Minimum Viable Product - Lists of Prioritized Problems

MVP Lists of Prioritized Problems - Governance Alive

Document Transcription

Catalyst Circle Aim

In the meeting on July 12, 2021, the Catalyst Circle made the following decision:

DECISION: For next meeting members will be prepared to:

(1) share a list of the problems within your group. Problem statement rubrik

  • What problem do you see?

  • Why is solving this problem important to the mission of Project Catalyst?

  • Can you articulate the gap between the current state and the expected or envisioned state? How might the value of solving this problem be quantified and/or measured? (optional)

(2) Rank the problems (focus on top two statements)

(3) Share our feedback with each other and look for problem statements to solve together (eg. join with another member - eg Victor, Juli, Felix)

(4) Place Problems in accessible backlog tool (E.g Trello)


NOTE: To further assist the Catalyst Circle members, Governance Alive has compiled a list of options that representatives may want to reference when gathering problem statements from your communities, if desired. This list is certainly not exhaustive, and members are not constrained to use any technique(s) on this list. No expectations are set with the document, just a reference if you would like some inspiration.

About the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Approach

Whatever we can do now is good enough, and below is why.

About Prototyping

The Background Science

Brains work primarily as a “difference engine.”

To minimize the cognitive load of processing information, brains will ignore anything that it expects to see. For example, when you look around the room, if your brain expects the furniture to be in a particular location, it will only recognize items that are unexpectedly out-of-place.

As a result, anything that we expect to happen will often be ignored by the brain!

WARNING: This means that some of the most-important information may not be immediately accessible, specifically because it is experienced frequently.

The Antidote

The goal of “Prototyping” is to create a visual representation for review and analysis, sometimes called a “straw man” or a “prototype”. It does not have to be complete, and is sometimes more effective when it is not complete. The presentation of the prototype allows participants to use the difference engine in their brain to identify what is missing, fill in the gaps, and remember the things that are hard to remember because they are experienced frequently


Setup a limit to the amount of time spent on initial brainstorming in order to create a prototype. Then let people pick apart the prototype and identify what is missing or inaccurate.

About Brainstorming vs Sorting

Tip #1: Collect ideas and suggestions separately from the sorting of the same ideas

CAUTION: Hold brainstorming activities and sorting activities in separate stages instead of mixing the two activities.

The Background Science: The functions used in the brain for generating new ideas and sorting through ideas are different, leveraging activating and inhibiting neurons, respectively. Elisting the inhibiting neurons too early can actually physically block the formation of new ideas.

(You may have heard the phrase “there are no bad ideas” as an intention to foster this approach. Employing the sorting part of our brain too early can interrupt the forming of new connections and hinder the process.)

Not every idea will be a great idea, but a great idea can come from anywhere” - The Ratatouille Principle (based on the Pixar movie)

Tip #2: Embrace the fact that some people are better at brainstorming, and others at sorting

Suggestion: Allow people to participate according to their strengths. Don’t require everyone to brainstorm, or everyone to sort. Some will be more naturally inclined to one activity or the other.

The Definition of Viable

For an item to be Viable, it must be:


People must care about the item and want to engage. Usually you can measure the amount of engagement through observing the emotional impact of each item on the potential audience.


It must be possible for the item to be accomplished technologically, logistically, and financially. If there are any potential blocks to success, the item is said to be at risk.


The item needs to be usable as part of a system. If it requires a large amount of activity and personal interaction to succeed, the item can not be delivered at scale in a population larger than a few hundred people.

About Iterating

Once you have made a change, iterate. Iteration is the process of incremental improvement- when we understand problems through this lens we open ourselves to creativity. This allows for our first capture of the problem to blossom into a detailed understanding of the problem. There is never just one MVP. The Minimum Viable Product is an iterative process resulting in multiple successive MVPs.

Library of Techniques

Techniques for Identifying Problems

Brainstorm a list of ideas in three (3) categories:

  • 1) What's gone well?

  • 2) What's gone badly? (i.e. danger signals)

  • 3) What's interesting?

You can optionally prioritize cards by moving more-important cards to the top of each list

This can be done by select individuals or in “round robin” with each person getting a chance to move a card higher or lower in the list in rotation.

Works well with a Miro board

Very mental

  • Describe what’s working well

  • Describe what’s not working well

  • What is the difference between the two?

  • What could be the cause of the difference?

  • The causes become your problem statements

Uncovering Direction

  • Inspiration - What inspires participants?

  • Tensions - What feels wrong to participants?

  • Capacity - Given where we are right now, which steps to develop our inspirations or relieve our tensions are within our capacity?

Awesome Island Retrospective

Awesome Island - Populate a list of things you would like to start doing

  • What you would love to do?

  • What are things you have read about?

  • What have you done before in another environment?

Status Quo Island - Populate a list of things that you would like to stop doing

  • Things you do now that you'd like, and would like to leave behind

  • Things that make you frustrated, for which you would like to find an alternative.

