Home Newsletters December 2019 Newsletter

Defining the Situation: A First Step to Solving Product Conundrums

December 23, 2019

A structured approach is best when analyzing and addressing complex product issues

When attempting to solve business problems, product management leaders and product managers often jump into problem-solving mode and pursue the first possible solution that they identify. In most cases, however, the first solution to a product-related problem — or opportunity — is rarely the best, and a deeper analysis yields a better solution. In this issue of SiriusPerspectives, we present a structured approach that product managers and product leaders can use to define issues so that they can identify potential solutions.

The Benefits of Using This Approach

The approach described below is intended to guide product managers and leaders through the questions they should ask themselves, as well as teams or colleagues, when faced with a challenging product situation. Answering these questions leads to a better understanding of the situation and the ability to identify more and better potential solutions. This approach can benefit companies in the following scenarios:

  • Addressing customer needs that have no obvious solution. Companies should conduct research to understand customer needs. In many cases, addressing those needs may be challenging, or multiple audiences may have conflicting needs. For example, in healthcare (particularly in the United States) some needs of patients, providers and payers clash — or payer incentives make it difficult for providers to address patient needs. The approach outlined in this brief yields a well-rounded view of the situation to shed light on potential win-win resolutions.
  • Addressing product performance issues. When a product is not performing as expected, using this approach can reveal issues that may not have been previously obvious. If a once-leading product is being overtaken by an emerging competitor, and the product team is not sure why, this may identify incorrect assumptions. Many product managers fail to look at a product’s lack of commercial success from the perspective of the customer. Our approach provides a balance between the internal and external views.
  • Identifying options to seize a market opportunity. A challenging situation also may be an enticing commercial opportunity that the organization wants to capitalize on as quickly and easily as possible. A company may be in the discovery stage of addressing a potentially lucrative market opportunity but struggle with selecting the most appropriate solution. Clarifying the opportunity and the nuances associated with it can provide the foundation for identifying various approaches to win in the market and choosing the approach that offers the best chance of commercial success.

One: Setting the Context

Before diving into the details of the situation, summarize the context by addressing two questions, each in two sentences or less:

  • What is the situation? Address the purpose for going through this exercise, and describe the problem or opportunity.
  • What is the desired outcome? Describe what success looks like. Include internal (e.g. agreement on strategy) and external (e.g. gains in market share) factors, along with relevant timelines (e.g. by the end of the third quarter).

Answer these questions before completing the following two sections. After going through the entire exercise, review the answers to these questions again, as they may need to be modified in light of the insights gleaned from the process

Two: External View

Product managers often try to solve problems using an inside-out approach, neglecting to look at the situation from the customer’s perspective. Instead, start with the external view:

  • What is the current state? Do customers, buyers or partners perceive a problem? What is their issue with the current situation? In some cases, a problem for the internal organization may be a non-issue in the minds of customers.
  • What evidence exists to support this? Is the description of the current state backed up with data such as market research or customer complaints, or is it simply informed by opinions or a few anecdotal reports?
  • What audience does this apply to? A situation may only affect certain market segments, personas or customer types (new customers vs. long-time customers). Clarify whether this issue affects the entire audience or only specific groups. In the latter case, this provides context for the answers that follow.
  • What is the impact of this situation? How is the audience affected by this problem? What is the magnitude of the impact? Does it vary by audience? Is the impact, magnitude or audience likely to change in the future? Repercussions of a known problem may be something tangible (e.g. increased staff turnover) or more amorphous (e.g. missing out on an opportunity). Clarify whether the audience realizes there is a problem or missed opportunity. Especially as it relates to customer needs, the problem may be an implicit need that customers don’t even know they have.
  • Would the audience benefit if the situation changed? Describe the positive outcomes of resolving the problem or advantage of the opportunity. Articulate the differences by audience, if relevant. In some cases, the current state might be good from the customer’s perspective but bad from the organization’s perspective — so solving the problem could be detrimental to the audience. For example, customers may be happy with the high level of service they receive, but the service may be unprofitable and unsustainable for the company to deliver, and decreasing the level of service or charging for it may cause customers to react negatively.

Three: Internal View

Next, evaluate the situation from the perspective of the company (or that of a specific function, if relevant):

  • What is the current state? Does the company — or groups within the company— perceive a problem? What is problematic about the current situation?
  • What evidence exists to support this? Is the description of the current state backed up with data, or is it derived from one person’s opinion or broader conjecture?
  • What is the level of awareness and agreement on the current state? Do all internal stakeholders, groups or individuals agree on the assessment of the situation? If not, where is there disagreement?
  • What is the impact of this situation? How are the organization, specific groups and individuals affected by this problem? What is the magnitude of the impact, and does it differ across groups (and to different degrees)? Is the impact, magnitude or audience likely to change in the future?
  • How would the company benefit if the situation changed? What would be the impact on the organization if the problem was solved or the opportunity addressed? Would the impact vary by stakeholder? For example, would a specific person or group that benefits from the current state be negatively affected if the situation was resolved? In many cases, the impact would be positive to the company. However, some situations may be more complex, so changes to the current state would be bad for customers and thus bad for the company.
  • What would happen if the situation didn’t change? If the current state continued, what would be the short-term and long-term effects?

The Sirius Decision

By addressing these questions, product managers can more thoroughly articulate the issues facing the business and, as a result, devise more appropriate solutions. This exercise may be completed in various ways. An individual may answer the questions, then socialize the answers with peers to get their input and refine the answers. Multiple individuals may go through the exercise, then get together and compare answers. Another option is to make this a group exercise in which an impartial third party facilitates the discussion to establish alignment across a group. Regardless of the chosen approach — or combination of approaches — ensure the exercise provides maximum value by answering each question fully and honestly. If multiple conundrums must be addressed — and if these are unrelated or the answers to the questions are divergent — it may be necessary to go through this exercise once for each issue.

The SiriusDecisions Sales Knowledge Transfer Framework

The SiriusDecisions Sales Knowledge Transfer Framework

<p>Portfolio marketing leaders increase sales of the offering via knowledge transfer, content and programs for sel... Access Now
<p>Portfolio marketing leaders increase sales of the offering via knowledge transfer, content and programs for sellers. The SiriusDecisions Sales Knowledge Transfer Framework enables this by providing a consistent approach to enabling sales with key knowledge components. The framework is organized into five high-level phases, which are further subdivided into a series of key activities, interlocks... Access Now