The Opportunity Solution Tree - A Way to Map the Opportunity Space
History and Who
Coined in 2016 by Teressa Torres and later popularised by her celebrated 2021 book Continuous Discovery Habits.
What is it?
Product teams achieve business outcomes by solving related customer needs, pain points and desires (or opportunities).
Teams will develop a long list of opportunities if they’re speaking to customers regularly and will quickly need a way to map them and help them identify what’s the most impactful thing they can do next.
The opportunity solution tree helps teams organise the opportunities, solutions and experiments that could ultimately help move the desired outcome. It’s a more thoughtful alternative to the traditional flat backlog.
The Anatomy of the Tree
- The business outcome we want to achieve.
- E.g Increase revenue by 5%.
- A customer need/pain point/desire that we believe if better served, could help the business outcome
- E.g. ‘I can’t tell which subscription plan best serves my needs’
- Potential ways we might serve that need.
- E.g. simplify the options / change the copy / add real-time sales support
- Experiments or assumption tests that will validate our hypothesis or improve our understanding of the space
- E.g Prototype a new pricing table - test with a subset of customers - review conversion - survey customers and drop-outs (to ascertain how clear pricing options were)
Benefits of the approach
- Prioritisation is much easier when compared to using a flat backlog. Flat backlogs often mix opportunities, solutions and experiments into the same list. That means everything has to be prioritised against everything else. The tree structure - allows you to prioritise at the opportunity level.
- It forces teams to focus on the customer. As a product team - it’s really easy to build something that makes sense for the business, but not the customer. Defining an opportunity as a customer pain point, desire or need helps us avoid building things that the customer doesn’t want and won’t use.
- It helps with team alignment and knowing what to do next. The tree creates a shared understanding with your team about how you plan to solve for the business need. The tree encourages the team to debate prioritisation at the opportunity level - which is a much more strategic way to operate than focusing on scattered solutions.
- It helps show how balanced your idea generation has been - it will help teams strike a balance between depth and breadth of exploration - and might even prompt requests for further research to help flesh out poorly understood customer needs.
- Inspires a compare and contrast mindset as opposed to a whether or not mindset. Which of these customer needs is more important for us to address right now? What else could we build? How else might we address this opportunity?
- Shows stakeholders your decision making process - and promotes debates around customer needs OR the most impactful solution.
How to do it?
- Take inventory of what you already know. Start documenting as individuals but involve the whole team. Draw out the customer journey - to help spark ideas and increase your coverage of the experience. Think about the emotion, behaviour and attitude of your customer.
- Collect everyone’s maps and start to merge and deduplicate them - think about a network or systems diagram of nodes, links and loops
- It’s OK to write down something that isn’t validated - but make explicit what’s a guess and what isn’t. You can always use future interviews to gain confidence in your assumptions.
- Use customer interviews to inform the shape of the space - keep interviewing until patters emerge. Think about your customers’ entire experience.
- Let it evolve over time - it should be a living document
- The challenge is to get into the goldilocks zone between too broad and too narrow. Often the business outcome will set the scope and size of the tree.
- Example of how the outcome could change scope for a grocery retailer:
- Broad: Increase share of plate across a given country (which could include takeaways, restaurants and street food)
- Narrower: Increase share of convenience market for packaged grocery goods (which would exclude takeaways and eating out)
- Break big opportunities into a series of smaller ones. Breaking problems down makes them seem easier to solve - and always gives us a place to start.
- Try to keep opportunities distinct - so they are unique and self contained. Anchoring opportunities in moments in the customer journey - moments in time can help with this.
- When it comes to prioritisation start at the top of the tree - the big opportunities first, once you pick one, you can ignore the others. Then work down and choose the easier opportunities with the largest impact first. Focus on shipping value over time. Solving enough of the child opportunities and you’ll have solved the parent one
- A solution-first mindset is good at producing outputs not outcomes. Customers only care about their needs, pain points and desires
- Product strategy is the decisions we make about which outcomes to pursue, which customers to serve and which opportunities to address.
- Don’t skip these steps and start talking about solutions/features
- When assessing an opportunity think about size (how many, how often), market positioning, company factors and customer factors.