Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


Five stages of problem solving

I’ve been thinking about the importance of problem statements lately. Well-written problem statements help product managers communicate both the difficulty faced in the market and the potential reward for solving the problems. If you stop and think about it you’ll see that problems are actually opportunities. New features, new products and even new industries spring up from people who see problems and find ways to solve them. The key to successfully solving problems is understanding them. The following steps will help you express problems clearly and help you identify solutions:

  1. Define the problem: Understand the nature of the problem and articulate it clearly so you understand its effects on the people you are trying to help.
  2. Produce ideas: Make a list of things you can do right away to solve the problem. Be aggressive in finding the right solution.
  3. Test the ideas: Discuss the best ideas with your team and test them with customers. Find out which ones resonate.
  4. Choose among ideas: Choose the idea that will best solve the problem.
  5. Plan for action: Write a plan to solve the problem. This plan will most often come in the form of clear product requirements that will guide the development, QA, marketing and other teams to successfully implement a product (or new product features) that solves the problem.

Well-written problem statements are an important communication tool for product managers. Adopting the five stages of problem solving to the writing clear problem statements — and requirements that solve them — will increase the success of your products and give you a repeatable process.

Note: I’ve adapted the five stages of problem solving to product management based on what I read in the book “A More Excellent Way” by the late Neal A. Maxwell, a great educator and religious leader.

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Accidental Branding

Why do some few brands take off like a rocket while many (most we’ve never heard of) never leave the ground? A new book that expounds on this question will be released this week. The title is Accidental Branding: How Ordinary People Build Extraordinary Brands by David Vinjamuri.

Accidental BrandingIn Accidental Branding, David profiles the leaders of several companies whose brands took off seemingly out of nowhere and succeeded in different, but amazing ways. The people he profiles include Gary Erickson of Clif Bar, Julie Clark of Baby Einstein, Roxanne Quimby of Burt’s Bees, John Peterman who created the J. Peterman brand and Craig Newmark who founded Craigslist. David qualifies an Accidental Brand as one that has three tests:

  1. An individual who is not trained in marketing must create the brand.
  2. This individual must experience the problem that the brand solves.
  3. The individual must control the brand for at least 10 years.

The great news for all of us is we can create a great brand regardless of whether we came from a wealthy family or attended an Ivy League university. Some of the people profiled did not even go to college. In his research, David discovered six rules that were keys to creating accidental brands:

  • Rule # 1 – Do Sweat The Small Stuff: Make sure you understand every way a consumer will interact with your brand, and choreograph all of those interactions.
  • Rule #2 – Pick a Fight: Accidental brands take real risk by going against the status quo; they reap rewards for doing so.
  • Rule #3 – Be Your Own Customer: Successful entrepreneurs are their own products’ consumers.
  • Rule #4 – Be Unnaturally Persistent: Most brands profiled took between 10 and 20 years to reach the $20 million mark.
  • Rule #5 – Build a Myth: The trick is selecting the facts that you want to tell people and deciding how best to share them.
  • Rule #6 – Be Faithful: Figure out who really supports you and keep listening to them. Don’t be distracted by all of the other people who end up coming along for the ride as you become more successful.

To take an idea and make something great requires determination and focused intention. The people profiled in Accidental Branding offer great examples of how anyone can, by following sound principles, create something great. I highly recommend you add Accidental Branding to your reading list.

Disclosure: Other than receiving an advanced copy of several pre-release chapters of Accidental Branding, I have no affiliation with the author or the book.