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The Three Innovation Drivers

Published on 23rd August 2012

Employing experiments is a powerful technique to facilitate the creation of new products and new features. But to experiment effectively, we need to be clear where innovation takes place and uncertainty resides. Is it the user experience, the business model, or the technologies? Without the right understanding, it’s difficult to ask leap-of-faith questions, formulate meaningful hypotheses, and carry out helpful experiments. This blog posts introduces a simple model that helps you effectively innovate.

Desirability, Viability, and Feasibility

I find that product innovation usually occurs in the following three areas: the user experience (UX) and the product features, the business model, or the product’s architecture and technologies. Apple’s first iPhone is an example of a product whose innovation was focused on the user experience and new features such as mobile Internet; the new generation of LED televisions exemplifies technology-driven innovation; and Amazon’s cloud service is an example of business model innovation.

When creating a product with a great user experience, the biggest challenge is to ensure that it is desirable, that the product does a great job for its users and that the user will want to employ it. For business model focussed innovations, it’s developing a sustainable business model, and for technology-driven innovations, it’s dealing with feasibility – applying the new technologies successfully. Desirability, viability, and feasibility hence form three important innovation drivers, as the following diagram shows. The diagram is inspired by the design constraints discussed in Tim Brown’s book Change by Design.

The Three Innovation Drivers

For instance, if your product’s competitive advantage is intended to be the user experience then you should aim to understand what makes the product desirable, develop appropriate hypotheses, and employ focussed experiments, for instance, A/B tests to see which feature variant is more attractive to the users. The same holds true for viability and desirability.

Applying the Innovation Drivers

When I start to work on a new product, I use the three drivers to understand where innovation occurs and how much uncertainty is present in the development effort. I usually apply the drivers by creating a Product Vision Board sketching the product’s target users and customers, the needs to be addressed, the key features, and the value the product should create together with the product owner and the development team. We then explore and mark the areas of uncertainty.

Here is how this can work in practice: I recently met with the team members of a new product development project of a major UK retailer. The team’s vision was to create new software in order to increase the revenue generated from creating custom solutions for the company’s customers. Together, we created the following product vision board using a piece of flip chart paper and adhesive notes (the details on the notes have been blurred to hide the details):

The Innovation Drivers Applied

The two pink stripes indicate the areas of uncertainty and the product’s innovation drivers: UX/features and the business model, and desirability and viability. The former is related to creating a product that does a great job for the company’s sales staff and its customers. The latter refers to the ability to achieve the desired business goals including the revenue increase targeted. The exercise created a shared understanding about the challenges the team was facing, focussed the team’s work, and improved the communication with senior management.

The three innovation drivers help you understand where innovation occurs and where uncertainty is present. This enables you to ask the right questions, formulate appropriate hypotheses, and carry out helpful, focussed experiments.

Post a Comment or Ask a Question


  • Prashant Khare says:

    Indeed it is! Thank you Roman!

  • Prashant Khare says:

    Hi Roman,

    I am struggling the way to assess the performance of Product Owner. How can one assess the performance of the product owner? Few options I can think of are: feedback from scrum team members, scrum master, users of the product. I am struggling to understand that whether the feedback should be subjective or can be objective.


    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Prashant, Generally speaking, the product owner is responsible for the product success:

      I suggest you define what success means for your products, and determine the product owner’s contribution. Success could be entering a new market, increasing market share or profitability, improving customer satisfaction, or developing the brand. If possible, agree on quantitative goals and select metrics to measure the progress made. I use the Product Vision Board and a product roadmap to capture product-specifc goals:

      Does this help?

  • Matt Block says:

    Great post Roman! I think something else worth pointing out is that, not only does this enable you to ask the right questions and form helpful experiments, it also provides you a lot of focus. It helps tell the team where NOT to focus the questions and experiments. I’ve seen many teams that with all the best intentions are trying to innovate on all fronts at the same time which ends up causing a lot of confusion. As always, thanks for the good advice!

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Thanks for your feedback and insightful comment, Matt. You are absolutely right: It’s important to focus on the critical questions at the beginning of a development effort, and to discard the rest for the time being.

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