Have you ever come across a product or service that you had the idea for months or years ago? Perhaps that frustrated you since you had the idea first and yet someone else is earning profits on your idea!
This happens often and makes one thing very clear – ideas are cheap. Anyone can have an idea; what separates us from the person who is now profiting off the idea is execution. That is, they took that idea from concept to creation. I have spent the better part of the last 4 years, facilitating and teaching audiences all around the world how to take ideas from concept to creation. I break the mission down into four steps, which I will describe below.
Identify the Problem – For any idea to become a viable and sustainable solution, it must address a real problem faced by a specific group of people. The problem is also known as the market. Without a market, a solution will not succeed, as it will not actually solve anything worthwhile. In order to prepare your idea for the next step, it is critical that you: determine the problem you are intending to solve, the audience you intend to solve it for, and how/when the problem is currently measured/noticed. The following are 5 questions to help guide you through your research. For additional and deeper questions, read my article, 30 Questions to Help You Identify the Problem.
- What is the problem as you currently know it? Describe a specific situation (include the people and stakeholders involved and their role/experience)
- What job or task was the person suffering the problem attempting to accomplish, when the problem happened? Learn more about Jobs to be Done Theory.
- How did the person know the problem was happening or happened? Or did the person not even know? (this opens an interesting possibility)
- How is the success of the attempted job or task measured?
- What does the problem cost to any or all of the stakeholders involved in the problem?
Validate Your Findings – All of the work you did in the first step helped you establish a collection of hypotheses related to the problem, however, this must be verified through first hand investigation and data collection. While you may be absolutely certain that your problem statement is correct, it is almost a certainty that you are not 100% accurate. Validation of your problem, through surveys, observations, experiments, and interviews, will help you refine the problem ahead of beginning the design of a solution. Your problem may be made up of 10, 15, or 20 hypotheses; set up surveys, observations, experiments, or interviews, accordingly to confirm each one. Once you have all of the results, update and finalize your problem statement. Consider the following questions in your effort to validate the problem.
- Are the problem stakeholders you identified actually connected to the problem? If not, did you have too many or not enough?
- Would the person suffering from the problem consider the problem “painful” enough to warrant a solution? Is the job or task they are attempting important enough?
- What evidence do you have to support the estimates for the problem or opportunity cost?
- If the problem is one that no one is aware of, how can you verify it is worth solving?
Solution (re)Design – Let’s be honest, you already had the solution in your mind before you began investigating the problem thoroughly. Thus, with a validated problem in hand, you will need to design or re-design the solution to address the specific elements of problem. For this step, design a solution that does no more and no less than what the problem calls for. Product-Market fit is critical to resonating with potential customers/users. Build too much solution and your customer sees it as too complicated. Build too little solution and your customer is left having to find the remainder of the solution elsewhere. Consider the following questions in your solution (re)design.
- How does your solution allow the user to complete the intended job or task?
- Which features of your solution address which features of the problem? Are there extra features? Or not enough?
- How much does the solution cost in relation to the cost of the problem?
- In what measurable ways does the solution improve/solve the problem? (refer to problem metrics)
- In what measurable ways does the solution complicate the job or task of the user?
- Conduct a cost/benefit analysis of the complications versus improvements.
Design a Sustainability Model – Solutions that are meant to solve problems for people other than yourself must have a way of surviving on their own. That is, they must have a model for sustaining themselves in the market. This is absolutely critical if you plan to scale your solution to reach ever increasing users. Consider the following elements when designing your own sustainability model.
- Target customer segments (distinguish between user and customer, if applicable)
- Value proposition for each customer/user segment, what are they?
- Pricing strategies and models, what are they?
- Fixed and variable cost elements, what are they? (focus on the big ones first)
- Distribution channels and methods, how will you get this into the hands of the customer?
- Competition, who are they, how do they compete with your solution?
- Customer acquisition, how will you find and secure customers?
Take this process and run your idea through it. Spent most of your time on the problem. Solutions are easier to design when the problem is understood clearly, comprehensively, and deeply.