Desirable, Feasible, Viable- a simple way to prioritize work
When it comes to prioritizing work, I find myself in difficult situations like prioritizing between critical fixes vs. new valuable features or pursuing an innovative idea still finding product-market fit vs. a subtle improvement that impacts hundreds of users. These are incredibly difficult choices, it’s like asking to pick a favorite child.
Prioritization is difficult, why?
I think the difficulty in prioritization is not due to a lack of tools/processes to prioritize work, but that these processes involve people. People that you work with. People problems are not as simple to solve as technical challenges. It’s not surprising that prioritizing features ranks quite high among the challenges faced by product leaders.
Any product manager knows that the most difficult part of their job is to determine which things deserve the team’s time, money, and energy. These are not just random ideas or unattached features, they reflect people’s personal hard work. Sometimes, when you say NO to an idea, it may feel like saying no to the person/team, and there is a guilt that comes with it. It is totally normal and can subside when you have a good explanation.
Is it a good idea?
Too often we think that it is a good idea, and we’re looking for excuses to build the thing. The real trick is going deeper without going too deep :) :)
The model below provides good clarity on how to view a given design challenge. If we consider any new idea objectively through these three lenses, it gives an immediate sense of whether it is important and doable.
- A desirable solution, one that your customer really needs. Is this an experience that is truly user-centered and solves a real problem?
- A feasible solution, building on the strengths of your current operational capabilities. What do we need to do in order to make this happen? What kind of technology do we need? What kind of people? Basically, everything that enables the desired experience.
- A viable solution, with a sustainable business model. How are we going to make money with this, or cut costs? What’s in for the business? How can we justify our investments?
The ultimate goal of this model is (of course) to check if the idea finds its sweet spot right in the middle being desirable, feasible, and viable — all at the same time.
So how to go about this?
I would typically ‘start’ with desirability, that is, initial research, prototyping, and collaborating until I am satisfied with an experience that fits customer needs, and until I get some buy-in from customers, thus answering the ‘desirability question’.
From there, I move on to feasibility- ‘What kind of technology, effort, could we use to realize this new experience? Are we building on our core operational strengths?
And finally Viability: ‘how can we commercialize this’. Does our business model fit with the way our customers want to use and pay for our solution? What does it mean for the long term? I think viability may be the hardest test, easy to skip, but try not to!
There is no ‘one way’ to go about these lenses, yet desirability might be the most significant one: without a clear understanding of why you’re developing something — you might as well quit, frankly.
Iterating on this model has its own benefits, at each iteration, viewing the problem from these three lenses and adjusting your strategy/roadmap will keep you on track, and keep you away from the guilt of saying NO. :)