” – green space – to test the its hypothesis and get further customer insight before investing in a full-sized pocket park.

Most importantly, the MVP allows the city to avoid spending a lot of time planning and/or building something nobody wants or needs.

While in this example, the MVP itself was inspired by what has now become an annual worldwide tactical urbanism event –Park(ing) Day – the purpose of the MVP isn’t just about building a temporary green space.

In fact, the lean startup warns against falling in love with the product – or in the case of Lean Placemaking and cities, the project. As entrepreneurs – or planners and designers alike – it’s easy to fall into this trap, especially given relative training and expertise. But the MVP is about more than just the P – it’s about saving precious time and resources by gaining valuable knowledge and validating assumptions before moving forward – or not.


ELGL will post Part III next week – stay tuned!