Minimum Viable Configuration (MVC)

In my PuppetConf talk, I discussed a concept I call “Minimum Viable Configuration”, or MVC. This concept is similar to that of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP), in which you develop and deploy just the core features required to determine if there’s a market fit for your anticipated customer base. The MVC, however, is targeted at your developers, and is the minimum amount of customization required for the developers to be productive with the languages and tools your organization uses. This can include everything from having preferred IDEs available, language plugins, build tools, etc.

A Minimum Viable Configuration may not appear necessary to many, especially those who have been customizing their own environment for years or decades. The MVC is really targeted at your team, or as the organization as a whole. You may have a great customized IDE setup for writing Puppet or Powershell code, but others on your team may just be starting. The MVC allows the organization to share that accumulated wealth, making full use of the tens or hundreds of years of experience on the team. A novice developer can sit down and be productive with any language or tool covered by the MVC by standing on the shoulders of their teammates.

The MVC truly is the minimum customization required to get started – for instance, a .vimrc file that sets the tabstop to 2 characters and provides enhanced color coding and syntax checking for various languages – but that still allows users to add their own customizations. If you enforce the minimum, but don’t limit further customization, new hires can not only check their email on day one, but can actually delve through the codebase and start making changes on day one. You can also tie it into any vagrant images you might maintain.

Your MVC will change over time, of course. Use your configuration management tool, like Puppet, to manage the MVC. When the baseline is updated, all the laptops and shared nodes can be updated quickly to the new standard. You can see an example of a Minimum Viable Configuration for Linux in PuppetInABox’s role::build and the related profiles (build, rcfiles::vim, rcfiles::bash). You can easily develop similar roles and profiles for other languages or operating systems.

I feel the MVC can be a very powerful tool for teams who work with an evolving variety of tools and languages, who hire novices and grow expertise internally, and especially organizations that are exposing Operations teams to development strategies (i.e. DevOps). What do you think about the MVC? Are you using something similar now, or is there another way to address the issue?

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