How to Define a Problem Hypothesis for Your Product Discovery Initiative
A precise Problem Hypothesis (or Problem Statement) will set the right direction for your product discovery or design initiative, and help you align your team’s efforts towards a common goal.
What is a problem hypothesis
Formulating a problem hypothesis implies documenting the key problems, related feelings and frustrations your target customers currently have in relation to your area of interest.
This exercise enables you to put yourself into your customers’ shoes, to see your product and its alternatives through their eyes, and to explore the motivation behind their preferences, in order to deliver the solution they would love.
When to use a problem hypothesis
Documenting a Problem hypothesis is a useful exercise at the beginning of a design project, during product discovery or whenever you need to explain to the team what you are working on. It will also prepare you for drafting a Lean Canvas for your business idea, in order to align the solution you envision with the current pains and problems of your target users.
A good problem hypothesis can help you realize, which problems of your customers you intend to focus on, and align your team’s efforts towards delivering the right solution. It should not be vague or prescriptive, so that each team member could recognize the goal of their work.
How to use a problem hypothesis
We suggest you arrange a team workshop for your key people dealing with design, marketing and sales, and have a handy template at hand. You may consider filling it in gradually, using a few steps below that reveal what you know before you nail the statement down.
1. Bring in your personas
Ideally you should have organized your user research in terms of Product Personas and can bring the key 3 ones to mind. Otherwise, you can use a simple job description or a demographic datapoint, e.g. “a parent with a young child”, “a university student”, “mid-level sales manager”, etc. Fill in the Personas Hypothesis quadrant (No.1) in the Infolio template.
2. Brainstorm re persona’s activities and obstacles
Then, work on a specific Persona and think of key things they do during a week, the key related steps and obstacles they face. Try to think divorced from the biases you have and the product/solution you are working on. Discuss and nail down why each of these things is important to this Persona. Write them from the selected Persona’s perspective.
E.g. A parent of a young child (Persona) reads a bedtime story to the child daily (activity) to help them develop (why its important), and when asking the child questions (one of the steps) is concerned which ones are age appropriate (obstacle).
These obstacles are the perfect input you need in order to come up with problems relevant to your selected Persona. Document the Problems in the Problem Hypothesis section of the template (No. 2) , capture the existing solutions to them, and define, if these are nice-to-haves or must-haves for that Persona.
3. Think about Alternatives
Think about all the alternatives that can be used to solve the problems you’ve shortlisted and document them in the right template section (Problem Alternatives, No. 3).
4. Define the Motivation
Select the best existing alternative to your solution to the Persona’s problem and brainstorm re what can motivate that person to choose your envisioned product/solution over the best existing alternative. Be creative and open-minded, but avoid wishful thinking here, trying to engage the data that’s proven by the preliminary user research findings. Capture your results in Value Hypothesis section (No. 4) of the given template.