From vague pain to killer solution

Rick Williams
March 14, 2024

The journey from problem definition to problem solution is a crucial one. Achieving a strong problem-solution fit is the cornerstone of successful product design and development. 

In this article, we will explore the six essential steps that product owners need to master in order to navigate this journey effectively. We'll dive into each step with explicit reference to product design, development, and achieving the elusive problem-solution fit.

Product success isn't built on hunches. It's about zeroing in on the right problems and crafting solutions that grab users where it counts. That journey from "something's not quite right" to hockey stick traction follows a path – and mastering this process is how you stay ahead of the curve.

Problem Definition

Don't settle for "users are frustrated."
Get specific. What is the situation that’s most frustrating them?
What complications are blocking their success? This is where user empathy is your weapon – use research, user personas, user mindsets and think about their needs. Taking the example of a productivity app, it's not just that "task management sucks." It's professionals scrambling between tools, losing track of deadlines etc etc… Those are the underlying issues the app needs to tackle.

At this stage, you should also consider a definition of success. What does ‘solved’ look like? And don't get sidetracked – define what's in and out of scope to avoid wasted effort later.

Underlying Issues

A symptom isn't a root cause. If your problem is chaos, dig deeper. JTBD can be a useful tool for this, but consider other frameworks too. Pain points come in different flavours: functional, emotional and social. Identifying those is how you make a product that really resonates.

Back to the Productivity app example, maybe it's not just bad organisation, but lack of collaboration functionality, an interface that’s confusing, or just a general sense of overwhelm and not knowing what to do first... Understanding this will inform your solution.


Everyone jumps to "aha!" moments, but the best ideas grow from scepticism. Take those underlying issues and reframe them as assumptions to test. 

Don't assume that fancy ‘feature X’ will solve everything. You need to prioritise assumptions based on impact – if they turn out wrong, will the whole concept fail? Focus on testing the biggest assumptions first.


With assumptions listed, turn them into testable ideas. This isn't ‘feature brainstorming’, it's "If we do X, then we expect Y outcome to happen..." Linking a change to an expected result provides focus.

"If we give our users a Kanban board, we believe task chaos will decrease by XXX." Try to make these hypotheses SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound). Now you have a design target and you can decide which tests to run in order to reach a validated learning.


The AFTER model designed by Itamar Gilad

Prototypes, MVPs, user tests, there are many different ways to validate and test your hypotheses. This is the reality check. Your ideas hit real users, and data comes back. This is where agile methods shine.

Test the big assumptions quickly so you can pivot if needed. Did that Kanban board help? Get feedback – it may be the solution, or a total misfire. But either way, you've learned something essential.


This isn't a win/lose situation. Every test gives you actionable insight.
If something didn’t resonate well it might be time to rethink a core assumption, or run another test before you make that decision. User feedback can even unlock problems you didn't know existed.

Mastering the Messiness

The problem-solution journey is rarely linear. Embrace the detours, question what seems obvious, and focus on understanding your users better than they understand themselves. Do it right, and you're not just releasing a product; you're solving a real, lived-in problem for people. That's the secret ingredient that separates an "okay" product launch from a great one.

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