Creating a compelling product is akin to solving a complex puzzle. It requires identifying the right opportunities and providing solutions that meet customer needs while aligning with business goals. The focus of user research should be on generating actionable outcomes rather than merely seeking answers.
One of the strategic tools that can guide product teams through this intricate process is the Opportunity Solution Tree. This blog post is dedicated to unraveling the methodology behind this tool, which promises to enhance your product discovery journey
Petra Wille reminded us about the cool method of using an Opportunity Solution Tree from Teresa Torres– a product-making map. Opportunity solution trees start with a goal and then show different customer problems and ideas to solve them. The purpose is to help teams work together, finding the best ways to make customers happy and reach their goals.
Pranali Shinde has a nice graphic that breaks the concept into parts.
What is an Opportunity Solution Tree?
The Opportunity Solution Tree is a visual aid that helps teams understand and navigate the path from recognizing customer opportunities to implementing solutions that drive toward a desired outcome. It’s a framework popularized by Teresa Torres, a product discovery coach, which has since become a staple in the product design and user experience research fields.
One of the key benefits of using an opportunity solution tree is it helps your team externalize and visualize your thinking, so it’s easier to align around what to do when.
Teresa Torres, Product Talk
The Anatomy of an Opportunity Solution Tree
At the top of the tree sits Outcomes, the ultimate goal or objective you want to achieve with your product. This could be anything from increasing user engagement, improving customer satisfaction, or driving sales.
Branching out from the outcome are Opportunities. These are the customer needs, pain points, or desires that, if addressed, can help you reach your outcome. Each opportunity further branches out into Sub-opportunities, providing a more detailed breakdown of specific areas where your product can impact.
Below opportunities are Solutions. These are the features, updates, or new products that you hypothesize will address the opportunities identified above. This is where creativity and innovation come into play, as you brainstorm different ways to solve the customer needs.
At the bottom of the tree, we find the Experimentation Space. Each solution is tested through experiments to validate whether it effectively addresses the opportunity and moves the needle toward the desired outcome.
Opportunity Solution Trees Help Product Trios
Opportunity Solution Trees (OSTs) provide product trios with a powerful navigational tool, aligning customer needs with business objectives. By visualizing the steps needed to reach the desired outcome, OSTs resolve tensions and ensure that every decision contributes meaningfully to the user experience. This shared visualization aids in building a cohesive understanding among team members, promoting a harmonious drive toward a common objective.
Adopting OSTs propels product teams into a continuous improvement mindset, which is critical for staying adaptive in the fast-paced tech landscape. It streamlines decision-making, allowing teams to evaluate the potential impact of their choices and learn from each cycle of experimentation. This iterative approach speeds up learning and builds the team’s confidence in what to do next, ensuring the product journey is proactive rather than reactive.
Moreover, OSTs simplify stakeholder management by offering a clear, easily digestible product strategy roadmap. They serve as a transparent medium that communicates the team’s direction and progress, fostering trust and easing stakeholder engagements. In essence, OSTs are more than a framework; they catalyze smarter, faster, and more unified product development.
The Power of the Opportunity Solution Tree
Now that we understand what an Opportunity Solution Tree is let’s explore its benefits in the context of product discovery and design.
- Streamlined Research: The Opportunity Solution Tree provides a structured approach for product teams to plan their research activities. Research efforts become more targeted and efficient by focusing on outcomes and opportunities.
- Customer-Centric Design: At its core, the Opportunity Solution Tree keeps teams laser-focused on understanding and fulfilling customer needs. It ensures that the voice of the customer is not just heard but is a driving force behind product decisions.
- Organized Product Strategy: By categorizing goals, needs, solutions, and experiments, the Opportunity Solution Tree brings clarity and organization to the product development process that can be instrumental in managing complex projects.
- Informed Decision-Making: Balancing business objectives with customer desires can be challenging. The Opportunity Solution Tree helps teams evaluate the potential impact of different solutions, enabling more informed and strategic choices.
