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E35: How To Identify Problems Worth Solving

by Sean Boyce

How do you know whether or not a problem you would like to solve is actually worth solving?

On this episode I share:
  • What is a ‘Problem Worth Solving’
  • How to identify problems worth solving
  • Why validating the problem is so important
  • The process to build to get these answers
  • The questions to ask to validate your problem
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Episode Transcript

Hey everyone, Sean here and today what I want to talk to you about is a concept that I’ve mentioned on the show before that I refer to as identifying problems worth solving. 

Now, when I say problems worth solving, what I mean is looking for the best area of opportunity for which it makes sense for your organization to invest in a product solution. And if you found what I refer to is a problem worth solving, then it will make sense to make this investment, otherwise you might not be able to achieve the results that you’re ultimately looking for. 

So why is it so important to find what I refer to as problems worth solving? Well, I’m going to start start by defining essentially what it is and to me it’s something that is going to give you the kind of potential to achieve the product success that you’re looking for. And it’s so important to identify one before you start building solutions because if you haven’t already done this, then your product solution or however you’re trying to innovate is unlikely to offer to your clients, or whomever you’re building that solution for the kind of value that you think it will. And it’s instead probably not going to be very successful. There’s a lot of that out in the product world. Many organizations that have invested in technology and software, especially from a customer perspective, have struggled to gain the kind of traction that they would like to because they underestimated this step in the process. So this is a really important element of figuring out how to get a product off the ground. 

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So how do you identify a problem worth solving? Well, I’ve developed a process over a series of years of investing further and researching in pretty great detail, product strategy, product research, product management, all of these concepts. I’ve read all the books, and I’ve done a lot of the testing in building product companies of my own. That’s how I know in terms of what I’ve done, what works and what doesn’t work, so I can kind of shortcut the process for you and instead share my system that has worked pretty consistently as I’ve done this for other nonprofit organizations potentially like yours. And the first step of the process to identify who we’re looking to help. You need to have a pretty specific, as I refer to it, target market in terms of who you want to interview. That’s because different groups of people or different users are likely to have different problems. So the more consistent you can make that the better. And I’m going to share a mini example in this episode, but a more detailed, thorough example for how I followed this process to identify an area of opportunity for which we’ve built a successful product for a nonprofit client of mine that is helping them scale impact. 

In this case, let’s assume you want to help your clients or clients that are the members of your nonprofit program. So if you have access to a number of them, that are interested in meeting with you, what you can do is you can interview them and invest in the part of the process that I refer to as customer discovery, which is a one on one conversation to better understand what a day in the life is like for them so that you can better understand their problems and challenges and look for areas of opportunity to potentially invest in a future product and help scale impact by solving some of their top problems and challenges. And that’s the first step in the process as you’re interviewing them. You want to understand what are their current challenges, what is slowing down the kind of progress that they would like to make what’s standing in the way of them being more successful in whatever it is they’d like to do. That’s a great place to begin the conversation and then as you identify areas that you believe you may be able to help them because some you may be able to help them some maybe not yet. You really want to focus on the ones that you think are closest to the type of value you’re attempting to provide for them or where you’re looking to help them the most. 

As you understand that the next series of questions and the next section of this conversation should focus on. What I’ve talked about on the show before is the existing solutions. And when I say that what I mean is, how are they going about solving whatever that problem is they just mentioned to you today. That’s very important, because that’s what’s going to be that’s what you will be compared against if you’re thinking of proposing a unique solution different than however they’re solving that problem currently. And that’s also what you’re going to need to be able to be as it needs to be faster, cheaper, easier to use whatever it is, you need to figure out how to be better than however they’re doing it today. Otherwise, they’re not going to use your solution. That’s another mistake. That’s often made by nonprofit organizations trying to scale impact with products you need to understand that very well. So that’s the second series of questions and related to that section of the conversation. 

The third is what is the level of performance. So if they have a form of an existing solution to try to solve whatever it is their top problem or the one that you’d like to help solve for them, how well is however they’re solving that today working for them. And then try to break this down as much as you can into something tangible that you can measure. So whatever that problem is, out of 10 times in which they experience it. How many times does the existing solution or however they’re solving that today? How many times out of that 10 doesn’t solve the problem, right? Is it solving it? Seven or eight times out of 10? Or is it solving it two or three times out of 10? This gives you a great perspective for how effective that current solution is that existing solution is. And again, that’s another great baseline for you to compare your solution to terms of if you are deciding whether or not to build a solution to this problem in particular. 

From there, it’s all about better understanding the area of opportunity to innovate, as I refer to it at times as well too. And some of this data will provide you with some of that insight if the existing solution is rather ineffective. And those numbers are on the lower end than the strength or the area of opportunity to innovate. Here’s probably going to be higher, as will your clients interest in trying to solve that problem in a different more unique way. And this is what we’ve done it for a nonprofit organization in terms of building them an application to help them with what is a financial coaching program. And I’m gonna talk about that in greater detail in a future episode, but you can for now focus on this as a system and consider running a series of interviews that I refer to as customer discovery with whomever it is you’d like to build a potential solution for. In this case, let’s assume that your nonprofit clients to better understand the problems and challenges they have today, how they’re solving them today, and how effective that current is so that you can get a better understanding before you invest. Too much in any form of a solution. What the area of opportunity is and what that looks like in terms of what type of potential you can expect from a potential solution that you might offer your clients to solve this problem.