The Three Families of Product Elements
Updated: Apr 21, 2020
This post explains our take on how product managers can use the desirability, feasibility, and viability framework to balance decision making for their products and services.
The product manager role specializes in balancing investments among what we consider the three families of product elements, based on IDEO’s trio of desirability, viability, and feasibility. These three families combine into products, with product managers aiming to maximize business outcomes.
In the most successful products, we believe they generally favor one family of product elements over the other two in decision making.
What Makes Products Successful?
In the early ’00s, the folks at IDEO coined the trio of desirability, viability, and feasibility to question business models. They suggested that a successful business model exists at the intersection of these three areas. Here’s how we interpret each area based on the definitions IDEO provides:
Desirability: Do customers need/want to use what you’re building? How do you know?
Viability: Can you build a sustainable business around the product, and how?
Feasibility: Can the product be built with our capabilities, and does it work?
The above figure can be deceiving, suggesting that the ‘sweet spot’ is equal emphasis on each area.
Equal importance among these three areas is not necessarily the best decision.
We propose in the most successful products, one of these families of elements (can you guess the metaphor?) dominates the equation.
Balancing your Product Decisions
Product management and chemistry are more alike than you might think. In chemistry, elements from the varying families react together, producing a related, but different result. In products, the elements from the viability, feasibility, and desirability families you choose to focus on all react together to create a unique impact.
Having one dominant family of elements will help focus your product strategy and differentiate it in the market.
As we experiment, trying to create that unique reaction that results in a successful product, we can always try new combinations of product elements. What is exciting about product management (and chemistry) is that there is an infinite number of combinations. Your decisions as to which product elements you include, how important they are, and which family of product elements you focus on are full of endless opportunities. Let’s look at a few examples of product elements by family:
Desirability: Convenience of Use, Entertainment Value, Satisfaction
Viability: Payment methods, Cost of Raw Materials, Sustainability
Feasibility: Data security, Development Time, Material Requirements
To help guide your decision making, for each decision, ensure you’re explicit about which product family you’ll focus most on.
Let’s look at two product examples, where a focus on one product element family results in an excellent product.
Focusing on Product Desirability
Few companies put the saying “good design is good business” into better practice than Apple. When the iPhone disrupted the cellphone industry in 2007, it did so with a significantly higher emphasis on product desirability than feasibility or viability. The first iteration of the iPhone was modest: a phone that doubles as your iPod, and sometimes a web browser. Apple diverted from the ‘me too’ phone designs of the early ’00s, and instead pursued a full-screen device testing the hypothesis that customers desired an experience where they didn’t need to sacrifice display for typing. They tapped into the desire for customers to carry their music wherever they go (already served through the iPod) without having to take multiple devices (phone, iPod/laptop).
With a heavy emphasis on elements from the Desirability family driving the core product strategy, Apple validated these hypotheses, and the rest is history.
If you’re feeling nostalgic, here’s a link to a review of the first version of the iPhone by Walt Mossberg from the Wall Street Journal.
Focusing on Product Viability
The Tesla Solarglass Roof is one product that we believe requires a disproportionate focus on viability. A roof is a multi-decade product. Success will come from a focus on viability elements such as cost-effective manufacturing, installation process, and at-home energy sustainability. We don’t yet know if utility companies will produce enough environmentally-friendly energy that at-home creation becomes irrelevant. Who knows, in a few years your roofer might have a PhD!
The Wrap Up
It’s challenging to create a product, never mind one that excels. As a product manager,
remember that balancing desirability, viability, feasibility does not require an equal number or weighting of product elements from each family, simply that they are in the correct proportions for success. The good news is if you experiment with different combinations, you can build a product your customers will love.
We hope that this post can help inspire you and your teams. Interested in learning more or looking for some help with this topic? Reach out to us. At Involve, we live and breathe product discovery, and help companies like yours develop a more focused, human-centered strategy.
Time to get your lab coat on and start experimenting!