Minimum Viable Product: Ignoring the Call of the Sirens

One of the most fascinating stages for any Agile product is working through what constitutes the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). 

It seems to me that all three signifiers, or words, have equal weight or importance. The process determines or ‘locks in’ at least for a point in time that which makes something of sufficient substance that we can recognise it as a ‘product’ per se.  Next the analysis concerns itself with what the minimum number of features the product has so that from a market perspective we can successfully have a product to release or take it to the market as part of a new product launch. Finally, the second term the viability becomes critical in at least three ways:-

  1. In terms of our market segmentation strategy and market research this meets or fulfills our customer demographic needs
  2. If for an internal customer, or business unit, then in a similar way- the product needs to meet a similar set of needs- at least for the point in time for the Release date (as by definition later releases will meet future needs that may well change, emerge or become redundant as a function of time)
  3. Finally, viability has a keen association with the business case. The latter will normally have the ‘golden triangle’ of classic project management tools and include analysis around time, quality and costs.

What can we learn from depth psychology? I’ve pondered this recently and think that there are some lessons from the Odyssey (Homer) and in particular the episode with the gorgeous Sirens.


You may recall that the poem centres around the hero Odysseus and his long-winded adventure and journey home after the battle of Troy. On their way home his skilled and brave crew are faced with mortal danger in the form of beautiful women called the Sirens. The Sirens lure sailors to their deaths by a fatal combination of the most enchanting, beautiful and hypnotic songs as well as their gorgeous beauty. They were seen as daughters of the god Achelous.

By their physical beauty, and melodious songs they, if successful, get the ship to change direction and shipwreck on the rocky nearby coasts. Thus, to this day, the Siren song refers to an appeal that is hard to resist but that, if heeded, will lead to a poor or bad conclusion. It is it seems an ‘irresistible distraction’.

Thankfully in our myth, our hero was fore-warned of the Siren call and consequently (and very wisely) strapped himself to the mast of his ship. He then ordered his crew to use wax in their ears so that they could not be seduced by the Sirens! No easy task! To be fair, the sailors obeyed and as we now know by looking back that this was a set of wise choices in such demanding circumstances! Thankfully, it all worked! and they were able to sail on despite the ‘distractions’.

This speaks to me in the following three ways:-

  1. After we have completed our market research we must be as wise as Odysseus and keep our eyes fixed on our objective asking carefully and wisely if each feature meets the litmus test of all three signifiers in the MVP trinity
  2. Next, we must paradoxically ‘resist the irresistible‘ and this ensure that we keep pace with our own progress and be careful not to be distracted by any external, or at times, internal ‘Siren call’s’ even though they may be beautiful features
  3. Lastly, as Scrum Masters we need to work alongside the Product Owner, in particular, and if need be ‘fasten him to the mast‘ and so ensure the safety of the project team.

Take care Jason


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