My product management toolkit (38): discovering opportunities and solutions

As product people we all know how enticing it can be to take an idea for a product or feature and simply run with it. The number of product teams I come across that will straight away test a specific idea without understanding the problem or opportunity it’s trying to address is plentiful. This observation is by no means intended as a criticism; I know first hand how easy it is to get excited by a specific idea and to go for it without contemplating any other ideas.

Teresa Torres — probably one of the best product discovery coaches I know — observes that “we don’t examine our ideas before investing in them” or “our solutions don’t connect to an opportunity or our desired outcome at all” (you can find Torres’ observations in her great article here). To solve these issues, Torres has come up with the “Opportunity Solution Tree” framework:

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Taken from: Teresa Torres, Why This Opportunity Solution Tree is Changing the Way Product Teams Work, https://www.producttalk.org/2016/08/opportunity-solution-tree/

Torres argues that “good product discovery requires discovering opportunities as well as discovering solutions.” Product people are problem solvers most and foremost, and Torres encourages us to start with the problem first and I like the definition of what constitutes a problem by the late David H. Jonassen that she refers to:

“A problem is an unknown that results from any situation in which a person seeks to fulfil a need or accomplish a goal. However, problems are problems only when there is a “felt need” that motivates people to search for a solution in order to eliminate discrepancies.”

This problem definition by Jonassen made me reflect on what makes an “outcome” as defined in the excellent book by Joshua Seiden titled “Outcomes Over Output”:

“Outcomes are the changes in the customer, user, employee behaviour that lead to good things for your company, your organisation, or whomever is the focus of your work.”

Torres talks about how we often will retro fit an idea or solution to a desired outcome, thus failing to both fully understand the desired outcome and explore an appropriate number of potential solutions to that outcome:

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Taken from: Teresa Torres, Why This Opportunity Solution Tree is Changing the Way Product Teams Work, https://www.producttalk.org/2016/08/opportunity-solution-tree/

Instead, Torres’ “Opportunity Solution Tree” encourages us to think about the desired outcome first, after which we can explore opportunities to achieve the desired outcome. We can then examine each opportunity and potential solution in more detail, cross-compare perceived value of each solution in a more objective and systemic manner:

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Main learning point: A key takeaway from the Opportunity Solution Tree is to consider multiple opportunities and solutions. Whilst this may sound like no brainer, we’re often tempted to zoom in on or commit to a single opportunity or solution straight away, failing to consider its impact on the desired outcome.

Written by

Product at ASOS, author of "My Product Management Toolkit", family, boxing and founder of @hiphoplistings and blogging via http://t.co/uGr5nRye

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