It’s a common perception that we product managers are “solutions people”. We have great ideas for new opportunities, improving our flows and hitting our goals.
However, attending the INDUSTRY product conference helped us realize that in fact, we should be Problem People.

The best solutions and the right customer experience are born from a real understanding of the customer’s problems. To drive our product forward, we should identify the problems that we should solve and clearly define them. A clear problem understanding makes it easier to come up with the right solutions, and create products that your users actually want and need.

“Focus on the problem” was a recurring theme in many of the talks at the conference. It may sound trivial, but here are 3 takeaways that got us thinking:

1. Avoid your bias for solutions

In his amazing opening talk, Ash Maurya (founder of LEANSTACK) uncovered something that the audience sympathized with but not many openly admit: We tend to fall for the Innovator’s Bias – We invent or fake problems to justify a solution we already have in mind. But don’t worry, Ash suggested a couple of ways to avoid this bias:

Look for problems created by other solutions

Just like every ending is a new beginning, every solution creates or surfaces new problems. By understanding how users use existing solutions or even your own product, you can identify problems that you can solve for.
For example, my parents just bought a new phone (thank god!) but with new tech comes new problems – they had a hard time setting it up. Looking at the problems they had in the process was a great opportunity to find things that Soluto can help with (and in turn for me to get my sanity back…).

Look for the context, ask the 5 whys:

New problems worth solving exist in the bigger context of what the user “needs”. One way to get to the greater context is to ask the “5 Whys” – Pose a problem or a need and start asking “Why”.
Theodore Levitt’s famous quote that “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole” is a great example.

  • Why do people want to buy a drill? Because they want a hole.
  • Why do people want a hole? Because they want to attach a hook.
  • Why do people want to attach a hook? Because they want to hang a painting.
  • etc.

You should probably stop after 5 “Whys” before you get metaphysical and start looking for the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Each of these “why”s (not necessarily the final one) surface a new problem that you can find a solution for.

2. Spend more time understanding the problem

The legendary Paul Adams (VP of Product at Intercom) talked about the principles that lead the product work at Intercom, the first of which being “Start with the problem” (he also published a blog post about it). It turns out that Intercom spends roughly 35% of the time spent building a product in the “Problem” stage.

You probably have your own number, but spending more time understanding the problem you are trying to solve is key to create a good solution. It also makes it faster to design and build that solution.

BTW, at Intercom, it’s actually OK to start with a solution, as long as you go back and really understand the problem. Eventually, you might end up with a different solution than the one you started with.

3. Don’t assume you intuitively understand the problem

At one point in her talk about Escaping the Build Trap, Melissa Perri (Author of “Escaping the Build Trap”) shared an example of a company that was dealing with low conversion rates. Everybody suggested solutions for problems (Innovator’s Bias anyone?), but they realized they didn’t really understand the problem.

To do that they decided to add a simple exit survey to uncover the users’ real problems that stopped them from signing up. Needless to say that a tiny tweak based on those insights led to an increase in the conversion rate and we all got our happy ending after all 😀.


Talking to your users is a great way to understand the problem (but take it into account that users are also likely to be solution biased). And as this example shows, understanding the problem doesn’t have to be a big cumbersome effort. Like anything product – we should find the smallest thing that will allow us to learn.

These takeaways sparked some interesting conversations here at Soluto.
While it might sound trivial at first, there are things we can improve to better understand the problems we’re trying to solve and build even better products for our users and business.

We’ll be really happy to hear your thoughts on these takeaways!