What we learned from the Alpha release

As we are OH so close to publishing our beta version of the Minimum Viable Book, we thought it would be a good time to share some of the feedback and lessons learned from our alpha release last year.

The Alpha test group

The Minimum Viable Book alpha experiment was released by invitation-only to roughly 100 people in 2014. These folks had been very engaged with us over the previous year, either by attending workshops, interviews or interacting with us on email and twitter.

We asked these awesome people to read 10 article-length pieces of content online, each with a slightly different format, tone and topic and leave us a rating along with comments.

A few gems from our feedback bank

We noticed that the more thought-provoking, passionate or personal the article content was, the more positively a reader ranked the article:

“People really connect with people and stories about people, so this is a fab way of doing it.”

“I enjoy reading about entrepreneurs and what drives them.”

Most of our alpha articles were quite short and snappy, so they often lacked in-depth examples of how the person applied the concept we described to their work.

“Examples/case studies of how others do/manage process-improvements are really useful.”

“I would’ve found it useful to have concrete examples”

One of the content formats we tested was a simple, but neatly laid-out interview transcript. The idea behind this was to let readers take what they wanted from the interview, rather than us analysing it for them.

“I don’t think the quotes read well. There are just purely transcribed. I think you need to rewrite them to actually make more sense. It’s more important to get the sentiment that was being put across rather than the exact words used.”

“I was confused at the beginning what this was even about, if I wasn’t trying to help, I probably wouldn’t have kept reading. It took me a while to figure out how this might be relevant to me, even after I read the article.”

“I’m confused. I don’t understand how the individual content nuggets, fragments and formats are meant to be read together (if at all) and what binds them together.”

The video format went down well, with almost all participants leaving quite a lot of positive feedback for this format.

“Video > Writing”

“Love the videos”

“I liked the brevity. Saying useful things quickly. The idea being that you can then go and act on the advice.”

“Nice soundbites on the topic; good insights from people who have done it.”

Finally, we also found a couple of comments about a few grammatical mistakes, so we’ve decided to work with a proper grown-up sub-editor on the beta!

The beta

We are close to the release of a beta version of the Minimum Viable Book, and this will be available to buy in a printed newspaper format very soon. We’ve learned from our Alpha feedback, and decided to include many more in-depth examples, analysis and visuals around a central theme that ties the narrative altogether. We’ll be releasing another video too, although not in the newspaper, obvs ;).

In this first newspaper issue, we’ll be featuring stories that explore the positive force of 3D printing on hardware innovation and traditional industries; plus, the links between iteration and diminishing improvement of technology in large organisations. And so much more.

Join us!

If you’d like to contribute in any way, we’d like to hear from you. Drop us line.

The people of the Minimum Viable Book

We have never, ever had a bad interview for the Minimum Viable Book. No really.

I leave every interview with a little buzz on, saying “one more thing!” and “I can’t believe our time is already up!” Writing these ‘making of’ posts – and writing our actual book – has really made me pause and wonder why that is.

If I had to guess, I’d say the awesome, head-expanding vibe is something to do with the people who dare to reply to our interview requests.

People preoccupied with doing the thing

The folks we’ve been contacting often know very little about the principles of agile and lean, but they are very experienced in doing the thing they do. We look for makers and doers of all kinds of cool and kooky things around the world. These people are normally so preoccupied with getting their UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) off the ground, or running a laser cutting studio, or helping kids learn after school, that they’ve hardly had time to reflect on the way they do things.

And why would they? They are part of a movement of people who ignore the dogma, start small, take tiny calculated risks, iterate as fast as possible and are/will be the ones responsible for a new wave of innovation in their industry. The way they do things changes all the time.

Curious and generous people

They are the people who responded to an email, from strangers, out of the blue, asking if they could find some time for an interview about ‘making things happen’. They were curious and generous enough to give up their time for a chat about something random and abstract. They took a leap into the unknown.

We’re currently writing about the slow, risk-averse innovation cycles in consumer aviation verses UAVs after speaking with Mathieu Johnsson, an aerospace engineer from Bristol UK. We’re also writing about the emphasis of teaching kids to put effort in, rather than teaching kids to ‘get it right’ after speaking to Catriona Mclay from the Hackney Pirates.

Our minds continue to expand after every conversation, and we can’t wait to introduce you to these folks in our newspaper beta release in February 2015.

How our research has evolved

We have been researching the minimum viable book for a year now and in that time our approach has changed and evolved. We have changed too. Our research has fuelled our learning and being flexible has allowed us to explore avenues that we didn’t expect.

When we started on this journey we raised a fear about research, the fear was:

“It’s not researched enough / there’s not enough data”

And our mitigation was:

“We will conduct multiple workshops and surveys per chapter”

So we set about planning workshops in a number of locations: London, Bristol, Berlin and Austin Texas. We brainstormed some starter topics and asked our readers what they wanted to know most about. While we were away, we planned interviews with interesting people in the spare time around the workshops so we could dig a little deeper into our topics.

