Why CEOs Should Embrace Minimally Viable Moves

What if risk could serve to deliver the quarter and to set an organization up to compete differently in a fast-changing world?  It can, if it’s of the “measured” rather than all-in variety.

minimally viable movesIt’s a story we’re all too familiar with: Billion-dollar business is the reigning king of the hill, but then some scrappy upstart comes along and usurps the throne by doing something differently. Heavy is the crown, as they say, and what many corporate leaders fear is the inevitable disruption of their own organizations.

In an ideal world, fear is a fuel. But in reality, trepidation often leads to inaction and leaves big businesses stuck in place, focusing on incremental financial goals instead of embracing innovation and taking steps toward securing potential long-term prosperity.

CEOs of large organizations know full well they need to do things differently and shift their businesses, especially when eager new competitors begin breathing down their necks. However, with so many tools – strategic, technological, organizational – at their disposal, they may be unsure of where to start. Too many choices and too much uncertainty can paralyze people and even cause them to abandon making a decision altogether.

Besides, CEOs often feel locked into a commitment with shareholders to deliver every 90 days. If they were to change their processes, products, or services too dramatically, the chances that they could miss the mark, disappoint customers and rouse their investors’ ire grow dangerously high.  And then how long before they’re shown the door?

So “risk” becomes a sort of four-letter word — gleefully bandied about as something to embrace when wanting to appear bold, but behind closed conference room doors uttered only in hush tones.  What if risk could serve to deliver the quarter and to set an organization up to compete differently in a fast-changing world?  It can, if it’s of the “measured” rather than all-in variety. That’s where minimally viable moves (MVMs) come in.

“If an MVM goes as planned, you demonstrate quickly that you’re headed in the right direction.”

MVMs: The New MVP

Minimally viable moves allow companies to pursue big bets with incremental amounts of risk instead of big sweeping chunks. It’s akin to an MVP (minimally viable product), which is designed to represent just enough of a new market-facing offer that you can get real feedback about it and course-correct as necessary. An MVM involves making just enough of an organizational change to determine whether or not the move will be valuable to your business.

This is beneficial and empowering for business leaders at all levels. Instead of feeling that responding to disruption is equivalent to betting the farm, MVMs provide enough cover so that if mistakes happen, decision-makers don’t feel forced back to the drawing board. Going slow and steady allows for on-the-fly adjustments and never having to double back because of hastiness.

Which minimally viable move you make depends on your organization and your objectives. For example, you can alter protocol for a common type of decision, skip a management feedback step in preparing for a customer visit, or shift hiring practices for a certain role.   However, while the actions you take are specific to your circumstances, there are four that fundamentals hold true.

  1. Make small (but clear) wagers. Identify the smallest possible action you can take that will provide plausible data on whether the move was a good one. If things don’t pan out, you know the risk has already been mitigated because it’s constrained by design. To begin, consider an MVM in a part of your business that’s either underperforming or not a core source of value creation. That way, each win — and you will have wins — is small enough to be viewed as less of a gamble by shareholders yet will show that the company can afford to take things in a different direction with confidence.


  1. Move faster. Resist the temptation to reduce risk by gut-checking the move with internal stakeholders or following old playbooks. Risk has already been reduced in the design of the MVM, so you might as well move as fast as you possibly can to get feedback from the marketplace or end user. And even when you think you’re being reckless in how quickly you’re moving, you can probably still move faster. Important point – you have to do both #1 and #2 together. Success comes from the cumulative impact of lots of small bets executed quickly; without the speed you might just end up with an underwhelming bet that has no impact.


  1. Close the loop. Making minimally viable moves helps close the feedback loop. You’ll get almost immediate input as to whether the change is working, and then you can respond accordingly — either by continuing down that path or making adjustments to improve results. As you gather more information through testing, you may end up making multiple course changes, but you’re still maintaining some momentum and still not exposing the company to massive risk.


  1. Chart your path. Each MVM draws management attention and communication to the immediate task at hand, so much so that it can be easy for leadership to lose sight of the ultimate goal. Obviously, you still want to focus on each MVM, but the move itself is only a means to the end. Always remember where these MVMs should be taking you and as slight course changes accumulate to take you off the beaten path, make sure that there is still an attractive destination ahead.

If an MVM goes as planned, you demonstrate quickly that you’re headed in the right direction. These small moves will add up to big wins that can shift your business into a virtuous cycle of success — that is, of course, if you are willing to take the first (small) step forward.


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