Product Manager’s go-to question should be…?

Most of my day is spent in meetings — face to face or webex calls. I have the next meeting starting before the previous one has fully wrapped up. Many meetings that I go to, I’d notice people jumping straight into:

  • here’s the solution and here’s why it’s great
  • no, here’s is another option I think works well
  • here’s what we should not do
  • this is the cost of doing this

My go-to question interrupting the meeting, and I feel absolutely no shame in throwing the same question again and again…

wait, can we take a step back and define what is the problem we are trying to solve?

You might find it surprising, but in many cases, it leaves a deafening silence in the room — which is an indication that someone has been overthinking, trying to a solve a problem which doesn’t exist or have jumped to solution before clearly understanding the problem. If you are uncomfortable explaining the problem, clearly you don’t understand it either.

At the end of the day, all solutioning is to eventually deliver a benefit or ease to the end user — and benefit must be tied to a problem, to understand its impact and value.

Product Managers bring a lot of things to table but some of the key as Min Wang points out in her blog, which I am paraphrasing:

  • problem definition
  • solution options appraisals
  • prioritisation
What problem are we trying to solve?

Even the last two in these few key skills depend on the first, problem definition. Once the problem is defined, the Product Manager is in a position to enable the teams to go after the right solutions and determining goals. If the problem isn’t identified and documented well — you’ve missed the train to success. Talented developers, testers and designers won’t be able to help when you have failed to identify the problem, pain points and right prioritisation.

Top-Tip: Problem Framing

Be shameless, and throw that question — it helps everyone. Then, be patient, get into listening mode and get everyone’s perspective. Ask questions for clarification and once you’ve a good understanding, do everyone a favor and summarise it. If you’re on a webex, screen share and show your written summary paragraph .

There are studies out there which prove human beings understanding of things is greatly improved when (a) they repeatedly hear the same thing in different perspectives and (b) they write or visualise it.

“It isn’t that they cannot find the solution. It is that they cannot see the problem.” — G.K Chesterton

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blogger, technologist, foodie, vagabond, avid reader, cricket-lover, and an activist focused on human rights and the case for the environment.

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