Product Discovery Marty Cagan

The Four Big Risks

In the first edition of my book, INSPIRED, I discussed how successful products are valuable, usable and feasible, where I defined “feasible” as both technically feasible and business feasible.

While it’s easy to remember these three attributes, over the years I’ve come to believe that it was obscuring some pretty serious risks and challenges, and making it too easy for product managers to overlook some critically important work.  

The technology feasibility risks can be substantial (especially today when so many teams are exploring machine learning technology) and in terms of the business risks, while these have always been substantial, I find that these are too often under-appreciated and under-estimated (or simply avoided) by the product manager.

So in my new edition, I now explicitly call out the four types of risk:

  1. value risk (whether customers will buy it or users will choose to use it)
  2. usability risk (whether users can figure out how to use it)
  3. feasibility risk (whether our engineers can build what we need with the time, skills and technology we have)
  4. business viability risk (whether this solution also works for the various aspects of our business)

Business viability risk includes whether the product fits with the go-to-market or sales channel; whether the product would work within the constraints of contracts with partners and/or legal compliance; whether we can afford to cost-effectively acquire customers, and whether the product is consistent with the brand promise; as just a few examples.

While the subtitle of the book is “How To Create Tech Products Customers Love” and I still argue that the toughest risk is usually value risk, I also emphasize in this new book that it’s not enough to create a product your customers love; the product must also work for your business.

In the new edition of the book, I argue that strong product teams have moved beyond Lean and Agile in three important respects:

  1. Tackle the big risks early – especially value risk and business risk
  2. Figure out solutions collaboratively – engineering, design, and product, working side-by-side
  3. Focus on solving problems – it’s not about features or a roadmap; it’s about delivering results

I’m hoping this new edition brings these points home, and helps product managers to have better awareness of the issues and risks, as well as the techniques for tackling these early.