- Enhanced Team Alignment: By providing a common framework and visual representation of the product strategy, the Opportunity Solution Tree fosters understanding and consensus among team members, smoothing the path for collaborative efforts.
Defining Outcomes in Opportunity Solution Trees
At the pinnacle of an Opportunity Solution Tree lies the outcome, a beacon guiding product teams’ discovery process. But what constitutes an effective outcome at this crucial juncture? As Teresa Torres delineates in her book Continuous Discovery Habits, outcomes are not just any metric but should be a product outcome—a measure that reflects customer behavior or sentiment related to the product.
Unlike business outcomes, which track financial metrics, zero in on adopting a single feature, product outcomes present a balanced scope that teams can directly influence and are pivotal for discovery.
Why focus on product outcomes?
The answer lies in the precision of control and relevance. Assigning a team a business outcome like revenue growth or market share expansion often leaves them guessing how to exert a direct influence. Though, product outcomes are actionable, giving teams clear direction on how to affect customer behavior within the product—making it the preferred outcome to crown your OST.
The focus on business value at the top of an OST serves a strategic purpose. It’s a common pitfall for companies to chase customer value at the expense of business sustainability, leading to products that may be loved but not financially viable in the long run. Consider tools like Google Reader or Dark Sky—products that failed not because they lacked users’ love but because they didn’t align with the company’s overarching business objectives.
By anchoring the OST with a business outcome, we ensure that the path of customer-centric discovery also paves the way for long-term business viability. Thus, the OST harmonizes the pursuit of customer delight with the creation of enduring business value, aiming to deliver desirable products and have the robustness to succeed over time.
Navigating the Opportunity Space: The Heart of Product Innovation
In product development, understanding the opportunity space is akin to a magician understanding their audience — it’s where the true magic of innovation and differentiation happens. This space is rich with insights into the unmet needs, persistent pain points, and deep-seated desires of customers. It’s here that product teams can unearth the golden nuggets of information that lead to successful solutions that resonate deeply with users and address their most pressing challenges.
But why is the opportunity space so critical? It’s simple: the more intimately we know our customers, the more precisely we can tailor our solutions to fit their lives. It’s not just about filling a gap in the market; it’s about understanding the contours of that gap so well that the solution feels like it was made exclusively for each customer. This level of understanding is what sets companies apart in a crowded marketplace. When a business can demonstrate that it doesn’t just know what its customers need but actually understands why they need it, it builds trust and loyalty that is hard to replicate.
Delving into the opportunity space requires more than surface-level research; it demands deep, empathetic engagement with the people you want to serve. It’s about listening to stories, observing behaviors, and gathering qualitative insights that quantitative data alone cannot provide. By building a comprehensive understanding of this space, companies can create solutions that don’t just sell but also endure, becoming integral parts of their customers’ lives and, by extension, staking a claim to market leadership.
Identifying Opportunities: The Seedbed for Innovation
Every successful product’s core lies a well-identified opportunity — a market gap representing an unmet customer need, a common pain point, or a universal desire. Understanding opportunities is about recognizing these gaps where immediate value can be created for customers. It’s the art of pinpointing the exact places where a product can slot into the lives of its users and make a significant difference. When we leverage these opportunities to drive our desired outcomes, we create a harmonious balance of customer satisfaction and business success.
The distinction between an opportunity and a solution is critical in the product development. Opportunities are not about the products we build but the space they are meant to fill. For instance, “I’m hungry” is not just a statement—it’s an opportunity. It indicates a need that requires a response. “I don’t know what to eat for dinner” and “I don’t have time to cook dinner” are further expressions of opportunities, highlighting customers’ specific challenges.
In response to these opportunities, we develop solutions. These are the tangible offerings like ordering takeout, dining at a local restaurant, or subscribing to a meal prep service—each a strategic answer to the identified opportunities. By clearly differentiating between the two, product teams can focus on the underlying needs before jumping to conclusions about the solutions, ensuring that the solutions they create are both relevant and desirable.
