How to work with customers, managers, designers or developers to make the cooperation as effective as possible? How to separate good ideas from the bad ones? Teresa Torres explains those matters using a methodology called The Opportunity Solution Tree, which she presented during her lecture at Mind the Product.
If we want a digital product to succeed in the marketplace, it must meet a specific need or a set of several user needs. In the designing phase, we should also think about the problems faced by our customers. How are we going to solve the users’ problems? What value do we intend to deliver to our users? How do we want to make money as a company on our product?
There are always many questions at the beginning of a project. Similarly, there are many problems to be solved. Sometimes they are straightforward, other times more complex. One thing is for sure, a digital product can never be built on one’s own – it’s always a team effort.
Who is Teresa Torres?
Teresa Torres is an internationally recognised author, speaker and digital product coach. She teaches product teams how to skilfully design and manage the product process. She also helps managers harness product development opportunities and options.
Torres also speaks about how to hold conversations with customers to prototype quickly and efficiently, and explore solutions with end users. She has developed products such as AfterCollege, AffinityCircles, Become.com and has worked with customers such as CarMax, Spotify and Tesco.
What is Mind the Product?
Mind the Product is the world’s largest community of “product people” – designers, developers, coaches, managers and investors – all those who develop digital products.
The organisation holds annual conferences around the world: in Hamburg, London, Manchester, San Francisco and Singapore, and during the pandemic also online. They run product training and workshops, have the world’s largest Slack channel, a job board where you can find interesting job vacancies offered by big tech companies, but also offers from newly established start-ups or tech unicorns.
Mind the Product is also a weekly newsletter on digital product management with the best articles from authors working in design, management or development.
Opportunity Solution Tree – What is it?
During her talk at the Mind the Product conference, Teresa Torres talked about her Opportunity Solution Tree (OST) method. It’s a visual diagram designed to help a team pick up the best growth opportunities and options for their products.
OST enhances transparency of the Product Design Process and also gives the entire team an opportunity to participate fully in the product development process.
In our product teams at HeroDOT, we have enhanced transparency of the product design process through the application of Opportunity Solution Tree (OST). The methodology we use during workshops enables full participation of each team member individually in the digital product development process.
Workshops are the basis of our work. Very often we start with a strategic workshop with the customer to define the requirements and common product opportunities. Project management efficiency is very important at HeroDOT. It is important to deliver a product to the customer that not only meets their requirements but also has a chance to succeed in the market. It is also very important to be able to learn continuously, while challenging each member of the team individually.
Working in a structured design process doesn’t only give a great sense of security to the stakeholder. It also makes it easier to produce digital products, but most importantly – reduces the chances of failure in the early phases of the process.
By working with a range of different project management methodologies we boost the opportunities of success in the marketplace of a new product for our customer.
Forget Ideas. Think Critically.
Have you ever come up with a brilliant idea that you think solves a problem perfectly, and then quickly moved on to convincing others? This is a standard approach that we see very often in product teams. Generating ideas is easy. Posting yellow stickers during workshops is too. Falling in love with ideas is even easier.
We are too quick to consider our first ideas to be the best. This causes us to blindly abandon other solutions. We close our minds to one strategy or concept and lose sight of other solutions that may be more beneficial to our project. More beneficial for the customer. More beneficial for the users.
We are quick to reject solutions that may be more optimal and therefore less costly to implement and capable of solving the problem at hand more effectively.
It’s also common to abandon reflection or analysis as to whether an idea is really a good one. We identify our first idea as the best one and start implementing it. We refuse to consider other options or ideas and it turns out that in fact the decisions made are not the best at all. As a result, our product is not as good as we might have thought at the beginning.
We often focus not on what we should
A fundamental problem for product teams is a misdefined hierarchy of work. It very often happens that the estimates of our work ultimately turn out to be overestimated. We go over budget. We are not able to deliver the product in a timely fashion. During manual and automatic tests we discover a number of bugs.
Too often designers and developers focus too much on how to solve problems instead of on the performance they want to achieve. Talking about her methodology, Teresa Torres said: “First, we need to focus on outcomes, not outputs.”
But actually, what is the difference between these two very similar terms and how do they affect the way we manage our teams? “Outputs” is the “what” – the actions and activities you perform and “outcomes” is the “why” – the reason you perform those activities.
Torres’ approach changes the way you think about your product right from the start. I believe that the Opportunity Solution Tree (OST) method not only supports the efforts of Product Design teams, but it is the answer to better managing the efforts of the Product Development teams.
Opportunity Solution Tree as a Complement to the Scrum Methodology
Opportunity Solution Tree provides a holistic view of digital product development. Sometimes our product is so complex that it is difficult to visualise it in the initial phase of development.
It is very important to focus our thinking on the results we want to achieve. What is the actual goal we want to achieve by means of our work?
In November 2020, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of Scrum by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland. During the anniversary webinar, the authors of the methodology presented revisions to the Scrum Guide. As previously announced, the changes were the result of the two men’s reflections and the requests of many experienced practitioners. The Scrum Guide was to become clearer, simpler, more specific.
The authors of the methodology for project management introduced Objectives Key Results.
It was made mandatory to ask ourselves who we are making our product for, why we are making it, what is the long-term goal for this product.
Similar solutions are used by Teresa Torres in her OST method, where she suggests we focus more not on the problems we have to solve, but on the results we want to achieve and the goals we have to conquer.
What does the Opportunity Solution Tree consist of?
The tree consists of 4 parts. Where in the first place the product team should define the “Outcome” or the result they want to achieve. Also ask yourself what goal you actually want to achieve for your product.
Next, you should write down the “Opportunity” or hypothetical chances – what opportunities you have discovered to realise the “Outcome”. This is where you can use knowledge about your users – their “Painpoints” or “Needs”. At HeroDOT to facilitate our product teams we use the Value Proposition Canvas from Strategyzer. It’s an extremely helpful tool that makes our job easier.
The third part of the Tree (and this is probably the most fascinating and interesting part for designers such as a Product Designer, User Experience Researcher) is called “Solution” – potential solutions that you can build and put into production to take advantage of the market opportunity you have identified to achieve your goal.
The final stage involves “Experiments” – here you should ask yourself “How can you verify the potential effectiveness of your solution?”. Experiments can be quantitative research or qualitative research.
An experiment is also designing a simple prototype, or a set of functionalities in your newly developed digital product. You should not limit your thinking. Every member of the team should be experimenting and looking for the best solutions – from the Investor to the Product Team – Product Designers, Developers, Testers and others.
The Opportunity Solution Tree is a team process of generating possible options and opportunities for product development, leading to the expected result. It is a method that allows equal involvement of all team members, but also users of the Design Process and Development Process.
This method helps us to focus even more on opportunities. Often we think that many solutions meet many needs, but in fact we create shallow products that ultimately do not satisfy any needs effectively. The Opportunity Solution Tree allows us to look holistically at our entire product and the ecosystem in which it’ll operate.
This change of thinking makes it easier for us to decide on which user needs and solutions we should focus on to achieve success.