When the Segway was announced with fanfare on ABC’s Good Morning America, the product was intended to solve the problem of commuters who had a long walk to work. But in reality, few in the US had this problem. The average commute to work in the US was 26.6 minutes, spent in a car or public transportation - most people weren’t walking to work. The Segway wasn’t solving a real pain point for users.
When you have a vision for the world you want to bring about, your strategy helps you translate that vision into actionable steps. Product strategy means asking the following four questions with the mnemonic RDCL (pronounced “radical”):
- Real pain point: What’s the pain that triggers someone to use your offering?
- Design: What functionality in your offering solves that pain?
- Capabilities: What capabilities or infrastructure do you need to deliver on the promise of the solution?
- Logistics: How do you deliver the solution to your users?
Identifying real pain points is the foundation of a good strategy. To arrive at Real pain points you need to starty by identifying who will use your product and what makes them engage with your product. What’s the pain that triggers them to use your product?
Identify specific groups who have this pain and describe their pain in detail. For example, Jana Gombitova, Product Manager at Akvo, a not-for-profit technology and data tools company, could have described her target market as IT leaders. Instead, she describes her target market as “IT leaders in governments and NGOs (most often in remote areas) who want to get better at data-driven decision-making but don’t have in house expertise in data analytics.”
To be Real, pain points must be validated. To be validated, a pain point must be both valued and verified. Here’s an easy to remember formula:
Validated = Valued + Verified
The Radical Product Thinking formula for pain points
For a pain point to be valued, your user must be willing to give up something in exchange for having the problem solved. This exchange can be in the form of a fee to use a product that solves the problem.
Even if you have the best technical solution, it may not be valued. Many years ago, I worked with a startup that had innovated a machine learning approach that it was using with ad agencies. The product optimized for click-through rates, however, the ad agencies weren’t able to charge clients more for it. As a result, although the technology was producing results, it wasn’t valued.
To verify the pain, you need to ask the following question: Have you observed that others feel this pain or is it your assumption that customers have this need? This is especially important if you’ve felt the pain personally — scratching your own itch can be a powerful vision motivator, but you have to confirm that others share that itch too!
If you ask someone if they have a pain point, most likely they’ll nod along with you. It’s human nature to want to tell you what you want to hear. To verify a pain point, you’ll need to spend time observing your users in their natural setting and observe them suffering with the status quo.
Putting it all together
Once you’ve identified the target customer and their validated pain points, you can begin to prioritize them. In developing a new product, it’s tempting to chase multiple customer needs across different customer segments. But in taking this approach, your product is at serious risk for catching Strategic Swelling - a disease that will drain your resources across too many initiatives and slow down progress toward achieving your vision. To avoid this disease, it’s important to prioritize your real pain points.
The Segway wasn’t addressing a real pain point for commuters going to work. But go to any city in Europe and you’ll see Segways used extensively for city tours. Getting around in a tourist bus in Rome, for example, would mean wasting hours in traffic. But the distances between tourist attractions would make a walking tour exhausting. There was a real pain point for tourists that led to a wide adoption of the Segway by agencies offering city tours.
Identifying and prioritizing Real pain points helps you find the right market for your product. Validating that the pain points you’re addressing are real is the foundation of a good strategy that makes your vision actionable.