Adopting lean and agile development practices poses serious, well-known challenges for enterprise innovation. While corporate change-makers recognize the need to move quickly to keep up with smaller, more nimble competitors, many executives view speed as inherently risky. They may recognize the need to test new products in the marketplace, but putting unpolished, unproven products into the marketplace is untenable to brand guardians, executives and even product managers.

So how can innovators consistently build minimum viable products and pursue promising innovation projects?

Redefine MVP

Innovators must remember that a minimum viable product isn’t necessarily a full-scale project build or an unpolished launch – it doesn’t even have to be a product, just the vision of one. In a true lean startup approach, an MVP merely serves as the vehicle to receive basic knowledge. It could be as simple as a survey, a simple landing page or a paper prototype. Launching an MVP does not require a brand or a full-fledged platform, it just needs a hypothesis to prove and a way to gather and analyze the data you receive from real users (not internal stakeholders).

Once you agree on what an MVP looks like, you need a framework to build them and test them. Enter the design sprint.

The Path to MVP

MVPs fit naturally into the early stages of a sustainable innovation framework. They allow innovators to move products between stage gates and prove viability within the enterprise system. But understanding what an MVP is and knowing what is worth building requires bringing the right people to the table and distilling a project down to a core problem facing the enterprise. Enter the design sprint.

Design sprints are a tried-and-true method to map a solution to a specific problem of the core business and build an MVP within just 5 days. You’ll create early alignment between the business unit’s problems and the innovation lab’s solution development capabilities, and end with a concrete result: knowledge. Rather than revenue, the knowledge of whether a solution creates value for the organization and its customers should be the ultimate outcome of an early stage MVP.

Done right and with the right people, design sprints can set the stage for early traction and deliver the proof points innovators need to make it easier for executives to say yes to pushing forward with an unpolished or unproven idea.

Build It Outside the Enterprise

When it does come time to build a minimum viable version of your full product to test as a pilot, it can often be more effective to build it outside the walls of the enterprise. That can mean working with an outside development partner or agency, but it can also mean simply spinning up a new office outside the corporate campus. When Mike Burgiss, of Cox Automotive, set out to test and build a new internal startup, he found it was easier to physically separate the development of his product – even down to a brand level.

By creating a new brand and IT requirements from whole cloth, removed from Cox Automotive, Burgiss created a gap between the startup and the core brand. He gave himself and his developers the freedom to build an MVP that could be rigorously tested and iterated upon to find traction; he also gave executives and brand managers the comfort of knowing that an unproven product wasn’t tied directly to the core business unit.

Building a pilot MVP outside the enterprise requires a lot of long-term vision within the corporate innovation lab. Beyond laying a roadmap for development and feedback, innovators should also create a plan to bring successful products or businesses back into the enterprise fold once it’s time for the core business to take over product management.
Getting comfortable with a minimum viable product mindset within the enterprise doesn’t require breaking down all the barriers to lean startup, but it does require innovators and executives to rethink the development and brand risks they’re willing to take.


Robert Berris is EVP and Managing Director of Three Five Two where he leads company strategy and day-to-day operations.