Opportunities vs. Problems: A Perspective Shift in Product Development
In the lexicon of product development, we hear about ‘solving problems,’ but the concept of an ‘opportunity’ opens up a broader horizon. The term ‘opportunity’ encompasses not just problems but unmet needs and desires as well. This nuanced understanding is crucial because not every product is about fixing something broken—many of the best products enhance life without solving a problem.
Take, for instance, an example that Teresa uses are the experiences offered by Disneyland (a customer of Helio), the delight of savoring ice cream, or the thrill of mountain biking. None of these ‘fix’ a problem. They fulfill desires—providing entertainment, pleasure, and excitement. Reframing these desires as needs: leisure, nutrition, and physical activity are tempting. Yet, this reframing misses the point. While writing a book, eating spinach, or visiting the gym might efficiently meet the respective needs for occupation, nutrition, and exercise, they may not provide the same joy as the aforementioned experiences.
The distinction lies in the emotional connection; Disneyland, ice cream, and mountain biking are designed to tap into our desires, to offer experiences we seek out for enjoyment rather than out of necessity. In product development, identifying opportunities means looking beyond problems to recognize the broader spectrum of human experience—seeking to enhance life’s pleasures as well as ease its pains. This is why we focus on opportunities—they are a truer representation of the full range of possibilities that products and services can address, encompassing needs, pain points, and the often overlooked but equally important human desires.
Decoding Solutions: The Building Blocks of Product Success
Understanding solutions is as crucial as identifying opportunities. In its broadest sense, a solution can be anything a product team offers to address a known opportunity — be it a product, a feature, a service, a workflow, a process, or even just documentation. Solutions are the tangible manifestations of a team’s efforts to meet customer needs and drive business outcomes.
Multi-Opportunity Solutions and the Shift to Continuous Delivery
Traditionally, product teams have often leaned towards developing large-scale solutions that tackle multiple opportunities simultaneously, usually over extended periods. However, the landscape is shifting towards a more continuous, iterative approach. In this paradigm, solutions become smaller, more focused, and are delivered more frequently—sometimes several times a day. This shift is key to achieving a continuous delivery cadence, where each small solution addresses a specific, singular opportunity.
The Importance of Exploring Multiple Solutions
When targeting a particular opportunity, it’s beneficial to brainstorm and evaluate multiple potential solutions. Decision-making research suggests that teams can make more informed and effective choices by comparing and contrasting different options. I generally recommend considering at least three different solutions for each opportunity. This process becomes particularly critical when dealing with high-risk solutions, opportunities that serve as differentiators, or when the team pursues an innovative approach.
Evaluating and Deciding on Solutions
The best way to assess the viability of different solutions is through assumption testing. By scrutinizing and testing the underlying assumptions of each proposed solution, teams gather crucial data that aids in making well-informed decisions. This process of assumption testing is vital in selecting the solution that best aligns with the identified opportunity and the overall strategic goals.
Knowing When to Build a Solution
Deciding when to move forward with building a solution is a nuanced process. It hinges on several factors like the inherent risk of the solution, the organization’s risk tolerance, and the time constraints at hand. Every solution added to the delivery backlog represents a calculated bet, and the discovery process is about minimizing the risk associated with that bet. The level of discovery required before proceeding can vary based on these factors. New teams, or those new to the discovery process, are advised to lean towards more discovery than they might initially deem necessary as a safeguard against underestimating risks.
Implementing the Opportunity Solution Tree in Your Product Discovery Process
“How do I find product opportunities?” is a question that plagues many product teams. The Opportunity Solution Tree can be your guide in this quest. Here’s how you can implement it:
- Define the Outcome: The first step is to set a clear, specific, measurable outcome for your product. What is the ultimate goal you’re aiming for? This outcome should align closely with your broader business objectives, serving as the north star for all your discovery activities.
- Identify Opportunities: You must truly engage with your customers to find opportunities. Dive deep into their world—listen earnestly to their feedback, meticulously observe their behaviors, and analyze the data to discover their challenges and unmet needs. These insights are the fertile ground from which opportunities will sprout.
