In Andrew Chen’s recent post, “Does every startup need a Steve Jobs?”, he discusses IDEO’s “product framework for Desirability, Feasibility, and Viability.” Chen’s descriptions of business-, engineering-, and design-focused product perspectives reminded me of the work on companies’ “driving force” popularized by Michel Robert in his series of business strategy books. Understanding your “driving force” is critical to understanding what products to build and who to build them for. The driving force helps shape technology choices, importance of design, market segment, and business model as well as company culture, growth plan and exit strategy.
The basic point, is that while all companies employ technology, sell products or services, employ technology, market to specific segments and use certain distribution methods, one factor dominates (or should dominate) the others in terms of business strategy.
one component of the business is the driving force of the strategy — the company’s so-called DNA. This driving force, in turn, greatly determines the array of products, customers, industry segments, and geographic markets that management chooses to emphasize more or emphasize less
Here is a subset of driving forces Robert discusses:
Company pursues a strategy based on a single product and its off-shoots. All future products are some derivative of the core product. Examples include Coca-Cola, most automobile manufacturers, Zappos.
Market Type and User Class
Company identifies a specific marketplace to target. American Hospital Supply supplies hospitals with whatever they need. User Class refers to a specific set of users. Johnson & Johnson, for example, makes hundreds of highly differentiated products that serve doctors, nurses and patients. Cisco’s driving force is building products for network professionals.
Means of Production
Profits determined primarily by availability (uptime) of its differentiated or highly-efficient production capabilities. Examples include Steel, Oil refineries, printing.
Sales or Marketing
Company’s method of sales or marketing is unique or stands out compared to others who sell similar products. For example, catalog companies, door-to-door, MLM, Amazon.
Company has unique or differentiated method of moving products. New products will follow same distribution. Examples include FedEx, Warehouse stores, phone companies.
Company’s purpose is to extract and productize oil, timber, etc. Examples: oil and mining companies.
A company’s driving force may change over time, but usually as a “pivot.” In other words, if the company runs out of growth opportunities or faces extinction, changing the driving force may be necessary. Though companies have one driving force, other forces still come into play. The one driving force, however, determines the strategic decisions. Having multiple driving forces causes a lack of focus and confuses product choices and marketing plans.
With respect to Chen’s descriptions then, a “Business-focused product perspective” might be a Product driven company; an “Engineering-focused product perspective” might be a Technology-driven company; and a “Design-focused product perspective” might be a User Class-driven company. Presuming for a moment that all of these businesses want to make some amount of money, looking at the company’s strategic driving force can perhaps help focus the best product perspective for that particular business. The “encroachment” of business or engineering on design is (theoretically) dependent on the driving force, rather than personal bias.
With respect to “Minimum x Product,” where x = “Viable” or “Desirable” or whatever else, x should be dependent on (1) your “objective” and (2) your driving force. In other words, if you’re objective is to determine whether prospects will pay for a product, you need to build enough product in such a way that your potential customer will buy. If your driving force is a User Type that demands a certain level of usability and aesthetics, your product must minimally reach that level to test your objective.