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Lack of problem worth solving - the reason your product failed


Some products are great. Beautifully looking, technically superb, with great marketing. Only one problem - no one is using them. Why? There's no problem worth solving with those products.

All products have one of these "origin stories". Someone spotted a problem existing in the world and found a better-than-existing solution. Someone thought something was a cool idea and built it. Both types of products could succeed. Only the first kind have more chances.

PMs are often called different names (most of them not pleasant), but there is one that strikes closest to the spirit of the job - we are problem solvers. The first thing any PM should do is to understand exhaustively the problem they are solving. If that's hard or the problem is not there - raise the alarm, your product might be failing.

How to spot a problem worth solving?

Here are a few easy methods to find a problem worth solving.

People tell you they have a problem

One of the easiest methods to find a problem worth solving is to ask people. Interviewing is one of the most powerful techniques in your PM arsenal when it comes to finding problems and evaluating them.

When talking to people about their problems - try to avoid multiple cognitive biases. Learn how to uncover real, significant problems by interviewing people the right way.

You see people having a problem

Another method to spot a problem worth solving is observation. It's a powerful method but a bit more tricky to pull off and get solid results. Firstly, you need to ask people for permission to observe their behaviour. Secondly, people will always alter their behaviour (even if slightly) when they know they are being observed. Finally, if you just observe - you might see the behaviour but might not understand the why behind it. Combine observation and interviewing to get the best results.

You analyse a consistently successful product

This method doesn't require you to interact with other people. You can take any successful product and dissect it. Decompose it to bits and understand the reasons for its success. In the heart of every consistently successful product lies a significant problem it solves. If you understand what this problem is and can design a superior solution - you'll greatly increase your product's chances of success.

Looks like a problem, smells like a problem - must be a problem

Every experienced PM inevitably learns to spot worthy problems to solve. Yet there are a few telltales that anyone can use.

The problem needs solving now! Not tomorrow, not next year, not maybe later - it is urgently requiring a solution.

It's a problem for many people. Not for one, not for your friends, not for some abstract group you can't define. You need to see multiple people struggling with the same thing.

People need to care for a solution. Some problems are annoying but we can live with them. If we have an easy, free and fun solution - we might apply it but if not - it's fine. But some problems are so annoying you'd do a lot to solve them. You'd pay money, spend time, apply your brain and attention. You need to find these problems if you want to build a successful product that will bring you money.

Problems go away eventually

If you spot a problem worth solving it doesn't mean it will always be there. Problems appear, they annoy us, we find solutions or ways to ignore them and then problems go away. Timing is extremely important in product management. Your solution might be spot on, but the problem might not be worthy to solve anymore. Bad timing.

Some problems stay with us for longer and are deeply rooted in the realities of our lives.
  • How we learn
  • How we meet each other
  • How we collaborate
  • How we distribute
  • How we trade
  • How we stay alive
  • How we stay sane

Unsurprisingly, those problems tend to be the hardest to solve. Yet you still should try as those are definitely worthy problems to solve.

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