- Generate Solutions: With opportunities, it’s time to brainstorm potential solutions. Encourage your team to think broadly and creatively, pushing the boundaries of the conventional while staying grounded in what’s feasible and strategic for your business.
- Experiment Rigorously: The proof of a solution’s value is in its testing. Design and conduct rigorous experiments to validate each solution, gathering data to see if it indeed moves the needle toward your defined outcome.
- Iterate Based on Learnings: Use the data from your experiments to iterate on your solutions. This phase is about evolution—discard solutions that miss the mark and refine those with potential. And most importantly, continue to absorb learnings from your customer interactions to inform future iterations.
Tools to Support Your Opportunity Solution Tree
Leveraging tools like Helio can facilitate identifying opportunities and collecting targeted data to populate your Opportunity Solution Tree.
Using such platforms, teams can gather and analyze customer insights more effectively, ensuring that each branch of your tree is rooted in real-world evidence.
Define the Outcome
Formal clothing brand Getup wants to turn their online engagement into in-person interactions, where sales have been seen to be greater in value and more likely to occur.
The Getup team conducted Action Map testing to understand how their participants make decisions in key situations. This is an early and simply test type, which provides a clear scenario for participants, and then asks them to choose their most likely action from a list of preferred and non-preferred choices that Getup layed out:
Once the results were collected, the data view in Helio showed the most likely action for each scenario:
To synthesize the data across different scenarios, the Helio team helped Banko load the results into the Action Map framework:
In doing so, the Getup team found that in several of the key scenarios they had outlined, the natural decision for their audience was to seek out an in-person location.
With this in mind, Getup began working on solutions for getting their online traffic in-store more frequently.
The Getup team’s proposed solution for earning in-person visits was to emphasize a Push to Store feature on their websites, encouraging consumers to send their items of interest to nearby stores to try on before making a purchase.
To ensure this idea had traction, the Getup team included it in their Sentiment Analysis testing to gauge how positively the idea might be received. To do so, they ran a survey asking participants to rate their emotional reaction to the idea:
Participants were then asked what impressions they felt most about the concept:
The hope was to maximize positive impressions while maintaining negative impressions such as fear or doubt below 10%.
The spike in participants feeling surprised appeared to be a good sign, while many explain it was due to the novelty of the feature:
“I suppose I would find it mildly surprising that this service would be available. I have heard of online stores sending things to your home to try on, but was unaware of an online store that would send clothing to a brick-and-mortar retailer for me to try on at their site.”
– Male Online Formalwear Shopper (US)
With validation for their concept in hand, the team moved into experimenting with the web experience of the feature.
The team began with a simple wireframe of their idea, so that they could vigorously test the concept before launching it for customers:
To start, the team’s primary goal was usability and interaction success on the site, so they asked their audience of Male Online Formalwear Consumers (US) to complete certain actions on the page:
The success of those actions were measured:
Along with the response time for participants to complete their goal on the page:
Through this process, the Getup team found that their primary CTA on the page was distracting from other actions, and they needed some more feedback for customers once they selected a date in the calendar.
Iterate Based on Learnings
With the learnings from the experimentation and testing, the Getup team produced a new version and again put it to the test.
This time, with the prior confidence of their action map validation and usability testing, the team focused on the reaction of participants to the full experience of using the feature in a check-out flow.
With Helio’s Gravity Score Testing, Getup brought participants through a flow of starting on their mobile app homepage and deciding to try an item in-person.
After taking participants through the full flow, they’re asked a series of 10 evaluative questions from the SUS testing method to gauge their experience.
Following the SUS testing method, responses from each participant are translated into corresponding number values, and then a formula is used to determine the overall user reaction to the experience.
Scores of 68 are average for Helio Gravity Score and SUS testing, so a score of 76 for the Push to Store concept is a great start to Getup’s new feature.
With validation from multiple rounds of testing and iteration, the Getup team was confidently able to push forward with their Push to Store opportunity.
