How to identify product opportunities?
Ask “why” before “what,” use data and research to reveal the opportunity.
Why It’s Important
People tend to jump directly into problem-solving, based on a superficial understanding of a problem, before fully identifying a problem’s full context or conducting a robust analysis. Worse still: They define the problem through the lens of a solution they already have in mind. This leads to the misidentification of problems and ineffective solutions.
How to Use This Principle
Take the time to first understand the nuances of the problem (asking: Where, when, why, and how it occurs—and how it might be solved). Fuel these questions using research, data, and market insights. Focus on how the solution fits in with the broader team mission, then quantify its severity and scale. Synthesize all of these inputs and then focus on the highest-value opportunities.
Real-life application by Ashok Bania, VP of Product at Tumblr
I use this principle almost every time we plan for new or enhanced features, as well as setting product vision and strategy. It’s so universal that you can apply it to most any scenario where you encounter a question of “what’s next” or “what to build.”
One example that stands out is my team’s work on Voice Assistant Platform at Headspace. On the surface, it seemed every company with auditory content “should” be on this platform (e.g. Spotify, Audible, etc.). If that was the premise of building our product, we would have put the entire catalog of Headspace’s content in the Alexa skill (or Google Assistant action).
Instead, we started by asking ourselves “why this project, and why not anything else?” This is a simple trick that helps a team think more deeply about the impact a product will have on users, as well as the business. In the beginning, the goal was simple: we wanted users to have various ways to meditate. But this still didn’t answer why the user would use it, or the user problem we were solving.
We did a few user interviews and we learned about moments when they want something like Headspace hands-free, like:
- Waking up in the morning without having to look at a screen
- Falling asleep at night
- Group meditation.
But the real problems were: checking mobile right after waking up creates anxiety, and checking a mobile screen at night gets in the way of sleeping. Our product strategy became about not just launching specific content on voice platforms, but also tackling problem spaces such as poor quality sleep.
Only through this exercise of asking “why” and “what,” we developed our understanding of the severity, frequency, available solutions, and causes of poor sleep. With this information, we laid out a plan to justify investment in this project because of the impact it would have for the user and for the business.
PMs often work on high-impactful things with minimal investment, so it’s important to use your resources well. This is just one example of how making a practice of evaluating product opportunities will help you in the long run—from triaging which bugs to solve first, to feature development, and even making a 3 year company strategy.