THE MINIMUM VIABLE PRODUCT
Use of the MVP concept for validation is aided by thinking of a place as a product with features. The features can be anything required to test your ideas, for example, defining the place spatially, changing its meaning through art, adding new activities to invite people to spend more time, providing varied seating and so on. It's important not to attempt to do any more than necessary to accelerate execution and to reduce complexity (this is known as capacity constraint). The MVP concept requires two judgement calls, you must decide on:
The features which need to be included in the prototype to adequately test what you want to learn.
The quality of features that you need to test your predictions or hypotheses.
The MVP is a flexible concept for learning how to make a successful place because it is contextual. After testing the initial set of features, new versions of the MVP can be created. Importantly, features which do not work should be removed or adapted to make space for features that do add value.
The Lean Startup is strategic by design - the direction is known but the exact route to getting there is not determined, and most importantly it anticipates that the direction will likely change once learning occurs with the users in the real world. The author of the Lean Startup provides the analogy of driving a car (Lean startup) versus launching a rocket (traditional business plans). Masterplans maximise risks for the client as assumptions underpinning the plan are not tested (i.e. traditional business plans are like the 'rocket' in the analogy). The Lean Startup which uses prototyping to learn and reduce uncertainty minimises risk for clients. Our experience with clients testing out this analogy has found it is easily understood and useful for a broad range of audiences and facilitates good discussions on the strategy of creating a successful place as people understand that there is no one right answer.
The bias toward action of the startup approach has helped our clients to reduce risk and cost, and accelerate outcomes and build relationships with place stakeholders and delighted their communities. The startup approach is great for quickly establishing a rhythm of of build-measure-learn for projects when resources are available. Yet cities are not businesses and the regulatory environment in which they operate can cause headaches for city makers. The start-up approach needs to be combined with the traditions of urbanism.