What we found was that while the workshops were a great way to meet people and set us going, the bit that has really got us excited were the interviews.

We threw our net quite wide. The criteria for people we wanted to talk to was simple: people who make things or get things done. This led us to meet hackers, coders, makers, curators, inventors, educators, business owners as well as agile and lean practitioners. We found that some of the most interesting conversations happened in the most unexpected places.

Our interview style has always been fairly laid back and this hasn’t changed, we find a quiet spot and let the conversation flow. Initially we used the interview chapters as a starting point, but now we usually kick-off by asking people for their back stories, then gently guide the conversation towards some of the common themes we have found throughout our journey.

We see the value in remaining flexible and allowing for emerging ideas and topics – it’s really helped us along the way. Even as we approach our Beta deadline in a few months, we aren’t expecting our approach to stay the same. And we’ll welcome all those changes.
As Eve from Make ATX said in one of our interviews:

“Accept what you are doing might not always turn out the way you want it to, but who knows, it might turn into something better.”

Emily & Amy

Photo by: marcwathieu

Making-of stories on the horizon

Hello Minimum Viable Book followers, it’s me Amy, checking in to tell you what we’ve been up to over the past few months.

While we’ve had our heads tucked into all kinds of weird and wonderful interviews, we realise we’ve left you all patiently waiting in the dark, sorry about that. To make it up to you, we’ll be writing a series of blog posts to bring you up to speed with the making of the Minimum Viable Book.

Here are some of the ‘making-of’ stories we’ll be covering in the coming weeks:

The alpha release
We had an overwhelming response and some really useful feedback on the alpha content. We’ll share some stats and some decisions.

Interviews interviews interviews
When we set-off down the path of running 4 workshops in 4 locations around the world, we weren’t expecting the random wacky interviews we squeezed in around the edges that really delivered the gold. We evolved our questions as we went, so we’ll tell you all about that.

Minimum Viable Book Tuesdays, Trello and Google Drive
We fit our Minimum Viable Book activities around full time jobs, weddings, start-ups and life so we need to be extremely organised and aligned on our approach to Minimum Viable Book content and interview scheduling!

Re-setting our target to February, visiting Bristol and Australia
Because content! Over the next few months, we’ll be targeting a few key interviews and wrapping up our content for a beta release (which will be available in a printed newspaper format). We’ll also be visiting our friends in Bristol to surface some of the stories that came up during our workshop last year. Amy will also be heading to Australia to chat to a few cool people who reached out over the interwebs.

Stay tuned MVBers.

Amy and Emily

5 bites of advice for making things

Horray, it’s alpha day! Today we launched a private alpha version of the Minimum Viable Book to around 100 people. We’re testing 10 content items in a few different formats to see what our readers like the most.

If you missed out on an alpha invite, don’t dismay. We plan to open up a few more spots on our alpha soon, so get in touch.

We are also already planning a beta version that will be publicly available in both digital and paper formats with some help from our friends at the Newspaper Club.

In the meantime, we hope you enjoy this video ‘5 bites of advice for making things’ featuring the thoughts of:

  • Mike Langford, Producer-Presenter of Locapour.tv, a show that celebrates locally brewed beer.
  • Veronica Roberts, Curator for The Blanton Museum of Art, one of the foremost university art museums in the United States.
  • James Adam, Founder of digital product development company, Exciting.io.
  • Jo Lammert, Studio Producer and Founder of Games Development company, White Whale Games.
  • Scott Bellaware, Freelance Agile Coach.

We’re always looking for awesome people to interview. If you’re someone who makes stuff, any kind of stuff, we’d love to talk to you.

More soon!

Emily & Amy

Introducing the Minimum Viable Book Alpha

Thank you all very much for your ongoing support and interest in the Minimum Viable Book.

Over the past ten months, we have travelled to a few spots in the UK, Germany and the United States. We’ve met some truly generous folks who were willing to share their stories about making things happen. We’ve been on a mission to remove the buzz words, copyrighted processes and rigid methodologies (Oh yes, even agile and lean has these), and simply talk about what works and what doesn’t through tangible examples.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to contact everyone who signed up, but that doesn’t mean we won’t in the future. We hope this project carries on and on for quite some time yet.

We’d like to thank everyone who took part in one of our four workshops around the world, and also those who shared their stories in one-on-one interviews. Our minds have really expanded in the past year.

We’ve been juggling our Minimum Viable Book discovery and research activities with our full time jobs, so we haven’t been able to go as fast as we would have liked. We all have to pay the bills right?

BUT finally, we have some news: we’re almost ready to release our Alpha. Hoorah!

We’re putting the finishing touches on it, but here’s what we can tell you now:

  1. It’s not a book! We want to test a non-linear, topic-based collection of stories (initially in simple html)
  2. We are trialling ten content items and formats
  3. Each content piece has a slightly different style and structure and uses media in a different way
  4. The content will initially be available to read by invitation-only
  5. We’ll be analysing the statistics and sending surveys to help gather some feedback
  6. Once we have your feedback, we’ll plan a next iteration. Exciting!
  7. Our release date is currently planned for Wednesday the 30th of July

There’s still time to register your interest in taking part. Who knows, you might be selected for our Alpha.

