Minimum viable content

Sarah O'Keefe / Opinion9 Comments

…in which we explore the idea of minimal viable product as applied to technical content.

You’ve probably heard of minimum viable product, which has “just enough” features. In technical communication, minimum viable content isn’t a new idea—it’s a common survival strategy—although I think the more accurate label would be minimum defensible content.

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Probably not minimum viable content

But minimum viable content, like its product counterpart, should not be a hastily assembled scrapple (NSFVKHG: not safe for vegetarian, kosher, halal, or gourmet eaters). Instead, minimum viable content should be a strategic decision based on the organization’s overall content strategy and questions such as these:

  1. What are the regulatory requirements for this content?
  2. How does this content help meet the organization’s business goals? What is the purpose of this content?
  3. In what formats is this content needed? In which languages?
  4. Who must create the content?
  5. What is the content velocity? How quickly must it be delivered and how often will it change?

With these and other questions, you can determine your true minimum viable content.

I believe that, for many organizations, delivering minimum viable content would be a long step up from the status quo. I’ll have a lot more on this topic at tcworld India in February.

What do you think? Do you deliver minimum viable content? Or desperately triaged content?


About the Author

Sarah O'Keefe


Content strategy consultant and founder of Scriptorium Publishing. Bilingual English-German, voracious reader, water sports, knitting, and college basketball (go Blue Devils!). Aversions to raw tomatoes, eggplant, and checked baggage.

9 Comments on “Minimum viable content”

  1. The first thought that strikes me on reading this is that the definition of minimal viable content shoould be driven by the definition of a minimally diverse audience. The more diverse the audience you envision, the more content you need to serve a wider variety of needs. Reducing the amount of content you produce (assuming each piece of content is actually useful to somebody!), the smaller audience you serve.

    Documentation is often planned on what we might call the least compentent user principle. That is, it is designed to cover anything that any user anywhere has been found not to know. I would suggest that we would be better off to work on what we might call the principle of the most commercially important user. That is, serve those users who are the most commercially important to the company. It is not likely, in most cases, that the least competent user is also the most commercially important user.

    1. Hi Mark, this is a good point. “most commercially important” might actually be quite diverse—like two or three different customer types that are all important. It’s another good lens for looking at the requirements.

  2. Heck, Sarah, have you been reading old articles from my blog again? 🙂
    (That’s meant to be an amusing way of saying that I agree with you.) Back in 2011 while I was working for a company that made software for clinical trials I wrote about producing the “minimum effective dose” of content. (see That idea covered much of the same ground as you do here, and explicitly discussed the needs of different audiences that Mark is concerned about (though of course “audience needs” is an integral part of content purpose that you mention).
    Now I’m working in a completely different but even more highly regulated field and I’d love to implement a “minimum content” policy just as soon as I understand the regulations and our audiences properly!

    1. Hi David,
      We are definitely on the page same (haha). I’m sorry I missed your post. I did some research (ok, Google searches), but specifically on the phrase “minimum viable content,” which has seen limited use.

  3. Hi Sarah,

    There is a fine line between “minimum viable” and “desperately triaged” any way you slice it. Tech doc, at least, is always both. But sure, it is good for everyone to think in terms of simple, minimal, most efficient…

    As I posted on medium, , minimalism is great but not appropriate to all contexts.

    It seems to me that the “MVP” concepts popular the past few years are an extreme swing of the pendulum and there will be some more balanced perspective gained after the next crash of the current bubble.

    1. Hi Max, good post on minimalism. I’m not too sure that it’s a fine line. I see it more as a yawning abyss. A lot of tech comm is desperate triage, and a solid assessment of the actual requirements would lead to MUCH more investment in good content.

  4. Pingback: Tech Writer This Week for December 5, 2013 | TechWhirl

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