In Product Management, it’s Not About the Big Idea. It’s About the Problem You Need to Solve.

solving problems with product management

In reality, there are already too many ideas. Maybe even too many big ideas. That’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news: as consumers and businesses, we have an endless number of problems. Some are big problems. And usually big problems need ideas of all sizes in order to find the right solution.

A key to success in a startup: focus on getting out of the building (thanks, Steve Blank!) and strive to identify the ‘real’ problem. Customers have problems and they look for solutions in the products they evaluate or purchase. Big ideas may solve the problems, but chances are, if you start with the big idea, you may be starting in the wrong place.

The great marketing expert Theodore Levitt stated 40 years ago “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”

Recently I had the pleasure of listening to serial entrepreneur and business leader Andy Hannah of Othot, a business predictive analytics company, speak about customer discovery. Andy was a part of an excellent panel discussing the challenges of customer discovery. One of the stories he relayed was talking to a prospect from the local science center and asking what their biggest problem was.

The Answer?

Could his company predict the attendance to the museum every day?  Yes! But it turns out that wasn’t the problem the customer really had. What was their real problem? They needed to find a way to increase daily attendance between the months of January and April.

So, you can see that drilling down and spending the time to discover the real problem can be both challenging and interesting. You need to listen to your prospects and customers carefully. You need to dig in and ask questions – repeatedly – in order to truly understand the issue.

My advice: stop building your big idea product. Start developing a product that solves a problem.

How do you do this?

1.) Ask questions to understand the problem you want to solve for your customer and what you want to help your customer achieve. Today, this is called ‘customer discovery.’ Forget your idea for a moment and dig deep into the face-to-face dialog with your potential customer. This is where you find the good stuff, and it should never be avoided. It reduces risk and educates you on the key functions required for a solution.

2.) Define your value to the customer. Determining your company or product’s value proposition can be tough work. Truly understanding that your product cannot be everything to everyone is also important work. But this will drive your strategy, set your marketing messages, and, most importantly align your product or service offering with what your customer truly needs.

Essentially this requires you to invest time in discovering ‘product market fit.’ But don’t start with the product or technology and then try to discover or force fit it as a solution.

We’ve come a long way with product development and management in recent years. We’ve learned a lot about developing great new products and launching new companies:

  • Start with the problem.
  • Understand the job to be done.
  • Understand the level of pain associated with the problem.
  • Understand how the problem is solved today.
  • And then think about your big idea.

We shouldn’t confuse a great idea with where it came from. Truly useful ideas don’t always arise from brainstorming or divergent thinking. The best ideas – and products – may simply come in response to an important problem.