Beware Solution Sickness: ProductTank NYC Talk

Last night I was given the opportunity to present at a ProductTank NYC meet-up, along with Darrell Silver of Thinkful and Helen Altshuler of PeerIQ. Both gave great talks on Product Cycles and collaboration between engineering and product.

I gave a short 15-minute talk on prototyping. As I was putting the talk together, I came up with this idea of “Solution Sickness” and thought it might be useful to share.

Overview of Solution Sickness

When trying to create a product, you can easily get obsessed with one solution, making it hard to let it go. Once this happens, you start to mold everything to fit that one solution. The problem you are trying to solve, the feedback you are getting from users, etc. Everything seems to support your solution and if it doesn’t, you ignore it or get mad about it. The problem is, often that solution is not correct and this narrow-mindedness can cause the need for massive amounts of rework. This “sickness” can lead to the Local Maximum Problem or a product that doesn’t solve a problem and is, ultimately, not a good product.

Who gets Solution Sickness?

Everyone to some extent. It is a natural human tendency to want to find a single solution to a problem and then try to make that solution work, especially after investing significant money and/or time into generating the solution. Generally, people in management and product managers are more susceptible than others. This can also happen when you spend time building prototypes, especially high fidelity ones.

What are the signs and symptoms of Solution Sickness?

  1. When you hear a potential customer tell you that they have a problem with your product or product idea and you start arguing with them
  2. You wrote down the problem you are trying to solve a while ago, but you haven’t looked at it in a really long time and you dread looking at it again
  3. You are way too nervous when you need to talk to users to get feedback on your solution
  4. When people challenge your solution, you discredit their feedback and/or take it really personally
  5. You spend too long on a document or prototype of the idea, way beyond what is useful to achieve your communication or learning goals

How is it treated?

  1. Acknowledge it within yourself: when you feel like you are doing the above, take a step back and recognize you are probably suffering from this sickness
  2. Revisit the problem: talk to a new set of people about the problem you are trying to solve
  3. Force a deep iteration: looking at your problem, sketch a bunch of completely new ideas. There are a bunch of exercises that can help. One that works for me is called a design studio exercise
  4. Pick a process that forces you to evaluate multiple solutions: you can check out the process that I use (see above). Or you can use the Lean Startup (I love Ash Maurya’s Running Lean version) or the 10:3:1 Process from Andrew Bragdon and Peter Provost. There are many processes out there; pick one you like that forces you to create multiple solutions and follow it.

Here are the slides from my talk: