A 6-Part Formula for Developing a Customer Problem

Okay product leaders, this excerpt sheds some light on how to create a problem statement that works to focus the team and allow for you to say ‘no’ confidently. Take a look.

The following has been excerpted from Groundwork: Get Better at Making Better Products by Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin. 

Let’s examine what goes into a Convergent Problem Statement. As a reminder, a convergent problem statement clearly describes the most relevant difficulty the customer is dealing with and is stated with no attempt to address possible solutions. We want to clearly define the problem in detail so that anyone reading the problem statement can immediately understand the situation. Every problem statement should address the following six questions.

1. Who Does It Impact?

You need to be able to imagine the person impacted by the problem. Start by defining a real human being—someone you can relate to. Developing a sense of the person who has the problem immediately creates a sense of empathy. This empathy allows you to better understand the problem. Don’t focus on demographics; think about a specific person in a particular role. You don’t need to name them, but you do want a sense of who they are, where they work, and what their day-to-day life might look like.

2. What Are They Trying to Do?

You want to understand the context in which the person is operating. Here you’ll think in more depth about where they live, work, or play. Their surroundings matter. You need to know what they have access to, what their environment looks like, and what options are available for them. You start to build a picture of what they have access to, and the workarounds or options they may consider to naturally approach the problem.

3. How Do They Want to Feel?

We love this question. Yes, it’s touchy-feely, but it goes to the core of why someone will care about the problem being solved. And for all you super-analytical types, this will be a cornerstone as you think about marketing. Understanding the emotional toll of the problem will help you sell the benefits of using your product. Every problem in your life leads to an emotion.

When the person you envision experiences the problem at hand, do they feel annoyed? Grumpy? Frustrated? Angry? Exhausted? 

This is one of the hardest questions to answer, so keep exploring different adjectives until you find the one that resonates. When you land on the right emotion, it will feel like an “aha!” moment. Understanding how your customer feels can reveal whether the problem is a serious or a trivial one. Asking these emotion questions help you determine the list of features needed to solve the problem, develop the solution, and price it. But let’s not jump ahead of ourselves; there’s still more to learn about the problem.

4. What’s Getting in the Way of Just Addressing the Problem?

When customers have problems, they’ve usually tried to address them in some way if it’s important enough. Have they tried alternative solutions? Did anything partially work? Have they created workarounds, whether that’s through supplementary software or manual steps? Have they tried to reduce the impact of part of the problem? What are the biggest barriers to resolving their problem? Is it lack of awareness? Budget? Time? This question asks you to both ask direct questions, and also to closely observe behavior and actions.

5. When Does This Problem Occur?

This question is about timing. Is this a recurring problem? Is it a daily or a weekly problem? Does it only occur at the end of a fiscal quarter? Or does it occur once, but when it occurs, is it extremely painful? Understanding the frequency of the problem gives you a sense of the scale and size of the problem. This question pushes innovative thinking; understanding what’s happening for the customer at different points of time allows us to consider alternatives.

6. Why Does This Problem Exist?

As you complete the problem statement, start to develop a hypothesis about why this particular problem exists for your customer. What gets in the way of just going about their day and avoiding this problem? Are there any alternative solutions or products that are just not viable, or is there no solution and they are creating a set of workarounds? Try not to go straight to willingness to pay for a solution as the answer, after all, people will pay a lot to solve an important problem. Instead, consider other factors that might be causing this problem. 

Remember, it’s for the particular person that you imagined in the first question (who does the problem impact?). Don’t generalize across a population to determine why the problem exists.

The answers to these six core questions paint a picture of your customer and their problem.

 

If you like what you see, there’s more where that came from. Pick up Groundwork: Get Better at Making Better Products by Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin from Amazon.

Product Rebels is a product management training and coaching firm run by long term product executives for companies like Intuit and Mitchell International. We have trained over 200 companies, small and enterprise level, in the skills and frameworks that help product management leaders and product managers deliver kick-ass customer experiences. We have a passion for finding efficient ways of infusing customer insight into everything product teams do in pursuit of experiences that customers love …and that drive growth. Join us in the Product Rebels Community on Facebook or the Product Rebels Community on LinkedIn.

Take a look at our very practical training courses and coaching programs that give you practical tools, frameworks, and support you can use tomorrow in becoming a more effective product leader.  www.productrebels.com

6 Common Mistakes to Avoid with Customer Personas

This excerpt is great for any product leader or product manager trying to make more customer-driven decisions that won’t be overturned at the next meeting. One artifact that helps in this plight is the persona. Don’t roll your eyes! There are ways to develop effective personas that drive action for your teams and not just collect dust on a shelf. This excerpt from our book introduces some pitfalls that teams fall into in the development and use of personas. The full book expands on this and more!

The following has been excerpted from Groundwork: Get Better at Making Better Products by Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin. 

We once walked into our client’s building (name not mentioned to protect the innocent) and as part of the kickoff for the project, we asked for any documentation they had on their target customer. “You mean personas?” they asked. Yes! Exactly! 

They tapped out a message on Slack and minutes later, the UX designer walked into the conference room and placed three laminated, full color, 20” x 30” flip charts on the table. Each had four pages of detail, including pictures and text. Our eyes widened for just a second. As we started to thumb through the beautifully produced flip charts, we started asking questions. 

PR: How are these used?

Client: We use them when we design or redesign areas of the UX.

PR: Does the extended development team have copies of these? 

Client: No. They don’t need them.

PR: When was the last time you used them? 

Client: About three months ago, when we redesigned the onboarding experience.

PR: How were these developed? 

Client: We hired a design firm to research and produce these for us.

They had big, beautiful, professionally created personas they could hang on the wall, and could even spill food and water on without issue! And the research team used them. So, what’s the problem here? There were a few things:

It’s Not a Contest to Write the Longest, Most Detailed Persona

Don’t be fooled. Less is more here. You want the entire organization to know the personas, use them, and refer to them in all aspects of the product planning and creation process. They need to be simple, easily communicated, and constantly referenced.

It’s Not a Broad Persona

Too often we see wide swaths of the population depicted as the target market because they all experience the problem we’re solving. Hence, we create a broadly scoped persona. That may include solving it for someone who has the problem but doesn’t feel enough pain to act on that problem. This is a huge pitfall to avoid. Your target personas are only those willing to take the action you want them to in exchange for solving their problem; be it open their wallet, donate their time, respond to your communication, and so on.

One question we recommend asking during persona-related research is, “What would you be willing to pay to have this problem solved?” or “What would it take for you to open your wallet to pay for this solution concept we’re showing you?” or “What would you expect to pay for a solution like this?” Choose your own words to help you understand whether or not the research participant would be willing to take the action you want them to take. 

This is not meant to be a pricing discussion. We don’t recommend interviews for pricing research. To be clear, you should be focusing on people who have expressed a willingness to pay, donate, or act to have their problem solved and not those that show a mere interest in solving the problem. Your persona will become clearer as you understand who is willing to pay and who isn’t.

It’s Not About Outsourcing

Taking ownership of your customer is your job. This is the Groundwork you and your team must do with your own hands. Interacting with customers, discussing what you learned with the team, and coming to a shared vision on your target persona is a requirement for creating products that customers love. Don’t get us wrong—we do outsource research, but there is a time and place for outsourcing. For this aspect of the Groundwork, you need to learn from your customers firsthand.

It’s Not A Laundry List of Demographics

Our client didn’t make this mistake—they did a great job of deeply understanding the archetype and bringing each of these personas to life. But we frequently see personas represented as a list of demographics and a couple of attitudes, rendering the personas one dimensional and not actionable. Demographics are good for marketing in terms of buying direct mail lists, filtering within social media campaigns, and calculating available market sizes. But they are bad for making product and design decisions. You need to understand attitudes, behaviors, goals, a day-in-the-life, and similar information.

It Isn’t A Job Description

Many B2B personas we see describe a job and the daily tasks within that job. A list of job responsibilities is very helpful when you’re trying to understand where your problem space fits into the world of that persona and when you’re identifying relevant needs that must be addressed to solve the problem well. However, just knowing a person’s daily job tasks tells you nothing about who the person is or how you should build an experience that delights them. So, in other words, a job description is helpful in describing the “what” you’re going to do, but it doesn’t give you any guidance on “how” you’re going to do it. There are many ways to design a feature depending on the traits of your user. The feature addresses the task at hand but the design approach (the aesthetic, placement of buttons, vernacular used, types and number of steps to complete the task, etc.) will vary widely depending on who you are building that feature for. Avoid just focusing on what could turn into features (job tasks and responsibilities) and focus more on the inputs to your design approach (this person’s aspirations and how they go about their daily life).

It Isn’t “One-And-Done”

Personas are always evolving. Most of the time, you start with hypotheses about who your target user is. You’re never right the first time. For example, you may assume your persona is focused on accuracy given that they are an accountant and spend a lot of time playing the role of “accuracy police” with their staff. But as you conduct more research to investigate their needs you find that, yes, accuracy is important, but they actually view themselves as a coach that helps their staff build good data hygiene. 

