2: Find problems rather than guess solutions

2: Find problems rather than guess solutions

I’m writing about one hundred things I’ve learned about being a product manager.

We’re product managers.  We’re in charge of the future direction of our products.  But when we start thinking about the requirements for a new product version, I bet we all make the same mistake when deciding what goes in.

My guess is that most will come from a backlog or list of feature requests we or perhaps our colleagues have compiled.  Maybe some from the list of features that we dropped from scope from previous releases.  Or a few suggested changes from our aesthete colleagues that would make the user interface look “fresh” and “current”.  And almost certainly a few tweaks suggested by our Very Important Customers and mandated by your boss’s boss.

The design, development and testing comes and goes.  Towards the end of the project, as the release date approaches, we  then check what we’ve created works okay by engaging in some user acceptance, beta or usability testing.

Wait a minute – we’ve missed a crucial step.

We’ve fallen into to the trap of thinking that we know better than our potential customers

We’ve not checked whether anyone is likely to pay good money for what we’ve decided to throw together into our new release.  In other words, we’ve fallen into to the trap of thinking that we know better than our potential customers.

Developing products in this way is back-to-front.  They’re solutions in search of a problem.  No matter how hard you market them or push your sales teams to sell them, your new release simply won’t gain traction.  There’s a real danger that your new release solves no market problems whatsoever, or at least solves no problems that your prospective customers will think are worth spending their cash on.

Wouldn’t it be great to be in that minority of companies that understands the needs of their target markets well?  These companies only develop products once they’re sure that they’ll solve real and valuable problems facing their customers.

Buck the trend – be part of the minority of companies achieving far greater success than the mediocre majority.

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Read more from Jock

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Jock is a freelance head of product, author and conference speaker. He has spent nearly two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. His clients include the BBC, University of Cambridge, and the UK's Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS).In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, a product management consultancy and training company. He is also the author of the popular book The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management and the blog I Manage Products.

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2 Comments on “2: Find problems rather than guess solutions

  1. Hi Jock,

    unfortunately still very true around here.

    When looking at what the market really requires, many companies seem to pay lip-service to this idea. But really, are still doing what you describe in the background, then trying to fit the two together (leaning towards the stuff they wanted to do anyway)…

  2. I’m sorry to hear that’s the case, but that’s precisely the problem – a company needs to be brave enough to go and speak to their customers, prospects and lost opportunities to perhaps learn some uncomfortable truths about what the market actually wants.

    It’s understandable that this is not an attractive option; after all, who wants to be the person who has to point out that their company’s lost its way?

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