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E34: Why You Need To Understand The Existing Solution

by Sean Boyce

What is the ‘existing solution’ and why is it so important to understand when attempting to succeed in product?

On this episode I talk about:
  • What the ‘existing solution’ is all about
  • Why it’s so important for you to understand it well
  • How to uncover the existing solution in discovery
  • An example of a non-obvious existing solution
  • How to get started with discovery
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Episode Transcript

Hey everyone, Sean here and today what I’m going to talk to you about is a concept that I refer to as the existing solution and why it’s important for you to beat that in order to figure out how to be successful with products when it comes to scaling impact. 

Now, over time, I’ve developed a framework for figuring out how to go from zero all the way to and through a successfully implemented product that helps you scale impact. There’s a number of steps along the way, but the important part of the process, when you’re starting there, is to make sure you’re investing in what I refer to as customer discovery. Now, when you’re investing in customer discovery, that’s when you’re meeting with your clients or your team members or other organizations like yours, or whomever it is you would like to solve a problem when you’re meeting with them. You need to learn more about what their problems are, how those problems are impacting their current daily lives and routine, what’s the pain, what is the impact of those problems for your target market users. 

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The next step goes into what I refer to is the existing solution. Now the existing solution in this case is whatever they’re doing today to currently solve that problem, regardless of how effective that solution may be, and that is a really key element to this as well, too. So as you’re doing this discovery you’re gonna get to this point where you stumbled upon a problem that’s causing a certain amount of pain or causing a certain amount of impact, negative impact, and you’re going to be considering proposing a solution to resolve some of that impact, ideally, as much of it as possible. But in terms of figuring out what type of potential the solution that you’re proposing is ultimately going to have you need to better understand that the existing solution or how they are trying to solve that problem today. 

I’ll give you an example to make it easier to understand. Most of us are probably familiar with the tax preparation software called TurboTax. It was built by a company called Intuit who makes a number of different software products related to finance and accounting, but I’m going to focus on TurboTax in this case. Now, you may have seen or heard of this story before, but when the folks that were involved with building TurboTax in the beginning, are telling the story from a product management perspective, in terms of how they came up with the solution and ultimately why the feel the product has been so successful. They credited to what they were comparing it against in terms of the existing solution for their users at the time and inevitably when they’re telling this story. They ask the question to an audience or whomever they’re presenting it to. And they ask, essentially, the simple question of what was TurboTax competing against at the time to kind of see what kind of answers they get. Inevitably the answers they usually get or some other type of defunct software product e-file this and e-file that which is usually some obscure reference to what is now a defunct software product that didn’t go the distance. And the punchline here, seemingly, almost underwhelming is that it was pen and paper. What TurboTax was competing against at the time was pen and paper. The reason why they were competing against that was because the vast majority of people at the time, were filling out returns by hand. 

So TurboTax didn’t need to compete against anyone else trying to either solve the same problems or try to solve this problem with software. They knew that they were competing against people filling out returns manually by hand. And that’s what they needed to be better than and that perspective was really important. And it’s often lost on people trying to scale impact with products or software. Because what they’re not understanding is the hoops that folks are going to have to jump through or the habits that they’re going to need to form in order to be able to pick up their solution and use it consistently to get that kind of value that you think it can provide. 

So I wanted to talk about this as a concept. It is a very important one. When you’re investing in discovery when you’re trying to find what I call problems worth solving. You really need to be laser focused and better understand everything about whoever it is you’re building for what is going on in their life in terms of how are they currently solving that problem today, and that could be for your clients. That could be for people that work on your team that could be for other organizations, whomever it is, you’re building for it you need to really understand very well how it is they’re trying to solve that problem today, in order to evaluate the kind of potential and opportunity your proposed solution may have as well as what is the likelihood that it is ultimately going to succeed because you’ll be able to measure the difference between how significantly different they doing it today is between how you are proposing they may do it in the future by leveraging your product solution.