What Problem Do You Solve?

PuzzleThis may be semantic but recently I’ve been reflecting on a key foundation of Product Managment – the mantra “What problem are we solving?” After spending the majority of my career managing B2B Enterprise software and services, a year ago I went to a B2C (indirect) company focused on entertainment. After consideration, I believe that “what problem do you solve” is not the right question in all scenarios.

What Problem Do You Solve (WPDYS) is a great question for selling to businesses. By focusing on a problem you can immediately ask the user to identify a cost that they associate to that problem, which leads to the natural follow up, how much would solving that problem be worth to you (in dollars or time)? When you get that answered, you have the beginnings of a basis for Market-based pricing, from which you can calculate a ROI for the customer.

For some consumer products, WPDYS is an appropriate question. The iPod, for example, solves a problem, and that can be measured in aggravation (I have to haul a mountain of CD’s without my iPod), time (searching for the right CD is a big stack takes time), and money (CD’s get damaged easily in transport and I have to replace them).

But what about entertainment products? What problem do they solve? You can argue that humans have a need for entertainment, and we certainly make an investment in entertainment products, but how do you measure the return on that investment? Entertainment is a very personal thing, and difficult to measure; I may be satisfied with a movie on the weekend, while my neighbor may not be satisfied until he buys a Harley. You can make a calculation but the subjectivity of the value of an entertainment product leaves a lot of room for debate.

I suggest a new level of measurement for entertainment products: What Need Do You Fulfill? This question seems similar to WPDYS on the surface, but with some slight differences. First, it recognizes that entertainment is not a “problem” in the traditional sense that we think of it. Second, by positioning as a “need” it recognizes that the need can be fulfilled with a multitude of what’s as opposed to the traditional problem which typically has one resolution (the problem is solved), with differentiation around how the problem is solved.

What do you think? Do all products solve a problem, or should we address certain categories differently?

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  • Reply Derek Morrison April 29, 2007 at 10:02 am

    I think that a better question to ask is “does it make busines ssense and technical sense?” I have written a article addressing this issue see the following link for more:

  • Reply Derek Morrison April 29, 2007 at 10:04 am

    Hi Paul,

    Your Linkedin icon sends me to an error page stating that you can not be found.


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