We’ll check in with you all soon. Ciao for now.

Emily & Amy

Featured image by Azrasta

Workshop: Bristol #2

Last Thursday we held the second Minimum Viable Book workshop in the very wonderful Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol. Many thanks to our lovely hosts, Clare, Hannah, Verity and Tom.

We learnt a lot from our first workshop thanks to the wonderful feedback we received from the London participants. Having a bunch of improvement suggestions meant we could iterate our format in the following ways:

  • We ran over-time in our last session, so this time we asked everyone to vote and prioritise the topics so we could cover the things they were most interested in first – we planned to run out of time again. Interestingly, the group chose to cover two of the same topics as London: UX and Design and What can go Wrong.
  • We received some feedback from a few London participants who said they were most interested in discovering stories of Agile that were both real & scenario-based. So for Bristol, we changed the format of our exercise ‘The Three Cs’ (loosely based on ‘The Four C’s’ from every workshopper’s bible, Gamestorming) so that the output from the exercise was a story of adversity with an outcome. It morphed into a fun exercise that was much easier to explain to the group.
  • There were too many up-front post-it ideas generated for a few of the exercises in London, so we limited the amount of ideas we asked people to generate in Bristol. This meant we could get further through a few set issues and delve into juicer conversations during the exercise. This, combined with breaking into two groups meant ‘The Squid’ exercise was much deeper and raised some interesting insights.

Topic votes

Again, we felt we had a great mix of people ranging from those working in digital inclusion, architecture (physical world!), web development and health. These varied backgrounds helped create some really interesting discussions and scenarios like ‘how do you create a hackable radio that someone with visual impairment can assemble’?

Workshop attendees

Thanks to Libby MillerLaura ChilcottSteve MaslinPete BrittenTom AbbaKevin O’Malley, Annie Taylor, Dave Martin and Kerry Bradshaw.

Thanks everyone for coming along and making it a great event, we’ll definitely be back to Bristol to see you all soon.

Now that we’ve collected two workshops worth of information & ideas, we’re starting to get an emerging picture of how we might best structure the book.

Next stop: Berlin!

The Results of our first Chapter theme Poll

Thanks so much to everyone who took time to fill in our poll about chapters, we had over 50 of you respond.

The poll is now closed and the top four themes, as voted by you, are:

  1. What can go wrong and when not to use Agile: The warning signs and when Agile doesn’t fit.
  2. Agile UX and design: How can UX and design fit with agile development? It does, we promise.
  3. Agile at scale: Implementing Agile to manage a chunky programme, portfolio or organisation.
  4. Planning, tracking and reporting: Waterfall isn’t the only way to get the governance processes your Stakeholders need. We’ll explore what you can do to measure progress, gauge insights and how to constantly learn as you go.

For us, this means that our first workshops will focus on the top 4 themes.

That doesn’t mean we won’t include other themes, but these are what you (the users) have told us are the most important.

The full results are as follows:

I don’t want to read this I don’t mind either way I’d like to read this I’d really like to read this I’d really, really like to read this Average
What can go wrong 0 2 9 20 19 4.12
Agile UX and design 0 4 9 21 15 3.96
Agile at scale 1 8 9 12 19 3.82
Planning, tracking and reporting 0 3 14 20 10 3.79
How to sell agile 4 8 8 11 20 3.69
Agile characters 2 8 15 18 5 3.33
Agile Everywhere 5 12 10 14 9 3.2
Getting started with agile 5 7 18 14 6 3.18
All the methodologies 3 11 16 14 4 3.1
Why people do agile? 1 13 20 9 5 3.08


In our next post we will announce the workshops.

Polling Station image by STML

Chapter Themes

This week we spent some time workshopping chapter themes and now we would love your input.

These chapter themes are going into a list we’re calling the Chapter Backlog. We’ll add ideas and hone this list all the time, but we’d like you to prioritise them for us. We are writing this book for you afterall.

The current Chapter Backlog is below and this is your chance to tell us what you most want us to write about. If you think we’ve missed something important, then please feel free to add a comment.

Continue reading Chapter Themes

Project Drivers, Hopes / Fears / Mitigations and Roles

OMG! We’re writing a book!

As promised, we intend to blog about our process of writing the Minimum Viable Book and this is the first of many posts to come. It felt right to kick off our process with an activity to understand why we want to do this project, so today’s post explains how we captured these insights.

The first workshop

The first activity from our agile toolbox was a post-up brainstorming session which we completed together in Amy’s kitchen. We agreed on a few topics to cover that would help us understand why we want to do this project and what we hope (& fear) the outcomes will be.

The topics we selected:

Continue reading Project Drivers, Hopes / Fears / Mitigations and Roles