I found out a week before my wedding that we weren’t going to have a wedding cake. The baker which we’d paid to design and bake a multi-tiered, multi-flavored wedding cake for 300 people had gone out of business.

While not fun at the time, it turned out to be a great lesson in project management and what MVP really means.

When we found out the baker was out of business, we started discussing our options. And if you think about a wedding as a project, we discussed options much in the way you would when something threatens your project plan.

And like any other project, we had the variables of time, cost and scope that could be negotiated to help alleviate the problem.

Time - Move The Date

I learned that one does not simply move a wedding date a week before the wedding unless one of the people getting married isn’t available.

Even though our wedding cake was one of the most visible key deliverables of the project, we weren’t willing to rethink the timeline to ensure that we had a wedding cake.

Cost - Get A New Baker & Cake

Even if we could have found a baker willing to bake a multi-tiered, multi-flavored wedding cake for 300 people with a week’s notice, we didn’t have any more money to spend.

We were just out of college and even though family was footing most of the bill, the cake money was gone and there wasn’t more money to put towards this project.

Scope - Redefine MVP

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is an often used term, especially when it comes to software projects.

Depending on who you are talking to, MVP can mean:

  • The smallest thing you can create that will provide feedback telling you if you’re headed in the right direction -or-
  • Everything you have to do to make it perfect and ready to deliver to a customer (Here ‘minimum’ basically means the minimum that will satisfy all the stakeholders…this is not what MVP is supposed to mean)

At the time, our definition of ‘minimum’ was more in line with the second definition above.

We really needed a wedding cake. It was going to be an important part of our big day. But, faced with the prospect of being on time and on budget but having 0% of a wedding cake, we started to redefine MVP.

What Really Matters

Why is a wedding cake important? What value does it add? Is it purely aesthetic? Is it there to look pretty and serve as a backdrop for wedding photos? Somewhat…but its primary value is to be a celebratory dessert that everyone at the wedding can share.

It is a part of the ceremony and celebration and a part that we didn’t want to miss out on.

However compared to meeting our date and staying on budget, it clearly wasn’t the most important part of the wedding.

As we honed in on why a wedding cake was important, we started to brainstorm on other ways to meet this requirement.

My soon-to-be mother-in-law found the true MVP: “Why don’t we just bake cupcakes?”

We tested it against our requirements:

  • A photo of us feeding each other cake (feeding, not smashing, btw)
  • All guests get a small piece of cake to celebrate the wedding

It met our true ‘Minimum’ requirements and became our new plan. My soon-to-be mother-in-law activated her network and lined up enough people to bake cupcakes for 300 guests.

And as an unexpected side benefit, because there would be different bakers using different recipes we were still going to end up with a ‘multi-flavored’ wedding cake.

Conclusion

We’ve all had projects where the stakeholders maintained that all sides of the iron triangle were fixed. There was no negotiation…no flexibility.

A wedding is a high-profile, high-stakes project with lots of emotionally invested stakeholders. If it is possible to negotiate scope in that situation (and survive), it gives hope that when something unexpected happens on your project at work, there is always a chance to negotiate.

Post-Conclusion

In the end, we did get the original multi-tiered, multi-flavored wedding cake for 300 people.

It turns out that the baker hadn’t gone out of business…they’d just changed ownership.

And the new owners weren’t answering the old phone number. And when we went to check the physical store it was closed during the transition but would eventually reopen in time to bake our cake.

Another reminder that most of the problems in life (or projects) come from poor communication.

Even though we did get the cake we wanted, this event serves as a real-world reminder to me that even if you think what you’re baking is the true MVP and you’ve gotten scope as small as it can possibly go…you’re just one unexpected turn from being willing to negotiate scope in ways you wouldn’t have thought possible.

(and as a side note, learning how to negotiate scope with someone makes for a great relationship…business or otherwise)