When we hurry to launch an MVP, we are creating a solution for a problem. However, a very important step to create a good solution is the understanding of the problem.
It is human nature to jump into solution mode when we learn about a problem. When we hear about a problem, we immediately start thinking about solutions. However, the more time we spend learning about the problem, the easier it will be to find a solution and good chances are that this solution will be simpler and faster to implement than the first solution we think about.
Here’s a great Albert Einstein quote:
“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”
Einstein believed the quality of the solution you generate is in direct proportion to your ability to identify and understand the problem you hope to solve.
Let me tell you a short story to illustrate this. During the space race, scientists were faced with the issue of writing in space where there’s no gravity to make the ink go down in a ballpoint pen. Americans started their R&D efforts and after some time and a few million dollars, they built a pen with a small engine that pumps ink to the paper, even with no gravity. Meanwhile, Russians decided to use pencils, which can do the job of writing in no gravity environments.
That focus on solutions, without good understanding of the problem and the motivation to have this problem solved, can be quite harmful. It can make us spend unnecessary time and money to get to sub-optimal solutions. This is a cultural issue, i.e., a behavior that we can and must change. The first step to changing a behavior is recognizing it when it happens. When you, as a product manager or a product development team member, receives a request to implement something, ask the person who brought the request what is the problem that this “something” is supposed to solve and why there’s a need to solve that problem.
Here some examples from the companies I worked for.
At Locaweb, a web hosting provider in Brazil, the hosting and email services may stop working due to external factors such as the domain associated with the hosting and email not being renewed.
At Conta Azul, a SaaS ERP for MSE (micro and small enterprises) we used accountants as one of our distribution channels and wanted to increase sales through accountants.
At Gympass, a fitness partner who was joining our fitness network requested us to present their waiver to everyone who check-in in their facilities.
Don’t get me wrong, it is really good that everyone brings solutions to the table whenever we want to discuss something to be done by the product development team. The more solution ideas we have, the better. However, we need to educate ourselves to have a deeper understanding of the problem behind that solution, so we have a chance to find simpler and faster to implement solutions. And it is ultimately the product manager and all product development team member’s job to ask what is the problem and why we need this problem solved.
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