Hey PM… Do you chase problems or solutions?

The ultimate objective of a Product Manager is building products that customers love. Nevertheless, Product Managers approach the objective from 2 perspectives i) Solution Approach aka Seeking Solution or ii) Problem Approach aka Problem Seeking. Even though those two approaches appear to be two sides of the same coin, they lead to different outcomes.

Problem Seeking

The journey to building a great product that customers love should always start with identifying a right problem. Product Managers should be problem seekers to discover problems or needs that customers encounter in their business. The discovery process involves developing an empathy with customers to understand their business, needs or problems that their business foresee in the near and long-term, and what drivers or factors are triggering those problems. How customers are handling those existing problems, what alternate outcomes are most desirable to address those problems. Product Managers should rely on both what they hear and what they see to develop a mental map of all the problems or needs that customers encounter, how they are addressing them currently, and what is causing those needs or problems. Product Managers should spend time refining the problem statement and prioritizing which problems to address. When the focus is on identifying a right problem, conceptualizing a solution to address that problem will result in a great product that customers want.

Solution Seeking

On the contrary, the journey to building products triggers with an idea. An idea often evokes the feeling of a solution and not the actual problem. Ideas are everywhere and we hear them every day – An idea that can disrupt the entire market, an idea that can sweep customers off their feet, and an idea that can displace all competitors. Seldom have those ideas had a backing of right problems? Most ideas give rise to a problem statement rather than being born out of a problem statement. Such ideas try hard to map to a problem that might not be a real problem. Further confirmation bias will shield a Product Manager from seeing the reality. Never start the journey of building a product with an idea, start with a problem and get married to the problem, so you will strive to create a right solution for the right problem.

I am not against generating ideas, what I am advocating is to evaluate idea from the perspective of a problem. I have often reiterated that PM owns the problem space and engineers own the solution space, it is natural for engineers to walk to PMs with lots of ideas. However, evaluate the idea from the perspective of a problem by shifting the focus back to the problem.

Always connect the problem to the solution and not the other way around

Doing so, we could have a 360-degree view of the problem, refine the problem statement and fill the gaps in the idea that it addresses the right problem instead of being blindly swayed away by the brilliance of the idea. So, go ahead and start seeking problems.

Appreciate your thoughts or opinions

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.