If you’ve ever found yourself wondering, “Why doesn’t someone just invent XYZ?”, then you’ve identified an opportunity for a product. Today, you’ll learn more about how to identify those opportunities systematically.
While it’s true that products can be conceived in a sudden bolt of inspiration, most commercial products are developed to meet clear objectives (think of a toy company needing that hit new toy for the holidays). That competitive environment requires product developers to have a reliable, systematic method for identifying new product opportunities.
Many product developers call the system for determining what to create, “Product Discovery.”
Product Discovery describes a process that is focused on your target consumer’s needs (also called the problem space) and the possible product ideas that might address those needs (also called the solution space). Think of your hunger as being a problem space and pizza and tacos as being part of the solution space (with tacos being the obvious right call).
Today, we’ll talk about the problem space and leave the solution space for tomorrow.
The problem space describes everything about the consumer’s need. It’s called the problem space because it’s the problem—or challenge, need, opportunity—that you identify as being in need of a solution.
Human needs are extremely varied: There is the need for food and shelter but also the need for belonging, for self-esteem, for joy and happiness. There is the need to do large tasks (build an airplane) and small tasks (hammer a nail). Needs are everywhere.
Good products are designed to address consumer’s needs. End of story.
Value is the fundamental “thing” that a product delivers.
When a product alleviates a need or does a job for you, it is delivering a benefit to you. By comparing that benefit to what the product cost, you can easily compute the value of that product.
Value = Benefits – Costs
Simple, right? Value is the whole ballgame when it comes to products. In fact, “innovation” is nothing more than the delivery of new consumer value.
Opportunities are where needs meet value—they describe an “opportunity” to deliver value to someone in need. Opportunities are problems waiting for solutions.
Now that you understand needs, value, and opportunities (nice work, by the way!), you’re probably wondering how one goes about finding opportunities. Fortunately, there is an easy answer to that question: You find opportunities by focusing on the consumer.
Focusing on the consumer will lead you to design a product that can deliver value. This sounds simple, but it is maddeningly easy to forget. There are a million ways to design a product other than by focusing on consumer’s needs: You could make something that looks cool, something inexpensive, something similar to a competitor product, something that just feels like it will work, etc.
Those approaches can seem so logical in the moment, but only by focusing on the consumer can one ensure that real needs are addressed and true value is delivered.
Research, Observation, and Empathy
How does one focus on the consumer? Consumer research is one method, which is a term for an entire discipline of study in which data and information are collected about consumers. This research often takes the form of surveys and focus groups, but there is much more to it if you want to dive deep.
Observation is another simple but profoundly powerful tool. When a product developer observes a consumer—truly observes them, with an open and curious mind—much can be learned that the consumer themselves might not even be aware of. We call this learning, “insight.”
And finally, there is empathy. Empathy is the ultimate tool for feeling what your consumer is feeling. Empathy is when a developer internalizes a need and feels the problem as their own.
Once you’ve used these tools to identify an opportunity, you can begin to conceive of your product. That “concept generation” in the “solution space” is what we’ll discuss tomorrow.
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