Problems are awful, and why you should want them.
by Jase June 21, 2018
Problems are awful, and why you should want them.

Steve Jobs famously said “people don't know what they want until you show it to them.” And it seems like many of today’s executives and product owners have taken that mantra too far.

Steve Jobs was right in that customers can’t articulate the exact product or service they want. But customers can tell you about the problems they are facing. And they’ll passionately share how frustrating those problems are, and what (if anything) they are doing to solve them. As a product builder it’s up to you to find an innovative way to solve your customers problem.

Segway into a Better way

Innovating and building successful products isn’t a matter of just great engineering, foresight or marketing (although you’ll need those). Innovating is finding novel solutions to people's’ problems.

Let’s take the Segway. An interesting product, the Segway was futuristic, self balancing, sleek, and quick enough. It failed to gain widespread adoption because it didn’t solve anyone’s problem.

Bikes are faster, cheaper, easier to store, and you already have one. Biking feels good because it’s exercise. Compared to Segwaying which makes you look lazy. Let’s not even go into falling off of one.

Customer validation can start by asking your customers what they think of your idea — Typically with sometype of InVision mockups or similar. By starting with mock-ups you bias customers because they’ll be focused more on the mockups, rather than the solution. We’re proposing using customer interviews to validate the problem, before working on the solution.

Before you build your next product, web app, or minimum viable product (MVP), you need to understand what problem you’re solving, who you are solving it for and why. 

Problems Before Solutions

Starting at the problem you’re solving helps avoid pitfalls, and focus on the critical aspects which matter to your customers. There are different frameworks which exist to do so. For this post, let’s use Jobs-To-Be-Done as the inspiration.

Jobs-To-Be-Done was pioneered by Clay Christensen, who was looking for a way to improve innovation success at companies. He intensely studied why products succeed or fail.

Whether you’re building the next Photoshop, launching an online learning platform, or anything else, validate your idea by framing it around the problem you’re solving. This will help you empathize and align your solution to your customers problem.

People Hire for a Job-To-Be-Done

Jobs-To-Be-Done theory states that people ‘hire’ products to complete jobs for them in a specific context. The key is to understand not just the problem but the context around it. Consider a Rolex 🤔— You don’t buy a Rolex because you want a watch. You buy one because it makes you feel successful, powerful, proud, etc... and typically, they’re purchased around major life events, like that big promotion you just got.

Validation questions are different than standard research interviews or surveys. For one, you’ll be asking your customers to go into details about their responses, and context around the problem. Don’t be shy, ask for clarification.

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Questions to ask:

Start by breaking the ice. Ask some questions about the person, their line of work, thoughts on the industry, etc… When you’ve got them comfortable, switch gears, ask permission to begin the interview. Don’t forget to smile and be enthusiastic — It’s contagious and will make your interviewee more comfortable.

- What frustrations do you face in your job or industry? - When did you first realize you needed [something] to solve this problem? - Where are you when you experience this problem? And who else has this problem? - How do you currently attempt to solve this problem? - What would happen if you could wave a magic wand and solve this problem? What would the magic wand do? - What would you accomplish with this new product? 

❗️Key info to look for❗️ - What is the problem, and the context around that problem? - How is the customer currently solving it (if at all)? - How painful is this problem for them? 🔵A few tips

1. This is a conversation first — Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification, or more details. 2. These types of conversations are best in person or over video call. Phone calls can suffice as well. Avoid online surveys. 3. It pays to do them in pairs, one to ask questions, and one to take notes. If for whatever reason you cannot do them in pairs, just record the conversation. We like Luffa, they’ve got a great tool which can transcribe the content, and share it with others — Don't worry, any recording app works. 4. Remember what Harvard Professor Theodore Levitt said “people don’t want quarter inch drill bits, they want quarter inch holes.” Bring everything back to the problem, and what happens when you solve it.

Who to ask?

Before you build your next project, speak to the person who you think will use what you’re building. In fact, you should look outside your customer base for (at least a few of) your interviews.

Define your ideal customer. Their role, their industry, their location, their experience level — Think like a marketing person building a user persona.

Your goal should be to book 20-25 calls, and get through half of them. Don’t be shy in asking. People love sharing their opinions.

How do you Know if you’ve got the Problem?

Once you’ve completed the interviews, and have a clear idea of the problem you’re solving, create a statement you can refer back to. This statement needs to encompass:

1. The context of the problem 2. The motivation solving it 3. The outcome your customer is looking for.

To go back to our Rolex example, the statement could be: “I want to show that I’m successful when meeting prospective clients because it helps me convey expertise and trust. A Rolex shows that I have made it, and that I am successful. Plus, I just got a promotion, and deserve something nice.”

If the interviews show that you haven't nailed the problem down, then ask yourself if you've heard any pain points from your interviewees that you'd like to solve. And start rethinking your product.

One last thought on building a new product. You’re competing against non-consumption. If you’re solution isn’t compelling enough to overcome your prospective customer inertia, you’ll have a hard time finding success. It should be a compelling solution, to a real problem.

Ready to transform your business?