Product Strategy — Part 2: Define the problem space
Understand the problem space, so you can shape an effective solution.
This article is a part of the Product Strategy series. (Paid subscribers can access the template at the end of the article)
How Quibi fails to understand the problem space
Product managers and designers often get excited about shipping a solution. But without having a clear understanding of the problem, we run a risk to build a product that no one wants.
Take Quibi for example, a streaming platform for short videos. that launched in April 2020. People can subscribe for $4.99 per month to enjoy 1-minutes episodes called “quick bites.”
But this leaves an obvious question: Why do people need Quibi? If people want to enjoy a short-form video, they can go to TikTok and YouTube instead. Quibi never ran any experimental public beta to understand what kind of features will resonate with their target users. They shut down in December 2020.
The bottom line is simple: If you don’t understand the problem space, you can’t shape your product in the right direction.
But what does problem space mean? How can we define it?
Defining the problem space
In the previous article, we discussed how to choose your target audience. Next, we need to answer this: What problem area should we solve for that target audience?
Should we reduce the pain for a journalist by providing a platform they can use to publish their writing? Or should we help them to deal with all the legal and paperwork? Those are two different problem spaces, and you want to be explicit about which one you want the team to focus on first.
When breaking down the problem space, I like to use the OSG model: Outcome—Status quo—Gaps.
1. What outcomes does the user want?
The common mistake the product managers or designers do is to focus on the solution before they understand what the end benefit the users want. In the classic example by Henry Ford, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”
That’s not very useful because we get a solution that users can imagine. Instead, it’s better to focus on the outcome people want by having a horse: Moving from point A to point B. By focusing on the outcome, we can innovate on the solution. In the case of Henry Ford, he ended up with cars.
Outcome: What’s the end benefit your target users want?
Motivation: Why do they want that outcome?
2. What’s the status quo?
Next, you want to understand what’s the current condition. This includes understanding what current solutions people use and how they use them in their daily activities. It is an important aspect to understand because it can be your biggest blind spot. We often evaluate our own products or conduct some testing about our products.
Just like Quibi, there is so little reason people pay for Quibi while they can consume a short video on Instagram, TikTok, or YouTube.