How do you think about balancing desirability-viability-capability in products?

One of my favorite frameworks to think about building and shipping products is Larry Keeley's Desirability-Viability-Capability model.

Most great products get these three aspects right... or right enough; inevitably finding the balance and making the right trade-offs is part of the journey.

In the book I've linked above, Alan Cooper suggests the way to find that balance is to have 3 different people responsible for each aspect. He suggests the Engineering Lead worries about Capability (i.e. what's possible and how to do it), a UX Lead focus on Desirability (i.e. what makes your users love the Product) and a Business/Product person own Viability (i.e. why will this work and how to get it there.)

He makes the case that this is necessary not only because these are different skills that require specific training and instincts, but also because of the tension between them and focus each requires.

I'm curious what people think though, and how they approach this.

Often you don't have 3 people. At my first job as an engineer at a startup I supplied the Viability that I could with help from colleagues, but we didn't have a Product person and I wasn't trained to think about it - or smart enough to realize that I should have. But my managers and the leadership team had incredible instincts for Viability, and somehow we didn't screw up Desirability. As I've learned later, I did many things wrong, but we got away with it given our market and audience and all the other awesomeness our product had - i.e. we got the balance right enough.

At Google (at least on the products I've worked on) I still see the strongest focus on Capability - the company in general believes technical innovation drives great products. However, I'm convinced that getting all three things right helps build the kind of products you need to change the world.

So Plan A is always to get three people that are great owners of the D-V-C triangle, but who also have enough of an appreciation of each others' functions that they are able to move quickly. For the first time, I just kicked a project off with exactly 3 people in those 3 functions so I have a shot at seeing how this works.

Plan B stems not from the fact that you rarely have the luxury of these 3 functions being available (or able to dedicate sufficient time), but from what I told myself any good leader in a company (or an entrepreneur) has to always do - think about who's not in the room and ask the questions that would have come if they were.

So over the last couple of years, I've tried to learn more about user experience and design, and get my hands dirty when I could so when push comes to shove I can supply some Viability. I also got lucky learning from some spectacular UX design talent over the last year.

Capability (i.e. what's possible) will become harder for me to supply the longer I drift away from writing code myself, but I like to think I can still provide some of that and Google is an incredible place to actually polish that ability (either through learning from others much smarter than I'll ever be, or jumping in myself.)
Developing the ability to supply the Viability side of the triangle is probably what I've most enjoyed about this job.

So while I always aspire for Plan A, I've been training to get better and better at Plan B (which it turns out happily is an incredible amount of fun to do :)) What's your plan?


Sudeep said…
Excellent article! You whetted my appetite; eager to learn how it goes about getting better at Plan B.

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