Writing An MVP Product Sentence

When starting a new project, Robert Caro distills the essence of his new book into as little as a single paragraph. “I can’t start writing a book until I’ve thought it through and can see it whole in my mind…I boil the book down to three paragraphs, or two, or one.” This paragraph acts as fodder for the book’s outline and eventually the entire narrative of the book.

The thing about creating this tight paragraph is it takes weeks to write and re-write. This is after months or years of research ahead of time to truly understand the topic or domain. What seems like a tiny bit of writing is the culmination of a gargantuan effort. And it’s only the start.

One of the new exercises I have tried to incorporate into our client kickoff workshops at Versett is this notion of an MVP sentence. The sentence follows a fairly simple format of:

In [time frame], [customer group] will be able to [core product value].

The intention of this format is to distill the core customer group we are addressing first, the value we intend to provide them, and a rough sense of timeframe for an initial launch.

Having the knowledge and context to fill out this sentence is often an iterative process with our clients. It involves probing and pushing for more specificity. As simple as it sounds, trying to communicate a value proposition in a sentence is extraordinarily difficult.

The power of the MVP sentence is it helps you radically focus on a goal, an audience, a date. It clarifies your client’s and your team’s thinking into a compressed phrase that you can rally behind and point to as the project progress. Is everything you are doing in service of this mandate?

An example sentence may be:

In 3 months, Canadian high-performance athletes will be able to get personalized nutrition plans online, at an affordable cost.

The exercise helps you identify your initial customer as well as an understanding of what value you are providing. Some clients struggle to note the value and simply state “Do X”. This is where the pushing comes in to dig deeper and find the differentiator. Where should we be focusing our time and attention when building this product?

The more I write, the more I realize the importance of writing. I’m also getting a broader appreciation for the essence of writing. In a recent podcast interview, Natalia Ilyin describes writing as an externalization of understanding. If you remove the focus on prose, you are left with the communication of ideas. Your ability to communicate effectively is predicated on your understanding of the topic at hand.

This is why I find the MVP sentence so powerful. How can a team or company set out to build a new product without an understanding of what they are trying to achieve? To write an MVP sentence is to have a holistic understanding of the objective.

Getting that boiled-down paragraph or two is terribly hard, but I have to tell you that my experience is that if you get it, the whole next seven years is easier. When you have it, it’s so comforting…you can look over there and say…Is this fitting in with those three paragraphs? How is it fitting in? What you just wrote is good but it’s not fitting in.

Robert Caro, Working

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