To Improve Your Product Treat the Root Cause, Not the Symptoms

Ward Andrews
By Ward Andrews
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You’re a senior director of product strategy at a company that provides digital solutions to large corporate clients. One of your company’s biggest clients tells your executive team they need a new feature crucial to their business transformation. That big client also happens to be on the verge of signing a new three-year contract to keep your product. What do you do?

If you’re like most busy product managers, you’ll likely shift your team’s attention from the other 15 product requests you’ve been working on to tackle this new priority. After all, your job security depends on keeping your executives and biggest customers happy. So you do your best to evaluate the problem, spend weeks or months designing, testing, and implementing a solution, just to release it to… crickets.

Turns out none of your clients want or need your solution, including the big client that requested it. While you were reacting to their urgent request, they hacked together a workaround and they're not going to renew their contract after all. You’re left with a product feature nobody wants designed to fix a problem nobody has.

Stop Wasting Time and Money on Band-Aid Fixes

Every year, companies waste billions of dollars and countless hours on urgent requests for band-aids to stop the bleeding and miss the root of the problem. It’s like the difference between a medic in a war zone and a family physician. You want to spend your time looking after the long-term health of your patients, not running from one emergency to another.

The problem is that building long-term valuable product solutions is a complicated process. Your focus can get clouded by the immediate symptoms your users and clients are experiencing, the solutions your competition has rushed to market, or by your own team’s wrong assumptions and biases.

These distractions can lead you down the wrong path. You look up one day to realize you’re focused on the wrong problem and, because of that, you now have the wrong solution.

Start with the Root Cause

The key to effective product management is taking the time to identify the right problem. That requires a relentless focus on the root causes of the symptoms. How do you uncover and understand those root causes? By talking to your users, of course.

Sounds simple, right? It’s harder than it may seem. Patients make the worst doctors because they want their pain to stop and have their own ideas about how to do that. It doesn’t matter if the solution is right or wrong in the long term, they just want the problem to stop now. If we only listen to what bothers our users, we’ll end up addressing the wrong problem or only partially solving it.

Build Intentional Steps Into Your Product Lifecycle

You can realize the full potential of your product by following a series of intentional steps in your product lifecycle. These will help you discover the real needs of your users and validate your solutions.

Step 1: Research

Understand the source of user problems by observing how they interact with the product. Analyze available user data, watch the product in its natural environment, and look for unstated needs that impact how users interact with the product.

Step 2: Define and Validate the Problem

Once you’ve seen the product in its natural environment, you can start to define the root problems. Validate these problems through additional market and competitive research, confirmation with users, and conversations with internal stakeholders.

Step 3: Design and Develop Solutions

When you accurately define the core problems, the solutions that emerge are more likely to be aligned to long-term needs. Brainstorm as many solutions as possible, build prototypes of the most appropriate ones, and start to bring it all to life.

Step 4: Test and Iterate

Your ultimate goal is not to solve a single problem once, but to solve many problems over time. That requires a constant cycle of testing solutions with real users and iterating to get it right.

How Drawbackwards Can Help Manage Your Product

When done well, product management doesn’t react to the complaints and emergencies raised by your most influential users. It’s a thoughtful and disciplined process that digs into the root causes of user pain to find solutions that will last. It’s also a skill that must be developed over time with the guidance of an experienced teacher and mentor.

We have the experience and knowledge to help you and your team build effective product management skills. Our team has helped clients in various industries deliver true value by uncovering their product's root problems, not just the cosmetic fixes that feel good.

Let’s start a conversation about how we can partner together on your product.