November 14, 2017
If you’re like many business owners, your worst nightmare goes beyond paying the bills and keeping employees productive. It probably has more to do with the thought that your business will eventually become irrelevant in the market and what you worked countless hours for will diminish with little fanfare.
It’s critical you take steps today to mitigate that risk. Scratch that. Go beyond mitigation here and set up systems that help you identify who or what the disruptor of your industry might be in the future. What startup or competitor is waiting to take the next big leap like Netflix did for DVD rentals? Your business isn’t immune. Don’t run from your fears. Instead, consider how you’ll solve for them.
Start With a Structured Process
The most efficient businesses use a structured process to identify the biggest risks and opportunities so that they can turn them into profitable solutions. Becoming more aware of what your customers need beyond today and focusing on the future can help with problem identification.
You won’t have the luxury of tackling every hypothetical problem, so you need evidence your energy is expended on problems worth solving. Solve meaningful problems for enough people using qualitative and quantitative data to inform your thinking.
Identify the Problem
Start with information that’s right in front of you. Look for existing behavior or usage patterns that suggest people are solving a problem in a way you haven’t considered. People are very persistent and clever when it comes to solving problems, so savor the surprise and elegance of the hoops people jump through to make things work for them. Ask yourself:
- What is the problem?
- Who has this problem?
- Why is this problem worth solving?
- Who is the initial target audience?
- How do you know you’ve solved the problem?
- What is the most compelling way to describe the problem and solution?
Of course, you’ll invest in other forms of qualitative and quantitative research over time, but these are a great start.
Craft a Problem Statement
Craft a problem statement that focuses on the audience and their problem, such as, what is the profound change you want to make in their lives? What are those emotional, social and functional attributes that will bring change? Start by drafting simple and easy to understand statements with the following characteristics:
- Agnostic of a particular solution
- Leaves out what’s in it for us (the company)
- Explains why the problem exists
- Expresses why this is valuable to the audience
- Both functional AND emotional or social
For example, if you were on a social media network product team, you might create problem statements like:
- “I want to share my passion and hobbies with others who are like me, but I don’t know where to find these people.”
- “I want to share spontaneously and authentically in the moment.”
Fall in Love With the Problem
Instead of falling into the common trap of falling in love with the solution, fall in love with the problem. Think back on the great products you’ve experienced. These products were successful because they solved a real problem in such a profound way that their users can’t imagine going back to their old ways of doing things. This sounds very basic, but the single most important thing to understand about building great products is that you focus on the audience and their problem rather than your idea of the solution.
Ideate and Fail Faster
Consider many possibilities and don’t fall in love with the first solution. Go broad before you go deep. The first few ideas will be the obvious ones and likely not to move the needle for the problem or your business.
Next, focus on the ideas with the potential to solve the problem and create meaningful learning from each iteration. You need to quickly identify if the problem is real and which solutions are ideal. You can do this by shopping your best concepts with people in your target audience and asking for feedback.
Once you’ve figured out the solutions you want to try, take a cue from your high school chemistry class and create hypothesis statements. These statements should articulate what you assume will happen if you build the solution. Then, individually test your hypothesis quickly with prototypes, skeleton builds, or something similar.
What separates successful and unsuccessful teams is not whether they try things that fail, failure is required of all teams, but rather how well they learn from the failures and translate the learning into refining their execution. They fail fast to get to believable conclusions in the shortest amount of time possible.
Define success metrics for your product long before you launch. This helps ensure that you don’t have a confirmation bias and a skewed interpretation of the results. Getting the plan right requires understanding the success measures most relevant to your problem.
Typically, the best metric isn’t the number of clicks on a button, but something more abstract like “How many people who used my product received value from it?” Work backward from that point to identify a metric that best approximates what you’re trying to get at. Then make sure your team is aligned to it.
Turn Your Nightmare Into a Dream
Attack your worst nightmare with eyes wide open. Become aware of potential disruptors, identify problems, and begin quickly solving for them. It’s not always easy to think far into the future. It’s much easier to focus on today. But with conscious awareness and structured problem solving, you can turn your worst nightmare into your next product breakthrough.
Read more advice on managing stress from founders on TechCo
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