In this keynote session at #mtpcon SF+Americas 2022, Dan Olsen, author of The Lean Product Playbook shares the importance versus satisfaction framework, and demonstrates how spending time understanding problems, rather than offering solutions, results in better products.
Watch this video or read on for key highlights from the talk.
- Solutions-first thinking can lead to teams investing time and effort in the wrong thing
- Product Managers need to be problem-obsessed, it’s crucial they work to ‘define’ customer needs as benefits
- Mapping problems by importance and satisfaction illustrates the scale of opportunity, competitive spaces and challenges the notion of ‘disruption’
Dan begins by describing the Product Manager’s responsibility to ‘build the right thing’ while maintaining influence without authority, which he jokingly frames under the motto: ’With great responsibility comes no power’. This pressure often means product people are too solution-oriented, asking ‘the wrong question, and the wrong approach’, rushing to a specific implementation in ‘a ready fire aim situation where we’re launching features, but we’re not really clear on the problems that they’re going to solve’. Working in this way, he says, means the odds of success are very low.
Part of the problem, Dan explains, is that we’re surrounded by team members who work in the solutions space, such as designers that ‘create designs and mock ups and pixels in solution space’ and developers who ‘ship code that works in the solution space’. Product Managers, he says, need to focus on the Problem Space, which is ‘devoid of any solution’. It’s their task to ‘define’ customer problems and needs, and condense them to problem statements or stories. ‘If you can work through who’s our customer, what are their needs, what’s our value prop, your odds of building solutions that are gonna actually be valued much higher’.
Translating problems to benefits
Organising and prioritising a list of problems can be a challenge. Dan recommends taking the list of customer needs and problems, and restructuring each item into an action statement. Starting with ‘the verb’ will help you identify what needs to be done to create value. With your standardised list of distinct benefits, Dan recommends using the ‘5 Why’s Technique’, asking ‘why is that valuable’ over and over again to help you create a ‘benefit ladder. By placing the answer to each ‘why’ a rung on the ladder, which can be compared and grouped across the different problems, you will get a clearer understanding of what the potential outcomes of solving one or more problems will be, and how that will then affect the needs and priorities of the others.
Importance vs satisfaction problem space analysis
Dan introduces the ‘Importance vs Satisfaction’ framework, an XY scatter chart which can be used to map out problems in order to understand opportunities, provoke discussion and help with prioritisation.
Importance sits on the Y axis and while teams can use measures of low, medium, high, Dan recommends a 5-point ranking, recommending customer surveys with averaged results to accurately map importance, explaining there’s usually ‘a little bit of noise between different people but they should cluster together’.
Satisfaction is marked on the X axis and looks at how satisfied customers are with the existing solution they have in place for the problem. Satisfaction can be rated from high to low, happy or unhappy, and Dan recommends using a 7 point scale with a neutral centre to measure responses.
After plotting problems as distinct points onto the chart, Dan divides view into 4 equal quadrants and analyses the implications of each section:
- Low importance and low satisfaction (bottom left) – Things that fall here are largely low value opportunities due to their importance level, even if they have the potential to make an impact and improve satisfaction.
- Low importance and high satisfaction (bottom right) – These items should be avoided at all costs, as they are fundamentally low importance and satisfaction will likely be hard to improve. Time and effort invested will not proportionally correspond to the value added.
- High importance and high satisfaction (upper right corner) – Items in this corner reflect ‘the definition of a competitive market’, Dan says, ‘this is the quadrant where you need to be 10x better’ to have customers change to your product.
- High importance and low satisfaction (upper left corner) – ‘That’s where opportunities lie’ Dan says, explaining how ‘the closer you are to that upper left corner, the bigger the opportunity, to create customer value’.
Pointing to the ‘Importance vs Satisfaction’ chart, Dan explains how disruptive innovation shifts everything sideways ‘redefining what 10 means’. He gives the example of music fans’ satisfaction with leading technologies, illustrating how with each technological advancement – from the transistor radio to the walkman to the MP3 play – people realised they could be more satisfied than previously thought, with past solutions now viewed as less satisfying than before. A truly disruptive technology must shift customer expectations and push the boundaries of possibility and potential.
Analysing product market fit
Dan explores how the framework can be used as a tool for measuring the value existing features are delivering to the market, reviewing customer importance and satisfaction to understand how your product offering meets market needsand, in doing so, illustrates areas for improvement.
For each feature or product he highlights the area from the x and y axis to demonstrate the area of value, and in the negative space to identify the area of opportunity to improve or to consider disruption.
In closing, Dan reminds us to ‘resist that temptation to jump to solutions’ and explore the problem space, hacking prioritisation by focussing on the high-value, low-satisfaction ideas which offer a low-risk ‘great path to success’.
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