When I first encountered Opportunity Solution Tree Idea, I started a new role as a PM for a product that was already in production, but without a clear plan of what to do next and why. Of course, there were lots of brilliant ideas around, but most of them were some kind of smaller or bigger bets. I needed a tool that would allow me to understand the product better and started building a roadmap based on well-formed ideas confirmed with users regarding their current needs, keeping the business objectives in mind. The OST was everything I needed at that time.
What is the most important in the entire OST idea?
I have had several approaches to OST and a couple of failures as well. From this experience I can say that everything changed when we started interviewing real users. From the beginning, the team followed the guidelines from the book and started with mapping the opportunities based on our own knowledge of the product. We managed to build our very first tree. However, when it came to deciding what the most important opportunity was, we found out that our tree was a cluster of ideas, beloved by other people, that could be far away from our users' expectations. That day, we decided to continue with some of these beloved ideas and, at the same time, start interviewing real users and get more reliable insights for the next planning session.
It took a while before we succeeded in conducting first interviews on a regular basis. At first, we tried to use an internal company source to gain users, but they mostly didn’t show up, so after a month, we only had one interview carried out. Then we decided to do it on ourselves.
We created a pop up with an invitation for an interview. There was a link to the calendar where users could pick up a suitable date & time. For this kind of interview we need to remember that our users devote some amount of their precious time and experience that they have, so some fair incentive is crucial here. We offered coupon codes for next purchases, which was a double win, since we increased the number of returning customers at the same time. We still had more than 50% ‘no show ups’, however, after one month, we had 7 interviews. It was enough to build a pretty large tree with many opportunities.
What should we be looking for?
If you want to get real insights and not miss any opportunity, it is very important how you interview. When we had a couple of interviews, we started putting down on a board all users' pains, gains and needs and there we found out our next mistake. In the beginning, we started with something which was more a usability test then an open interview. We defined our research scope too narrowly, we focused too much on our product and we lost the bigger picture of how our users behave at all. We quickly found out that it was not enough for our needs and that we didn’t get in the deep of the topic. But at the same time, it was enough to understand that there was a huge potential there if we went deeper. It is so important to understand the motive, state of mind and background of users when they decide to act. For example, browsing shop inventory is not the moment when customers actually decide to buy something, it happens much earlier and this is what we want to catch. It can be a family dinner, a party with friends or an advertisement that triggers users to start looking for something. Purchasing is the last part of the whole journey and this is not what you need to focus on most, what you really need to think about is everything before that.
I really like the quote which we can find on the Continuous Discovery Habits book cover: “Discover Products That Create Customer Value and Business Value”. I think it contains everything that the whole idea is about. When we build the Tree we are forced to constantly ask ourselves questions about Business value which is on the top of OST (desired outcome). I remember that when we listed the first couple of opportunities, we were really glad, since we now have the first branches on our very first tree, good job Trio! But then with every next view into the Tree, we found out that not all of them contributed to the desired outcome. The truth was that some of these opportunities were in fact a facade for our beloved ideas that we would like to do. Beloved by us, not by users. Thanks to having this north star on the top of the tree, it was pretty easy to cut some branches off.
In the same tree, a whole level of opportunities comes from interviews, directly from our users. This means that even if we have the business outcome on the top, we can achieve it only by approaching the pains, needs and desires of our users. As I mentioned in the beginning, we tried it without interviews when we were struggling to find participants and the output from this exercise was really shallow. Everybody felt it, and in such a situation, it was really hard to engage in the delivery phase, when we were not committed to what we found out.
The team included, but not overwhelmed
Once the Product Trio has mapped out opportunities, conduct experiments or analysis to confirm direction, we can start thinking about solutions. And here, I strongly recommend expanding the team far beyond the Product Trio. By the team, I mean almost every stakeholder in our product. Let the team, the stakeholders be the ‘parents’ of all ideas. We shouldn’t be afraid of even the most persuasive stakeholders, because in the end, all the ideas should be validated through experiments before the implementation. There are plenty of even small experiments that can confirm or neglect every idea quickly, many of them are described in ‘Testing Business Ideas: A Field Guide for Rapid Experimentation’, which I strongly recommend.
In some products, where the stakeholders map is full of names and titles, it can be difficult to organise a huge workshop for dozens of people gathered in one place so I recommend doing an asynchronous workshop. First, you share with these people a list of opportunities that are well argued and then, just ask to brainstorm individually and share ideas with you. When the time is up, you can add all ideas to the board and continue working with them. If you don't know how to describe opportunities well, I recommend trying Written Narrative described in ‘Empowered’, which is always an excellent exercise for each Manager. Why is this so important to ask many stakeholders? The answer is obvious, but always worth repeating. There is huge knowledge accumulated across the company: in support, sales department, the marketing team. You can be really surprised by the ideas that come out from all these smart people.
God way to discuss roadmap with stakeholders
Finally, when you have prepared a list of opportunities and solutions, you need to show all of them to the management, so they can understand what and why your team is going to achieve in the coming weeks. It’s really difficult to discuss any topic with important stakeholders without a really good argument. The toughest stakeholders are not where they are by chance, they are there because they are really good at what they do. Some of them probably were in your place some time ago, so they really know what is going on. If you don’t have a good explanation for your ideas, they will just decide what to do for you. OST can really help introduce and convince your team’s ideas. You can easily show the whole logical process, how you came up with this idea, what stood behind it and how it allowed the product to reach its ultimate goal. All of this should give you buy-in that you need at this moment.