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How this 10 questions will change your product thinking
A 10-step guide to solving problems and growing impact in your role as a designer/product manager.
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How can I sharpen my thinking to drive impact in my company’s product?
Product thinking is not only one of the most important Designer/PM skills. And it’s often the hardest to learn.
Contrary to what a lot of people believe, product thinking is not something you need to be born with. It’s a learned skill, just like any other Design/PM skill. Sure, some people are naturally better at it, but that’s OK.
Product Thinking = Problem-Solving as a designer/PM.
As the world becomes more complex, product thinking is becoming an increasingly important skill. But how do you develop this skill?
Here are 10 explorative questions in 3 sections to help you sharpen your thinking and problem-solving skills.
1️⃣ Part 1: Is this problem worth solving?
1. Is it aligned with the product's long-term vision and strategy?
Even if a problem is significant for customers and beneficial for the company to address, it may not be consistent with its long-term vision. For example, if the issue is related to the web while the company wants to prioritize the app.
Declining to address a critical problem that conflicts with the company or product's vision is crucial for maintaining focus.
2. How impactful will this be for users?
The answer to this question is not as straightforward as categorizing it as "nice to have" or "must have." There are three dimensions to consider when evaluating the impact of a problem:
Reach: This is the number of customers affected by the problem. It is a concrete, measurable number.
Intensity: This refers to how severe the pain caused by the problem is. This can be assessed using a subjective scale of low-medium-high or a numeric scale of 1-10. Ideally, the score should be based on user research.
User segment: This refers to which customers are affected by the problem. Some customers may be more valuable to the business than others, and this can be factored in using a multiplier.
Impact = reach * intensity * user segment
3. What do you need to deprioritize to work on this?
You only have a finite resource and when you work on a certain problem, it means you’re not working on other problems. That’s your opportunity cost: the potential loss from a missed opportunity.
Think about the next thing(s) you’re going to work on if you’re not working on this problem, and make sure that you can afford that cost.
2️⃣ Part 2: First principles thinking
4. What is the problem?
The first step in solving any problem is to understand what the problem is. This involves identifying the symptoms and underlying causes of the problem.
Clearly define the problem in a succinct statement.
Identify what led to the problem and the symptoms that are indicating its existence.
5. What are the boundaries of the problem?
Once you've identified the problem, you need to define its boundaries. This involves determining what is and isn't part of the problem.
Identify the scope of the problem and the context in which it occurs.
Understand what factors are directly related to the problem and which are not.
6. What are the possible causes of the problem?
Once you know what the problem is and its boundaries, you can start identifying possible causes. This involves generating a list of potential causes based on your understanding of the problem.
Brainstorm all possible causes to make sure all bases are covered.
Be open to any potential source of the problem, no matter how unlikely it may seem.
7. What is the root cause of the problem?
Once you have a list of possible causes, you need to determine which one is the root cause. This involves analyzing each potential cause and eliminating those that aren't the true cause.
Analyze each potential cause to determine its relationship to the problem.
Eliminate causes that are not directly related to the problem.
3️⃣ Part 3: Exploring the best solutions
8. What are the potential solutions?
Once you've identified the root cause, you can start brainstorming potential solutions. This involves generating a list of possible solutions based on your understanding of the problem and its root cause.
Brainstorm a range of potential solutions to ensure that all options are considered.
Focus on solutions that address the root cause of the problem.
9. What are the pros and cons of each solution?
Once you have a list of potential solutions, you need to evaluate each one. This involves identifying the pros and cons of each solution.
Analyze each potential solution in detail to understand its implications.
Identify the strengths and weaknesses of each potential solution.
Consider all factors and evaluate each potential solution objectively.
Select the solution that best aligns with your goals and objectives.
10. What are the assumption risks, and can we derisk them?
Solutions are based on assumptions — that customers want to do certain actions, that engineers can build something in a certain way, etc. Your team might have different confidence levels in those assumptions. And each assumption also has a different level of importance in making your solution work.
Try to map out those assumptions in a 2x2 scale of confidence and importance so you can identify which assumptions you need to de-risk.
Template on FigJam: https://www.figma.com/community/file/1084895966283737505
11. (🌟) Am I the best person to solve this?
You might be thinking — What? After going through 10 questions to refine this problem and define the solution, you wanted me to give this to someone else?
Yes, particularly if your company is scaling up quickly and you’re becoming a more senior member of the team. That’s how you actually grow. By empowering a more junior team member to work on this problem, you get to a) learn new skills (e.g. delegating, mentoring) and b) free up your time to do more impactful work.
In summary, 11 questions to help you think sharper:
Is it aligned with the product's long-term vision and strategy?
How impactful will this be for users?
What do you need to deprioritize to work on this?
What is the problem?
What are the boundaries of the problem?
What are the possible causes of the problem?
What is the root cause of the problem?
What are the potential solutions?
What are the pros and cons of each solution?
What are the assumption risks, and can we derisk them?
Am I the best person to solve this?
That’s it for this week! What else do you think would be helpful? Hit me up if you have any stories, feedback, or insights to share. Comment below 👇
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