Navigating the Decision-Making Process in Product Discovery
When choosing the right solutions in product development, decision-making is both an art and a science. The most effective method for evaluating potential solutions is through assumption testing. This process involves critically examining and testing the assumptions upon which our ideas are built. We gather valuable data that enables us to compare and contrast different solutions, leading to more informed and effective decisions.
Assumption Testing: A Tool for Informed Decision Making
Assumption testing is more than just a step in the process; it’s a critical tool that provides clarity and direction. It helps us to systematically break down our ideas, challenge our preconceptions, and validate or invalidate our hypotheses. This approach ensures that our decisions are not based on gut feelings or assumptions but on concrete data and insights.
Understanding When to Build a Solution
Determining the right time to move from the discovery phase to the building phase is a nuanced decision. It’s not about following a set formula but answering key questions regarding the associated risks and constraints:
- Risk Assessment: Evaluate the inherent risk of the proposed solution. How does this risk align with your organization’s overall risk tolerance?
- Organizational Risk Capacity: Understand the risk level your organization can bear. This varies from one organization to another and can significantly influence decision-making.
- Time Constraints: Consider the time available for making the decision. Are you pressed for time, or do you have the luxury of conducting more in-depth discovery?
These considerations underscore that discovery is not a realm of absolute truths but a landscape of calculated risks and informed bets. Every solution we decide to pursue and add to our delivery backlog is a bet that the discovery process aims to make as safe and as informed as possible.
A Word of Caution for Teams New to Discovery
Assessing risk can be challenging for teams new to the discovery process. It’s a skill that develops over time with experience and continuous learning. To mitigate potential risks, such teams should avoid conducting more discovery than they initially thought necessary. This approach serves as a safety net, ensuring that decisions are made with a deeper understanding and awareness of the potential impacts.
The Dynamic Nature of Opportunity Solution Trees: Managing Scope and Iterations
The Opportunity Solution Tree is a static framework and a dynamic, living document. It should continually adapt and grow in response to the insights gained from ongoing discovery activities.
Knowing When to Start a New Opportunity Solution Tree
The primary purpose of an OST is to guide you toward achieving a specific desired outcome. It’s time to start a new tree when you embark on a journey toward a new outcome. Outcomes typically comprise two elements: a directional component and a quantifiable goal. For instance, if your aim is to increase the percentage of first-time users reaching a critical engagement point during their initial session, the ‘increase’ part is the directional component, and the specific percentage target is your goal.
You don’t necessarily need a new tree each time the target shifts. For example, if your initial target was 15% and you achieved it, you can continue using the same tree to aim for 20%. However, a new OST is warranted if there’s a significant change in the directional component of your outcome, like shifting focus from enhancing user experience to increasing customer acquisition.
Updating Your Opportunity Solution Tree
Regular updates are vital for keeping your OST relevant. I recommend revisiting and possibly revising your OST every three to four customer interviews. This frequency ensures that you incorporate fresh insights without being overwhelmed by too much data or overemphasizing a single interview. If you conduct interviews more frequently, adjust the update schedule accordingly.
Introducing the Opportunity Solution Tree to Your Team
Teams must avoid the pitfall of creating opportunities from scratch, as this defeats the purpose of grounding your product development in real, validated customer needs and insights.
Start with customer interviews, or in the case of Helio, your audience answers and assumption testing – these form the foundation of your OST. Once your team is primed with this initial groundwork, sharing this article or other related resources can be an excellent way to introduce them to the concept and utility of the Opportunity Solution Tree. Remember, the OST is not just a tool but a mindset shift, guiding your team to align product development with genuine customer needs and business objectives.
Opportunity Solution Trees are a Mindset
The Opportunity Solution Tree is more than just a model; it’s a mindset. It encourages teams to remain outcome-focused, empathize deeply with customers, and embrace experimentation. Adopting this framework ensures that your product discovery process is efficient, empathetic, strategic, and data-driven.
By structuring your approach around the Opportunity Solution Tree, you create a shared language for your team to discuss where you are, where you want to be, and how you will get there. It’s a tool that turns the