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.