Are you making this experiment mistake?

In corporates especially, there's a widespread trend to test desirability, feasibility, and viability consecutively rather than simultaneously...

I'm not sure whether it's possible to pinpoint a single origin moment or source for the desirability, feasibility, and viability framework. It's been taught at Stanford's for decades and has been core to IDEO's work for just as long. 


Regardless, it's become central to how inventors, startups and corporations think about the suitability, practicality and sustainability of the products and services they're building by giving them three critical questions to answer: 


  • Desirable: Does this thing meet a customer need or solve a real problem in a way that customers will want it?
  • Feasible: Can this thing be realised technically or within the existing capabilities of the organisation?
  • Viable: Is this financially sustainable, with a business model that can support its production, distribution, and maintenance?


But increasingly, we've noticed that the assessment of these criteria is becoming mired in misapplication. In corporates especially, there's a widespread trend to test desirability, feasibility, and viability consecutively rather than simultaneously. 


The logic seems sound: why invest in feasibility experiments or viability tests if there's no demand from a desirability perspective? But we're seeing this sequential approach lead to three major challenges for corporate strategy, innovation and venture teams: 


  1. Waste: A product might be desirable to customers, but if it's not feasible to create with existing technology or capabilities, or if it can't be made viable commercially, then the initial investment in assessing desirability becomes a sunk cost.


  1. Delay: Taking time to test each criterion sequentially means a slower time to market, which presents problems for many of the teams we speak to, particularly those under pressure to do more with less and demonstrate results quickly.


  1. Confusion: Feasibility and viability constraints, for example, may well mean that you need to change the product design or business model, which will inherently affect its desirability to customers, creating a doom loop for product development teams. 


The Case for Simultaneity


If you recognise these challenges in the experimental work you and your teams are doing, then you should make a change and start trying to test desirability, feasibility, and viability simultaneously to get a better understanding of an idea's potential for success from the very beginning of the project. 


We've been doing this for some time at Future Foundry, and we've seen three huge benefits:


  • Resource efficiency: It's stopped us from investing in undesirable or unviable ideas and has helped us identify and kill doomed projects earlier so we can conserve resources for more promising ideas. 


  • Easier iteration: We can pivot and iterate ideas much faster because if a feasibility issue presents itself, it can more easily be addressed in tandem with issues around desirability and viability. 


  • Speed to market: Ultimately, shifting from sequential to simultaneous testing has helped us move much faster because it eliminated the need for consecutive rounds of testing and redevelopment. 


A Better Way


I think most teams make this sequencing mistake because testing desirability, feasibility, and viability for every idea at the same time feels like an over-investment in terms of time and budget. But we've addressed this by using a different progression from low, through to medium and eventually high fidelity desirability, feasibility and viability experimentation. 


Testing DFV through this fidelity sequence will help you de-risk the ideas you're working on. You'll be able to identify potential failures much earlier and adapt before you've over invested. 


It's this approach that reduces the likelihood of late-stage failures, which can be costly and damaging to the work you and your teams are doing. 


  • Low-Fidelity Experimentation: In this first round of experiments, we're focused on running quick, inexpensive, and straightforward tests to probe assumptions about DFV by using basic mockups or storyboards.


  • Medium Fidelity Experimentation: In this second round, we progress to slightly more detailed experiments that are closer to the final product, but we're doing it on a smaller subset of ideas, given that most didn't make it through the lo-fi round. 


  • High-Fidelity Experimentation: Our final phase of experimentation more closely mimics the final product or service, but we only invest in this phase when we already have high confidence from the first two rounds in the venture's desirability, feasibility, and viability.


By starting with low-cost experiments and gradually increasing your investment as you gather evidence for all three criteria, you can manage resources more effectively and only invest more heavily in ventures that have shown promise through the prior round.


You can also become much more adaptable because as new evidence is generated in each stage, you can pivot or iterate on your ideas with a much better understanding of how changes will impact DFV.

PS. If you're looking for support in focussing your innovation strategy to pave the way for breakthrough growth, contact the Future Foundry team here.

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