Focus on the problem, not the solution

BY Martin Eriksson ON NOVEMBER 15, 2011

At a ProductTank last year one question from the audience made me want to jump up on stage and answer it myself – “where does the innovation and creativity go if product managers are defining all the products?”. Stop, I wanted to shout, you’re doing it wrong.

A lot of people new to the concept of product managers see us as interfering interlopers who design the product, define the solutions, and then throw it over the wall to get built. This may have been true 10 years ago but today we know better.

Product managers should not focus on designing solutions – they should focus on defining and prioritising problems. Focusing on the problem instead of the solution has a ton of benefits:

  1. You focus your time on the user’s need, what you’re trying to solve and why you need to solve it – not how.
  2. Your research automatically skews towards a deeper understanding of the user.
  3. Your user stories and personas become rich in background information which helps everyone involved make connections and find solutions that might not otherwise be obvious.
  4. You avoid optimising for local maxima – instead of focusing on one single solution focusing on the problem and describing it well to the team opens up a much wider universe of solutions.

Once you’ve done the research and defined, described and prioritised the problems, you work with the delivery team to collaboratively design the solution to that problem that best gets the job done. That way everyone’s creativity can be brought to bear and you will get a much better end result.

One of my proudest moments at Huddle was when a developer came up to me after a story writing session and presented a 10 minute solution to a problem that had been scoped out as a 3-5 day job (not that we counted man hours mind). This was only possible because he had a perfect picture of the user and the problem the user had.

So keep asking yourself – what problem are you trying to solve?

Martin Eriksson


Martin Eriksson

Martin Eriksson has 20+ years experience building world-class online products in both corporate and start-up environments for global brands such as Monster, Financial Times, Huddle, and Covestor. He is the Founder of ProductTank, the Co-Founder and Curator of Mind the Product, and an Executive in Residence at leading private equity and venture capital fund EQT. He is also the author of best-seller Product Leadership, How Top Product Leaders Launch Great Products and Build Successful Teams (O'Reilly, 2017).