MVP: Minimal Viable Performance

“Yes but what is the M-V-P here?” Carl drawled with only a half-hidden sense of a sneer lurking on his round but well manicured face.

Oh no, he must have been on one of those government-funded training courses about agile project management where all the public servants aspiring for senior leadership go to schmooze and escape work for a few days. Sometimes they actually learn things. Normally just enough to be dangerous.

“What does MVP mean?” Joanna asked, falling smack-bang in to Carl’s trap, dragging the rest of us along with her.

Carl stood up, flashed everyone what I suspect he thinks is a winning smile, and gazed around like a preacher about to educate his wayward flock toward the light of departmental best practices. I stifled a murderous scream.

His sermon lasted 20 minutes in which he extolled the virtues of agility, flexibility, and any other related synonym he could think of. He spoke of turning around the current inefficient processes and focusing our attention like a laser (he actually said that) to cut down waste by only focusing on the MVP: The Minimal Viable Product.

Of course if you’ve been anywhere near the software industry outside of government walls for the last then years then you already know about agile and the minimal viable product. I even think most of the people in that grey-walled government meeting room already knew too, but nobody can stop Carl when he’s got something to say.

I like the minimal viable product concept but I use the MVP acronym a little differently. I use it to define how I coast through my work, gaining positive managerial reviews but never actually being  mentally stretched or engaged with my work. I call it the Minimal Viable Performance.

Over the last few years I have perfected the art of delivering just the bare necessity to pass through the murky waters of departmental politics unscathed. I do a good job, an above average performance, but that’s it. I never strive for the top echelon but I keep myself well above the densely populated mid ground of public service. In statistical terms my performance always falls around one standard deviation above the mean.

My Minimal Viable Performance allows me to not draw unnecessary attention to myself; a mandatory tool for an intelligence officer. I never do anything that would warrant even the merest slap on the wrist – no breaking the public service code of conduct, no racism, sexism, bigotry, no offensive t-shirts and no looking up pornography on the government issued computer. Yes that actually did happen, and no they did not get fired.

Apart from avoiding negative attention I also avoid attracting an excess of positive attention. I deliver good but not great work (even though it pains me to submit some of the poorly documented drivel that passes for a high quality statistical report around here), I never have any brilliant ideas in the weekly Disruption Brainstorm team meeting (mainly because I don’t think  ‘burn the whole department to the ground’ would be well received), and I even purposefully give wrong answers when the team goes to trivia at the pub on Thursdays.

This effort is worth it for the one beautiful thing I want in this job: the freedom to be ignored.

I don’t stand out so I get quickly ignored and forgotten. Which is great if I’m ever recalled in to action for an internal mission but also fantastic for letting me coast through work stress free.

Sometimes I can complete a week’s worth of work by late Monday afternoon, leaving me nearly four days to dilly dally. I normally take three – coding on personal pet projects, analysing random data sets for anomalies, and writing my silly little stories.  Friday morning rolls around, I submit my work from Monday, and I receive a condescending pat on the back from my line manager for getting it done on time. Then I go back to my personal projects, because I’m pretty sure ‘there’s no point starting anything new on a Friday’ is the department’s motto.

There is a downside to living a life delivering the Minimal Viable Performance. The rot can set in. This happens when the the elaborate pretense I’ve created takes hold, and the lie slowly becomes reality – so slowly at first that it is not even noticeable. It starts with me mentally shrugging my shoulders when I notice a few typos in a report I just submitted, and ends with me eagerly paying the annual $20 social club fee and actually looking forward to the end of year Christmas party because Sharon’s making trifle. Bureaucratic Stockholm Syndrome.

I’m not there yet, but it’s the risk I run by taking the path of the Minimal Viable Performance. It’s a risk I’m willing to take.

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