Problem Solving

As a product manager you often have to cope with problems that you alone cannot solve but need the assistance of your development team, your team lead, etc. These can be things like some parts of your development process that do not work properly, technical decisions that also have a huge business impact, product strategies or product innovation. In these situatuions problem solving methods can be a great help to structure the way of getting a solution. In general to solve a problem it is much agreed that you should follow these four steps:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Generate alternatives
  3. Evaluate and select alternatives
  4. Implement the solution(s)

The different parts of these four steps can be tackled by a large set of methods. These methods can be found in those articles matching the needs of each step:

  1. Problem Definition Methods
  2. Creativity Methods
  3. Decision Making Methods
  4. Project Management Methods or Development processes

By these methods you can create the desired problem solving process fitting your situation. Of course there are also some problem solving frameworks that could be used, but most of them are not designed for the use in product management. In this article I will give you an overview about methods appropriate for the certain situation:


Product Innovation

As a product manager one of the most important problems you have to deal with is product innovation and business opportunities. Often it is hard to be really innovative while doing your daily business so it can be very helpful to generate innovative ideas by using one of the processes described. While Design Thinking is very user problem oriented the Lean Startup Method and the Business Model Canvas are also user oriented but focus more on the business side than the Design Thinking process does.

Design Thinking

The  Design thinking process goes through the first three steps of problem solving as defined above. I took part or implemented the Design Thinking process now for a several times. Most of the time the results were really stunning. But you should keep in mind that this process takes quite a long time, is just good for product innovation and is not made for everyday problems. But I would highly recommend it to develop for example your product vision. For more information about Design Thinking there is a 90-minute introductory course on the homepage.


Lean Startup Method and Business Model Canvas

If the business model of your product is not finally set, the Business Model Canvas is a great tool for building it with focus on your customers. It is also a good way to make your team understand how the business model of your company is working. A good starting point for the Lean Startup Method can be found here. Further information can be found in the Lean Startup Linklist.


Product Strategy

Blue Ocean Strategy

The blue ocean strategy is the simple idea to go into a market space that your competition is not in at the current time. This is achieved by eliminating, reducing, creating or raising certain factors compared to the industry standard.

Porter’s Competitive Advantage and Porter’s Five Forces

The idea behind Porter’s competitive advantage is that a company can have a competitive advantage by either going for one of the three aims:

  1. Cost leadershid
  2. Differentiation
  3. Focus

Porter’s five forces is a method to see the market attractiveness by looking at the five forces that determine the competitive intensity of the market. These are

  1. Threat of new competition
  2. Threat of substitute products or services
  3. Bargaining power of customers (buyers)
  4. Bargaining power of suppliers
  5. Intensity of competitive rivalry


Co-opetition is a mix of cooperation and competition and describes that in some situations it is better for companies to work together and even more that they both benefit from the other company being in the market. This can be derived by game theoretical principles. A good introduction of the idea can be found here.


SWOT Analysis

The SWOT Analysis is a classical tool to make strategic planning by looking at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.


Technical Decisions

Most product managers have limited technological knowledge and need to rely on the judgements of their team. But sometimes you face really important technical decisions that will also have a huge business impact and should therefore be made not just by the technical team but also by the product management. What I experienced is that it is often quite hard to agree on common values and criteria to make good judgements in those situations. For this situation more classical methods should be applied.


Toyota A3 process

A good tool for the evaluation as described above seems to be the Toyota A3 process. I heard from a lot of successful uses of this process and will surely try it the next time I get to a tough technical decision.


Soft Systems Methodology

The Soft Systems Methodology is made for really complex problems that lack a formal definition. It also includes the CATWOE checklist for problem definitions that is generally helpful to see if you gathered all the information needed.


Process Improvement

In an agile environment the idea is that the team itself is interested in contiuous improvement. So there need to be regular meetings to ensure this principle. In reality when you face problems in the development process the team itself often needs a technique to understand where the discovered problem really comes from. These are basically the methods described in the Problem Definition Methods. To get some ideas for alternatives how to solve those problems I recommend the Development Processes Linklist.


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