Framing New Product Opportunities


I’ve been asked by several founders, how do I vet ideas for a product? I want to start off by making a distinction between ideas and opportunities. Ideas are solutions to problems. Opportunities are a superset of ideas. They represent solutions to customer problems taking into account customer circumstances and market climate that can result in optimal business outcomes. I have an aversion to talking about the what's next within the narrow scope of ideas. I’ve found that it’s a natural habit of teams to churn out ideas without the broader implication to the customer and the business hence let’s talk about opportunities.

Unlike heavy Requirements Docs, I’m looking for just enough definition to understand the opportunity. This coupled with demos of possible solutions can give a full picture of the opportunity. Demos can be anything in the form of wireframes, full-blown mocks, or even prototypes. Whatever’s needed to get the point across. I’m being serious when I say don’t spend tons of time trying to make the perfect demo. Some of the best demos I’ve seen were images overlaid on screenshots.

  • What problem are you trying to solve?

    Starting a one-pager with this question almost feels like a cliche. I say this because the entirety of product management could be boiled down to answering this one question. The problem can be as big or as small as the opportunity presents. Granted the smaller the opportunity, something akin to features, I would expect the problem to be much smaller in scope. Be very careful about what you’re describing here. I’ve seen too many answers to this question focus on the solution space. You’ll be able to find plenty of articles that walk you through defining good problem statements. Another recommendation that I give folks is to use a jobs-to-be-done framing for defining the problem space. This is particularly useful for product managers that are trying to define a small opportunity, like a feature or small update.

  • Who’s the primary customer?

    On the surface, this question seems fairly straightforward. The worst one-pagers only provide a phrase or a word like “Developers”. The best one-pagers think about the customer in terms of who’s trying to solve the problem at hand and cross-references that against the customers the business targets overall. I will dig deeper into the situations where the primary customer for the opportunity is different than that of the overall business. We could find that there are new emerging segments that our product is serving or there’s a shot to invest in something that will pay dividends in the future.

  • Why now?

    This question is meant to get at the business and customer implications, particularly if they haven’t been vetted in the primary customer question. If you think you have the best opportunity in front of you, your team, and the business, I would expect a thoughtful analysis.

    The best way to think about this section is like a market analysis. Even for opportunities as small as a feature, there’s got to be a need with customers or in the market to take it on. Also, make sure to articulate why not doing it will be a problem. Will we lose customers? Is another competitor building this thing? Would we have first-mover advantages from getting to market quickly?

    This is your chance to sell leadership on why we need to do it. Don’t hold back.

  • What factors are critical to success?

    In this final question, I want to know what roadblocks we’re likely going to face. This could range from, we need to hire more product managers, engineers, designers to needing to deprioritize something else to do this work. Beyond the obvious, I also would like to see some thought put into what product questions need to be answered along the way to get to a final outcome. The best answers to this question resemble a customer development plan that points out which questions need validation from customers and what happens to the product based on various outcomes.

There you have it. This is how I like PMs on my teams to organize their thoughts and opportunities. If you have any questions or comments about this, hit me up on email or Twitter.