NOEL DE MARTIN

The Three Pillars of Product Success

With time, I've come to observe there are three key components necessary for a healthy product to exist: Business, Design and Development. This post is by no means a deep revelation or anything new, but it is an analysis I would like to perform as an exercise to obtain some insights.

The three pillars

This so-called pillars are areas of action which can be taken towards everything regarding a product. Of course there is not a fine line separating the three of them, there is rather a gray boundary of uncertainty. But I'll try to explain how I see them and which matters concern each one.

The first pillar to talk about is Business. “Money” is probably what comes to mind when you read that word, but that's not the only important aspect to think about. In this context, Business is the reason to be of the product, what is called the vision, and how is it going to change the world. This is the most intangible of the three pillars, because it has arguably nothing to do with the product itself. It's important to always keep in line what is being done with what is trying to be achieved. Of course, money is necessary to do a lot of things, and that is why it is a core part of Business. So, basically, Business is everything related to the ultimate goal (vision), how to achieve it (resources) and keeping control of the progress (management).

The second pillar is Design. This includes graphic design, user experience and image. It is about the product seen from an outsider's point of view. Traditionally it is something ignored by developers, and it is often substituted with the bad practice of “prettifying”. Design is something that should be had into account from the start, and goes way beyond graphics or marketing. Some people even talk about design-led organizations.

And finally, Development is the third pillar, the actual building of the product. It has everything to do with the technology. It's the insights of the product, the inner workings and the gears. The importance of this area is in building a product in line with Design and Business. It's easy to drown into technicalities and lose focus, but the real challenge is to build the perfect infrastructure for a product to grow in the correct direction (under-engineering or over-engineering are completely Development mistakes).

To finalize the understanding of this pillars, if we had to do a simile with a human being, Business would be the soul, Development would be the body and Design would be the clothes.

Analysis and practical applications

Now we understand what this three pillars refer to. Let's see why they are the key combination for a successful product. The Business provides the longevity, resources and reason to be of the project. Everything which is necessary for the project to be sustained, it represents the core and the foundation everything depends upon. The Design is in charge of making a product for the present, how to take an idea into reality and make a viable product. It means being in contact with clients and measuring the actual usage of the product. And finally the Development will make possible all the necessities Design and Business have in the most efficient, flexible way possible. With this explanation it is clear that none is more important than the others, because there cannot be a product without covering all this necessities. You may be thinking of a scenario where one product reached success totally ignoring one of this aspects: Viral applications like Flappy Birds come to life overseeing the Business; clone showcase HTML5 cross-platform apps driven by marketing ignore and even sub-contract Development; and Geeky applications like command-line games ignore Design. But by successful product I mean an organically created product, born from the Entrepreneur Marathon, which can live for decades. Note that the kind of applications I just mentioned are no more than one hit wonders or temporal gold mines.

With the understanding that all of these aspects are necessary, it's important to give attention to all of them when working on a product. I would defend that any unsuccessful project is due to the mismanagement on any of these parts (if you built a product the market doesn't accept, it's probably because you didn't do the due validation of the idea, that would be because you failed on the Business pillar).

The take away for this analysis is to always balance this three aspects in a project. Ideally, at the start of a project we would have one person in charge of each of the pillars. But in the case any is missing, it is important to cover it with external services (consulting, research, etc.) or have a person take multiple roles. It would be an error to procrastinate it until a later stage of the project.