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Coaching:  a minimum viable product? (ITWS#16)

At various times I have been asked to deliver training or group coaching sessions on various topics related to process efficiency and good business practices. This journey started some time ago with Frank Wright (thanks Frank!) and is the basis of an interest I have in bringing together thinking on personal and team effectiveness (through coaching) with thinking around process efficiency.

While discussing a collaborative project with Marco Frangos (more on this another time!) we both had cause to reflect on the meaning of minimum viable product (MVP) and how understanding what this is can be important when bringing a new product or service to the attention of your stakeholders. As you will see what started out as a model for business practice helped in my thinking about what I offer as a coach.

I don’t think that Frank and I got to talk about minimum viable products with our various discussion groups over the years. Looking back, I reflect on the fact that the concept was not relevant to their context, one which was rather more risk averse than some. Perhaps I should explain MVP? It is the ideology and practice of taking a product or service into the marketplace as early as possible. The product or service is one that is believed to add of value to the stakeholder, but which does not pretend to be (at least in the eyes of the provider) the finished article. Once the MVP is in the market place the first trick is to evaluate its impact with your customers in real time. The second trick is then to be agile enough to re-orientate your product or service, which is called pivoting, in response to that feedback. There are many examples of pivoting out there in the corporate world from organisations like AirBnB and Slack to more recent, imaginative pivots arising from the need to shift imposed by Covid19.

The alternative to bringing an MVP into the marketplace is to design your product or service towards what you understand to be the ideal. You take your rough diamond and polish and polish and polish until you sense it is the finished article. Then you unveil it in the hope that your customers see it in the same way that you do. Perhaps they will and you corner your market for a short while. Perhaps they won’t and you will be left with a dud and development bills that will slam the brakes on any entrepreneurial drive.

As Marco and I were discussing our joint venture we realised that we were at risk of spending too much time polishing and so we have turned out attention to what is our MVP. Doing so was liberating for two reasons. It helped us to focus and it was consistent with our own ethos that our service offering should be adaptable to meet the need of each customer’s context. That is, is would be able to pivot. Happily, we recognised the risk of inflexibility that comes from having a product in which you have too great an investment, one that you have spent too much time polishing!

This line of thinking got me reflecting on whether my coaching services are an MVP? My conclusion is that yes, my coaching offer is an MVP. Indeed, it is necessary that it is an MVP if I am to add value to my clients. For each client, the conversion of my MVP into something that may be transformational for them is all about the coaching partnership we share. Together our thinking and feeling pivots in accordance with the client’s agenda. The final product is something highly polished by the coaching conversation yet owned by the client.

Yeah, I like that sense that for each and every session I coach I enter with my MVP ready to be in my client’s service. It occurs to me that perhaps I should describe what my MVP is, for my own benefit as much as anybody else!? It is the experience from over 37 years in the workplace. It includes my investment in my training and development as a coach, in my case recognised by accreditation as a Professional Certified Coach with the International Coach Federation. It is the engagement in life-long learning related to understanding more about effectiveness and efficiency. It includes the accumulated learning acquired by taking my MVP and pivoting during many hundreds of hours of coaching with hundreds of different people.

I feel the powerful urge to use another acronym! It occurs to me that my USP is in how I use my MVP in the service of each of my clients. I know that, yet putting it in writing is still liberating! Time to go an put that MVP into practice…..

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