The OPS Model

The OPS Model is a simple framework for thinking through different situations and ensuring you don’t jump directly into solutions before you’ve fully understood the problem.

The model is based around the premise that every situation we deal with in our lives consists of three key factors:

  • An outcome – where we want to be
  • a problem – the thing that is stopping us from getting there
  • and a Solution – how we will get around the thing stopping us, so that we can get to where we want to be

When we build products and services, it is easy to get caught up in solutions mode and talk in terms of features, rather than the actual outcomes that are required. Whilst features have an important place at the execution level, there is a risk that too much focus on them at a strategic level can lead teams into building the wrong thing.

Instead the initial focus needs to be on the desired outcome, so that there is a clear understanding of what the user wants to achieve

Now with an understanding of the user’s motivations and the problem(s) they face, it is possible to experiment with different solutions to see which one works best. It will probably be the case that the first few attempts at solving the problem don’t work out very well, but ideally each attempt will provide useful feedback for iterating and adapting until a good solution is found.

Once you understand the outcome the user wants, you can then dig further to understand what is preventing them from reaching that outcome. This is the ‘problem’ and it is essentially a wall blocking the user from getting from their current place to their desired location.

To help illustrate this further, take the example of a fictional health and fitness company that wants to develop a new service targeting middle aged men who’d like to lose weight. The process starts with an initial idea to develop a fitness programme consisting of bespoke exercises for toning and building muscle.

However closer investigation with the target audience reveals they are actually more concerned about the potential health risks of being overweight and only see ‘looking good’ as a bonus compared to the greater goal of avoiding a heart attack or diabetes.

Further investigation reveals that the problem they have in reaching their goal of being healthier is not a lack of exercise, but is instead a lack of knowledge about nutrition and the ability to prepare healthy meals to eat.

With these new insights, the company is much better placed to develop a very different and much more commercially viable service than the one first imagined.

Avoiding the solutions trap

Solutionising is a natural human tendency. We all want to solve problems and often find it hard to detach ourselves from what seems like a very clever idea at the time. The issue though is both time and money can be quickly wasted by building the wrong thing, so when we invest to build a solution, we need to be sure there will be sufficient demand and that the problem is actually worth solving.

With the OPS Model, we can reduce the risk of building the wrong thing by taking a step back to survey the situation, understand why the user wants to do something, understand what is stopping them and then experiment to deliver a product or service that helps them achieve the transformation required to reach their goals.

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