Problem solving is at the heart of innovation.

As product developers, inventors, and engineers our human tendency is to chase what appear to be exciting ideas.

However, business dictates that we minimize idea-chasing and maximize real-world problem solving.

And problem identification is work. First we need to understand the problem, then uncover user needs, and finally define accurate product criteria to meet those needs.

Without this necessary upfront work, your ideas may be fun to think about but are likely off-target and not strategically focused enough to create meaningful design criteria.

Typical voice of customer data can be insufficient, in and of itself, to properly identify problems and get to foundational needs or “the need behind the needs.”

What makes it so hard? Think about the following:

  • Hidden problems aren’t always obvious, even to those who experience them every day. (Forest for the trees syndrome.)
  • Hidden problems often only reveal themselves over time. (Otherwise they are not hidden.)
  • There is a disconnect between the kind of problems the young and the old experience. (Solutions often are not connecting with user needs.)

That is why ethnographies are so important: Spend time with users, observe what they do, hear what they say, and ask them why—a lot.

This is how hidden problems are found. However, make sure you do not stop at this stage and jump right into idea creation.

Before you form a concept idea, make sure you do these two additional things:

  • Create a large list of need statements. Most likely, you found one main problem that will be the focus of your product. Great. But if you were really paying attention during your research, then you will have also found many smaller problems surrounding it. These are all problems because they relate to the user’s needs. Make need statements out of all of them.
  • Convert each need statement into design criteria. This new statement will describe what the product will need to accomplish in order to fulfill a specific user need. Being vague here is best. You don’t want to define the product and its features, you just want to describe what the product needs to accomplish.

Once this is done, you can start developing ideas that potentially fulfill the identified design criteria. Then you won’t merely be chasing ideas, you will be developing solutions with relevance to actual needs in the market.

If you need a process to guide you along the way, the Design Driven Development Process® can help you build relevant products that matter to the people that use them.

Now, chase that!