Most people in larger companies look at the lean-startup movement and think it doesn’t apply to them (despite much of its inspiration coming from a very large company, Toyota). Well NASA ran a very successful Minimum Viable Product through the 1960’s called the Apollo program.
The Apollo program had a simple goal, put a man on the moon. Every part of the mission was dedicated to that end. So although the Saturn V rocket is the largest rocket every built it was completely disposable apart from the Command Module that returned to Earth with the astronauts. Even that was discarded once the astronauts had been recovered.
There was no attempt to design reuse for trips to other planets or reuse in the mission of space station building. They reused extensive design knowledge gained in the design of Mercury and Gemini and space missions and focussed on design simplicity and remote monitoring as opposed to onboard maitainance to resolve problems.
Most importantly, they recognized that the short duration of Apollo missions meant that the parts and sub-systems did not need to undergo the rigor of prolonged testing in the harsh environment of Space.
They wouldn’t have called it that at the time but they were engaging in lean design and adopting lean startup principles.
- Minimum Viable Product: A rocket to put a man on the moon and bring him back
- Reuse of standard components: Many of the sub-systems for Gemini and Mercury were carried straight across
- No Over design: Design for the current mission, a short duration trip to the Moon, no a long duration flight to Mars.
- Rapid Iteration: 11 Apollo missions in 8 years culminating in Apollo 11 that put a man on the moon
- Failed Experiments: Apollo 1 resulted in a mission fire that killed all three astronauts, apollo
So next time someone says MVP is a the new new thing. Tell ’em about the Apollo program.