The Boat - Populate a list of things you do now, that you want to preserve, and take with you to Awesome Island

Techniques for Prioritizing Problems

Option A: Dot Voting (Ranked Majority Voting - “Dotmocracy”)

  • Everyone is able to add X number of dots (usually 3-5 dots depending on the number of items).

  • Each person can distribute their dots on whichever items they wish, for whatever reason.

  • A person can place multiple dots on one item, if they wish, and may opt to not use all of their dots.

Option B: Planning Poker (but modified a little as described below)

  • Everyone simultaneously votes on a scale from 0 to 5. 5 is a high-value / important problem to solve. (Can be done by raising hands with the number of fingers extended, or values can be recorded using a Planning Poker tool.)

  • Vote simultaneously, or register votes in secret and reveal all answers at the same time to avoid biasing each other with your answers. (Unbiased answers lead to much better results!)

  • Start at the extremes (highest values and lowest values) and ask, “Would you be willing to come up/down, or if not, why not?”

  • The point is for people to discuss their reasoning behind their scores.

  • Sometimes there are multiple (but related) problems that need to be split. If useful, split the problem to reflect the multiple understandings of it.

  • Sometimes people have overlooked a significant fact that would change their ranking.

  • You may optionally call for additional vote rounds if a lot of people have changed their minds based on the reasons given.

  • Once problems have been assigned values, use those values to provide an ordered list.List items in descending order by the number of dots.

Option C: Emotional Ranking

Have someone describe each item in the list and open the floor for discussion.

  • You may optionally go in order through the group to collect feedback, or allow people to speak as they feel moved to speak.

  • Use a time box to limit discussion.

  • The goal of the discussion is not to solve the problem, or even agree on the problem, but to elicit an emotional response from participants, if applicable.

Rank the emotional reactions of participants

  • 0 - No emotion (Uninvested)

  • 1 - Intellectual conversation, no emotion (Within the Range of Comfort) (Further discussion could lead to finding subjects outside the Range of Comfort)

  • 2 - Emotions in the face and hands (Near or Outside the Range of Comfort but within the Range of Tolerance)

  • 3 - Full-body emotion (On the Edge or Outside Range of Tolerance)

Discuss ratings in small groups, identifying what makes some problems outside the range of tolerance (and therefore urgent and/or important)

For all high urgency/importance problems identified in small groups, share problem and reasons for urgency/importance with full group (either in meeting or via notes on spreadsheet, Miro board, etc.)

Option D: Ranked Voting

Participants vote for as many items as they wish, listing their votes in priority order.

Votes are tallied in rounds

  • First, everyone’s top option is recorded.

  • If there is an option with more than 50% of the votes, it is declared the winner.

  • If no option has greater than 50%, the option with the fewest votes is eliminated, and the second choice for each person who voted for the eliminated option is tallied.

  • If there is now an option with more than 50% of the vote, it is declared the winner.

  • If no option has greater than 50%, the next option with the lowest number of votes is eliminated, and the votes retallied based on next priorities, etc.

  • Eventually one item will achieve greater than 50% of the vote.

Here is an app to facilitate and calculate Ranked Voting [Thanks, @VictorCorcino!]

Among the multiple schools of thought throughout the areas of Agile, Lean Startup, Design Thinking, Business Process Modeling, etc. Most problem statements overlap with the following 5 components.


Option A: User Types

  • Identify one or more user groups that have this problem.

  • What makes each group different from other groups in how they engage?

Option B: Personas

  • Identify a real, representative person that expresses the average set of characteristics for a group of users.

  • You might also collect relevant demographic information, like age, racial or social backgrounds, gender, education, etc., if appropriate.

Causal Conditions

Option A: Present problem statements in If-Then format

  • IF this condition happens, THEN this outcome will happen

  • You may combine multiple conditions or outcomes together using AND/OR logic

e.g. If condition A happens AND condition B happens, then outcome A AND outcome B will happen e.g. If condition A OR condition B happens, then outcome A OR outcome B will happen

Option B: As a I want to so that I can .

Aims - Why is solving this problem important to the mission of Project Catalyst?

Obstacles - What is standing between the Problem and the Aim? (optional)

Metric(s) - How would we measure this problem to know if it has or has not been solved? (optional)

Option A: American Metrics

How can you affect a person’s...

  • Quality of Life?

  • Liberty of Choice?

  • Pursuit of Happiness?

Operationalization (optional)

  • What might you observe if this change is successful?

  • How can you observe the current state, to know the difference between now and when the change is successful?

  • How might you track the difference between the future state and current state through time?

Option B: Pirate Metrics


  • How many people are aware of the problem?

  • How do you know that they are aware?


  • When do people start engaging with the problem?

  • What precipitates the switch to action for people?


  • Are there any expenses or revenue involved?

  • Are expenses increased or revenue decreased by this problem?


  • Do people repeatedly engage with the problem?

  • How frequently or quickly does the problem occur?


  • Do people talk about the problem?

  • Does sharing about the problem increase or decrease the occurrence of the problem?

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