The problems-to-solve framework

Sketchnote showing the problems-to-solve framework for finding new opportunities to help people and generate growth.

Problems-to-solve is a way of finding new opportunities to help people and generate more business. The framework promotes a way of thinking that is problems-led, not solutions-led.

Solutions-led thinking is by no means a bad thing. In fact it’s quite natural. Lets face it, we all want to solve problems and make them go away – not find more! But too much time in the solutions space limits the chances of finding new opportunities for growth.

We also have a bias to think in terms of our existing products and services, only looking at the things directly orbiting them and missing out on opportunities in less obvious spaces.

In contrast to this, problems-led thinking puts you in an exploratory mindset. You don’t need to worry about how you’ll solve the problems (at this stage), instead you’re just looking for great opportunities to help more people.

Eventually you’ll begin to move from the problems space to the solutions space, as you narrow down your choice of problems-to-solve and begin prototyping and testing solutions. But even as you develop, launch and grow your solution, there is a need to keep revisiting the problem space to maintain innovation.

Mapping the problems space

In the words of start-up entrepreneur Steve Blank, the only way to find out what people need is to ‘get out of the building’ and engage with them.

Start by defining who your target customers or users are. They might be existing customers or a completely new audience. Use segmentation techniques to create profiles and user research approaches to build empathy and understanding of their world.

Find out what goals and outcomes they need to achieve and establish why these are important to them. Prioritise and rank the goals and outcomes, and then begin mapping the value paths (the key steps in their customer journey) towards their outcomes.

As you identify the steps your target audience take, find out what issues and challenges they encounter along the way that block their progress. What is the impact of these challenges in terms of time, money or reputation? Are they using workarounds to navigate the issues and how successful or sustainable are these?

Rank the problems you find in terms of opportunity. How big do you think the market is? Is there much competition? Are users likely to pay to solve the problem or are there other revenue streams? Do you have the capabilities to help solve the problem?

Developing propositions

This is the point where the problems space and solutions space begin to merge. Propositions are based on the potential solutions to a customer problem, but also need to meet business needs (e.g. make a profit).

The profit part can come a little later. For now the focus is on finding ways to solve the problem and testing prototype solutions with your target audience to learn what they will actually use and pay for (either financially or with their time, effort or data).

From here, propositions can be developed and grown into new products and services that will ultimately own the problem space. This means they’re the first port of call when customers experience the problem and need to overcome it.

Start in the problems space

To summarise, problems-to-solve is a framework for proactively looking at the bigger picture and finding new opportunities to help people. By starting in the problems space and deeply understanding the target audience, organisations can uncover new opportunities to deliver customer value and drive growth.

Thanks for reading 🙂

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