A 7 steps framework to build better products

We as product managers (and/or entrepreneurs) want to build great products. But without some level of knowledge, we are flying blind. Our job should be to focus on our product’s domain.

To do that, we have to become great at domain expertise development. Domain expertise provides product managers with knowledge. Much needed to make the decisions that will impact customers, users, and the market.

Solve your product’s problem and you’ll understand its domain. Guaranteed.

A product’s raison d’être is to solve a problem. To provide a solution to a certain need. Either existent or introduced by the product itself (remember the iPad?). Solving a problem is what makes a client buy.

To our joy, there are ways to develop domain knowledge. In this post I’d like to share with you what I’ve used in the past. The McKinsey 7 steps problem solving framework.


The framework

While working at nimbox.com I became familiar with McKinsey’s problem solving framework. It’s a rigorous approach to define, process and communicate your product’s problem. And the best part is that it’s well battle tested. McKinsey has been using it for decades and for a good reason. It works.

The 7 steps are:

Define the problem: Problem solving begins with problem definition. Sometimes is tempting to skip this as we could be already immersed in a solution. Nonetheless is important to ensure that our problem is well defined. A well defined problem must be specific, debatable, actionable and focused on what matter. Something like: How can we reduce our customer acquisition costs by at least 30% in the next couple of quarters?

Breakdown & Structure the problem: Divide et impera. McKinsey’s method uses logic trees. They are a tool for dividing the problem into discrete chunks.

Issue Tree

Set priorities: Once structured, it’s time to set priorities and focus on what matters. If a certain branch of the tree doesn’t follow the standard 80/20 rule on its 80% impact for 20% the effort, then remove it. This is about keeping it simple. Focus.

Proving that he is alive might be a goose chase. And proving he had Cancer might be a waste of time and resources. Remember focus on impact.

Creating a work plan: Discipline and work planning beforehand are the keys here. There’s no need to be perfect. Be specific and have clear milestones. Let it be meaningful. Start right away, revise often and push detailed plans weeks after you start. Your understanding will be better after a small number of iterations. Your plan will change. Embrace that.

Do not over complicate using Project Management tools. Use the above sheet to track end products and times.

Conduct Analyses: Time to work! Focus on end products for your analyses. Don’t get caught in the numbers. Try to come up with real facts to show. Pay attention to the 20% that will make your analysis work out.

Synthesize findings: I’m not going to lie. This is when the shit hits the fan 💩. After being so into the numbers, it’s crucial to distinguish what matters. What is important, and what would be the essence of the story. McKinsey’s tool of the trade here is the Pyramid Principle.

Pyramid Principle, Up for synthesis, Down for communication

Communicate: The last one. To tell the story. This is the final test. If you can’t explain it as a story, you still don’t understand your problem. But if you do get it, then sketch out the structure of your argument. Linking your findings into a logical, persuasive story.


There you go. A 7 steps framework to guide us into problem solving. Like any framework or tool, it’s no silver bullet. Yet, it’s pretty agnostic and straight forward.

I recommend you give it a try. It’s by no means easy, but it will for sure make you learn a lot about your domain while doing so. And that is what makes it pay for itself. If you hit a wall while doing so, contact me. I’d be glad to help. Happy problem solving!


Originally published at guillermo.do on January 28, 2017.