Think about how differently you might design an accounting software experience for someone who views themselves as a coach to help others with their accuracy checking instead of someone who views themselves as the “accuracy police.” The former might have the product team prioritizing data reconciliation functionality for the staff roles, while the latter might prioritize the ability to check their staff’s work. It doesn’t mean you can’t do both, but it certainly would dictate your prioritization of the two areas of functionality.

As you conduct more research you will learn more about your target customer, proving or disproving your hypotheses and refining the persona. Without this refinement, personas get shelved and become out of touch with reality.

 

If you like what you see, there’s more where that came from. Pick up Groundwork: Get Better at Making Better Products by Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin from Amazon.

Product Rebels is a product management training and coaching firm run by long term product executives for companies like Intuit and Mitchell International. We have trained over 200 companies, small and enterprise level, in the skills and frameworks that help product management leaders and product managers deliver kick-ass customer experiences. We have a passion for finding efficient ways of infusing customer insight into everything product teams do in pursuit of experiences that customers love …and that drive growth.  Join us in the Product Rebels Community on Facebook or the Product Rebels Community on LinkedIn.

Take a look at our very practical training courses and coaching programs that give you practical tools, frameworks, and support you can use tomorrow in becoming a more effective product leader.  www.productrebels.com

4 Things Every Product Manager Needs to Think About Before Development

For you product leaders that are struggling to make the tough tradeoffs. Our book’s definition of the Convergent Problem Statement can help. This excerpt references some strategies in establishing just that with your team in order to make product decisions much more efficient and durable.

The following excerpt is from Groundwork: Get Better at Making Better Products by Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin. 

The Convergent Problem Statement is just as useful for new products as it is to prioritize features for existing products. We love starting ideation with a couple of the most compelling problem statements, helping us to explore and ultimately prioritize which customer problem our business is best positioned to address. 

As a reminder, a convergent problem statement clearly describes the most relevant difficulty the customer is dealing with and is stated with no attempt to address possible solutions.

For product leaders, the best way to support your team is to be deeply involved and invested at this early stage. When you help your product manager (PM) work towards a Convergent Problem Statement, you set the Groundwork for a successful product. Here are some strategies to working with your PMs: 

  • Insist that every “idea” is framed as a problem statement. In our work, we’ve even created mini templates and asked anyone in the company to share product ideas as long as they write the ideas in the form of a problem and not a solution. This helps cut down the noise of new product ideas since there is the small hurdle of entering it as a well-formed problem statement. This practice helps our team source new ideas, and highlights people in the organization who are passionate about solving customer problems.
  • Share the iterations that helped you converge to the chosen problem. You want to show by example that no one gets it right the first time. By showcasing examples, you provide a roadmap for how you want your product team to think. Many problem statements start with a lot of guesses, and then you refine them through learning. Show that journey for your teams to emulate.
  • Highlight “failures” or problem statements that ended up abandoned because you proved there wasn’t actually a problem! We’ve all been captivated by new product ideas or solutions that we thought were so obvious. When we do the work we uncover that customers had a simple workaround, or felt lukewarm toward the idea, or discovered the problem wasn’t important enough to want to pay for a solution. We’ve shared when a customer’s “good-enough” solution was sufficient or the pain wasn’t high enough for them to choose an alternative. By highlighting examples, you demonstrate the rigor that brings a product or feature onto the roadmap. You’ll see all the teams you work with gain confidence knowing that customers are waiting for their solution.
  • Never assign development resources unless you are satisfied that there is a genuine Convergent Problem Statement. This can feel painful when there are engineers available and both you and your product manager feel the urgency to create work. You have to stay strong! You’ll avoid much pain and suffering (which can manifest as bad customer reviews, rework, and unhappy teams).

 

If you like what you see, there’s more where that came from. Pick up Groundwork: Get Better at Making Better Products by Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin from Amazon.

Product Rebels is a product management training and coaching firm run by long term product executives for companies like Intuit and Mitchell International. We have trained over 200 companies, small and enterprise level, in the skills and frameworks that help product management leaders and product managers deliver kick-ass customer experiences. We have a passion for finding efficient ways of infusing customer insight into everything product teams do in pursuit of experiences that customers love …and that drive growth.  Join us in the Product Rebels Community on Facebook or the Product Rebels Community on LinkedIn.

Take a look at our very practical training courses and coaching programs that give you practical tools, frameworks, and support you can use tomorrow in becoming a more effective product leader.  www.productrebels.com