3 strategies to prioritize which problems to solve next
5 min read

3 strategies to prioritize which problems to solve next

Understanding the priority and importance of customer pain points, needs, and desires is the foundation to build solutions that drive customer and business value. This is an integral part of an outcome-driven product discovery process and allows you to find the biggest opportunities to impact your desired outcome.

But how do you assess and prioritize your customer problems? How do you find one that is worth solving and investing design and engineering time on? If you skip this step, all subsequent steps most likely won't get you the results you are looking for. Your (potential) customers will have a lot of needs, pain points, and desires, but not all of them are worth solving. Not every problem is critical to your target customer. Some might just not be important enough for people to spend money on or to abandon their current solution.

In the end, you are looking for a need that is unmet and of high importance to your (potential) customers and that you as a company can deliver on. Here are some ways how you can approach this.

Note: I am using opportunity and problem interchangeably here since we are not only dealing with needs and pain points but also customer desires. When talking about opportunities I do not refer to actual solutions. Assessing and prioritizing solutions comes after knowing what problem to solve.

1. Ask the fundamental questions for "Product Opportunity Assessment"

Marty Cagan provides ten fundamental questions to assess product opportunities. That includes questions around the problem to solve as well as the solution. The questions below are limited to assessing the problem space.

1. Exactly what problem will this solve? (value proposition)
2. For whom do we solve that problem? (target market)
3. How big is the opportunity? (market size)
4. What alternatives are out there? (competitive landscape)
5. Why are we best suited to pursue this? (our differentiator)
6. Why now? (market window)

Answers to these questions provide insights on who is the audience, how many people have the problem and how important is it to them, how are they solving this today, how much are they spending, and the company's ability to pursue a solution for this problem. Subsequently, this allows you to look at multiple top-level opportunities and assess which one is most likely to impact to business objective.

Assessing Product Opportunities - Silicon Valley Product Group
Recently I’ve written about reinventing the product spec, and the reasons to move from a heavy-weight PRD to a light-weight high-fidelity prototype as the basis for your product spec. But where do these ideas come from, and how do you decide if you even want to build a product in the first place? Op…

2. Assessing opportunities through the lens of an Opportunity Solution Tree

Opportunity Solution Tree (OST) is a framework developed by Teresa Torres. An OST provides structure and hierarchy to the problem/opportunity space. This is helpful to simplify and limit customer needs, pain points, and desires when prioritizing. Instead of having to look at all the opportunities at the same time, you only need to compare and contrast the ones on the same level of the tree, drastically simplifying the decision-making.

When comparing opportunities you are asking similar questions as above around opportunity size, market, company, and customer factors.

Prioritize Opportunities, Not Solutions - Product Talk
Have you heard? My new book Continuous Discovery Habits is now available. Get the product trio’s guide to a structured and sustainable approach to continuous discovery. I cringe every time I see product teams use a spreadsheet to rank the ideas in their backlog based on some made-up math formula usu…

3. Stack rank opportunities with quantitative research

This requires you to already have a solid understanding of the problem space through generative research, like customer interviews. To prioritize these opportunities, use direct user/customer feedback to learn what problems are most critical to your target audience. There are two major dimensions to the criticality of a problem:

1. Importance of the problem
2. Satisfaction of the current solution

Problems that are very important to your customers where current solutions are not satisfactory represent the biggest opportunities for your business.

The ODI (Outcome-Driven Innovation) process suggests having potential customers rate identified problems for importance and satisfaction by using a survey taking the whole problem space into account. This can provide a good amount of data and can substantially increase your confidence for your prioritization. The drawback here might be how quickly you can turn this around and get to the needed learning.

Turn Customer Input into Innovation
Lots of companies ask customers what they’d like to see in new products and services—but they go about it all wrong. A new methodology for capturing customer input promises to galvanize the innovation process.

Another approach to get good directional data that will inform your prioritization is by leveraging customer interviews and the aforementioned Opportunity Solution Tree. This allows you to limit the problems the customer needs to evaluate during the interview. Rating importance and satisfaction stay the same.

With the data from the survey or interviews in hand, you can rank these opportunities relative to each other and identify the most critical ones to your target segment.

Sidenote: If it turns out that the responses are all over the place and there are no higher-rated opportunities emerging, you might want to revisit your target customer segment.

I recommend picking the best out of each of these methods that work for your case. You want to address a problem that is important and unmet and that you, as a business, can execute on. You can't skip this work of understanding and assessing the problem space. Doing this right will help you to find better solutions that your customers love.