Things change fast.
Digital actors valued at $1b emerge in less than 2 years, innovation cycles are faster, pressuring existing companies to reinvent themselves.
In such a context, the choice of Quality at Speed software increments a company decides to pursue are critical as defining their probability of survival.
But making decisions with uncertainty has two main risks: what if we miss something today? What if a key assumption changes?
We could easily end-up paralyzed by the fear of making a wrong decision.
This article shares the Minimum Valuable Move method to deliver incremental changes that maximizes flexibility, value, speed with minimal waste.
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What is a Minimum Valuable Move?
The term could have been “Agile-Minimum Valuable Move”, but Agile being so much a confused stereotype, I preferred to keep it Lean.
Minimum Valuable Move combine characteristics from both paradigms:
- Agile: early frequent value, quality to adapt, respond to changes.
- Lean: maximizes efficiency, speed, minimize commitment and waste.
Other elements such as creating knowledge and respecting people are less directly present in the practice shared here.
Minimum Valuable Move is a Quality Engineering method used to:
- Choose between scenarios of a given problem
- Make confident decisions for incremental changes
- Deliver value optimized for Quality at Speed.
The process relies on 3 core methodologies combining:
- Scenario planning to project possible scenarios
- Backcasting to identify possible paths per outcomes
- Time-boxing for prioritizing small valuable increments.
This repeatable structure can be used for increasing the contribution to Quality at Speed of software decisions, namely, software increments.
Let’s cover the need for Minimum Valuable Move in Quality Engineering.
Why use Minimum Valuable Move in Quality Engineering?
Quality Engineering is the paradigm constraining the software lifecycle to Quality and Speed for continuous value delivery to its users.
The need for valuable and rapid software increments create a pressure for organizations to identify and prioritize changes that are:
- Valuable to attract and retain digital users
- Small enough to be delivered with speed
- Reasonable for minimal complexity, waste and risks.
The methodology of Minimum Valuable Move is precisely crafted to address these requirements to make software decisions for Quality at Speed.
How Minimum Valuable Move contributes to Quality?
Software teams have the challenge to deliver valuable software increments and user experience with a high-degree of uncertainty.
This variability pressures the actors to work in short-cycles to validate or invalidate the value created between ideas and the actual software in use.
Being hard to be right the first time and as things change fast, teams require methods that improve the likelihood of delivering value in a changing environment.
Minimum Valuable Move contributes to Quality being:
- Result-oriented in identifying valuable software increments to select
- Systematic being applicable in processes with DoR and Problem Summary.
- Scalable with a repeatable structure and steps that can be replicated.
How Minimum Valuable Move contributes to Speed?
Companies that still practice software as multi-year investments and planning will disappear, being disrupted by new actors with more velocity.
There’s no more “too big to fail” with the digital transformation, pressuring actors to capture both economies of scale and economies of speed to survive.
The direct implication for organizations is to continuously deliver software increments with velocity in the short and the long-term.
Minimum Valuable Move contributes to Speed with:
- Focus in selecting the most valuable software increments
- Rhythm in forcing to deliver short and regular increments
- Asynchronicity being applicable to different decisions and teams
- Visibility by clarifying the incremental software deliverables to plan.
How To Use Minimum Valuable Move in Quality Engineering
Minimum Valuable Move is a systematic methodology to develop in the organization to improve decision-making in software.
The method is best used before implementation—at initial steps of alignment, planning or design—even if it can be applied along the lifecycle.
Here are the Minimum Valuable Move steps:
- Clarify the problem you are trying to solve
- Identify possible scenarios with scenario planning
- Map trajectories and fallback plans with back-casting
- Assess and compare paths with facts and instinct
- Prioritize first software increments with time-boxing.
Clarify the problem you are trying to solve
As people that define the problem can be different from the one deciding, it’s important to align the stakeholders on the problem at hand.
The key elements of a problem definition must contains:
- Relevant background information
- Problem statement with impacts, core issues
- Key constraints and adherence to know
Use the One-Slide Problem Summary guide to structure your work, that will start to identify scenarios you need to deep dive.
Identify possible scenarios with Scenario Planning
The army popularized the method of scenario planning to plan in an increasingly unpredictable and competitive environment (a.k.a. VUCA).
Its application is still relevant in the digital ecosystem to identify possible future realities based on the forces, uncertainties and movements of the actors
In Minimum Valuable Move, we focus on scenarios identification by following these steps:
- Define time-horizons for scenarios, usually per quarter
- Brainstorm possible scenarios for the given problem
- Set the probable time-horizon per scenario
- Identify comparable scenarios in short and long-term
- Analysis of pros, cons, implications and risks per scenario.
The added-value of this step is to collect the multiple scenarios that could happen, thinking outside of your current context and timeframe.
The drill-down done through the process enables to focus on the few scenarios that are relevant to analyze, without losing time on all possible scenarios or variables.
Before deciding which scenario to follow, it’s time to identify the possible paths to get there, and be ready for “what if” cases.
Map trajectories and fallback plans with back-casting
It’s not enough to be ready for nominal cases; there are always surprises and having fallback plans in place foster a capability of anti-fragility.
Back-casting is a methodology enabling to map the paths from start and end points between scenarios, allowing to:
- Visualize different paths leading to the same outcome
- Identify specific paths that ends with worst-case scenario
- Create paths with maximum probability of success.
This stage lets you with specific paths for the retained scenarios; it’s then the time to compare them to continue to improve confidence in your decisions.
Assess and compare paths with facts and instinct
Similar to “Agile”, it sounds good to be “Data-driven”. The thing is, we need both facts and instinct to make the best decisions.
Facts enable us to use the rational capability of brains and influence, collaboration and the probability to reach agreements as a group.
Instinct is similar to the output of data science algorithms that are not yet fully explained: a connection was made to prioritize a choice, but it’s hard to explain why.
Keep the focus at that stage to not fall into endless analysis and comparison tables:
- Represent the main scenarios retained
- Identify 3 instinctive pros and cons per scenarios
- Add 2 to 5 factual comparison points (e.g. budget, time, risk level).
You are now ready to decide with more confidence. A last step will maximize your implementation flexibility: time-boxing.
Prioritize first software increments with time-boxing
Activities tend to take the time we allocate them. It means that non-necessary activities appear if too much time is left to achieve a particular outcome.
That’s where time-boxing is an efficient method constraining activities to minimum valuable delivery in short and frequent delivery (e.g. like in Scrum sprints).
Minimum Valuable Move with time-boxing consist of:
- Linking valuable outcomes with OKRs (usually quarterly)
- Decompose the outcome into smaller deliverables
- Define the priority and order of software increments.
Now you feel much more confident of your decision and in your capability to adapt to the changing environment, that will for sure, change.
Minimum Valuable Move, a Method within MAMOS
Minimum Valuable Move are part of the Methods domain of the Quality Engineering framework, MAMOS.
The systematic application of this methodology improves the capability of an organization to continuously deliver Quality at Speed software.
Organizations with an improved decision-making for software prioritization end up with an accelerated value delivery to their users.
The only requirement is to systematically follow methodologies to effectively leverage the forces of Quality Engineering.
What’s your next Minimum Valuable Move?
Rachaelle Lynn, Guiding Principles of Lean Development, Plan View.
Nassim Nicholas Nicholas Taleb (2014), Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. Random House Trade Paperback.
Jonah Lehrer (2010), How We Decide. Mariner Books.
Douglas W. Hubbard (2014), How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business. John Wiley & Sons.
Leading in a VUCA world, How 21st-century leaders can find success amid volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA), Deloitte.
The 12 Principles behind the Agile Manifesto, AgileAlliance.