Problem validation, part 1: Does the problem exist?
Watch out for made-up problems. It happens regularly that people invent solutions for non-existing problems. Before you start generating solutions, make sure you’ve found a problem worth solving.
Gather data about the problem
Problem validation starts with gathering data. Collect every bit of information you can find about the problem. Get some hard facts about the situation. Take some time to collect data and create a one-page factsheet to get an overview of the situation.
– What is the problem?
– Who is affected by the problem?
– When does it happen?
– Where does it happen?
– Why does it happen?
– How big is the problem? (compared to the normal/ideal situation)
Keep an eye out for other information as well. Make sure that you stay open to evidence that contradicts your hypothesis. This can be hard. We are often biased towards a specific outcome and unintentionally tend to select (or ignore) facts. If there is a good chance that this will happen, split your research team into two. One team will look for data to falsify your assumptions, the other team will look for data to verify the assumptions. Afterwards, present the facts to each other and discuss the results.
Explore ‘existing solutions’
What are the current solutions to the problem? How are users solving this problem right now?
– What are existing solutions?
– What is good about these solutions?
– What are the downsides of these solutions?
– What are barriers for people to give up their current solutions?
– What are obstacles for people to adopt a new solution?
– What are people willing to give up for a solution?
– What would make people switch to a new solution?
In rare occasions, there aren’t any existing solutions to be found. In this case, investigate how people are responding to the problem. Note that if people are not responding to your problem, that’s also valuable to know. If this is the case, try to figure out what is causing this behaviour. Is it because they don’t care, because they don’t know what to do, because they have never thought about finding a solution or because of another reason altogether?
Problem validation, part 2: Are people aware of the problem?
After you have confirmed that the problem exists, you need to find out if there is a ‘need’ for a solution. When the first wireless phone was introduced, it was received with little enthusiasm. People didn’t understand why it would be valuable to walk while talking to someone on the phone.
Get feedback from a small group (qualitative research)
Talk with users and see if they mention your problem on their own accord. If they talk about the issue how do they describe it? What words do they use? How do they see it? Do they see it as inevitable? Are they satisfied with their current solutions?) How do they frame the problem? A ‘staff shortage’ problem, for instance, might also be seen as an ‘efficiency-problem’, an ‘education-problem’, a ‘workload problem’ or a ‘communication-problem’.
Interviewing individual users helps you to get a better understanding of the needs of your user. What do they care about? What are their frustrations? What are their dreams? What are things they need to do? If you know how people view your problem, you also know how to frame the solution.
Get feedback from a large group (quantitative research)
How many people are familiar with this problem? Find out how many people are suffering from this problem. You could, for example, do this via a survey. Look for patterns. Feedback from a large group helps to paint the bigger picture. You can group the answers and collect large amounts of data that can help you to prove the need for a solution. If 80% of the respondents are dissatisfied with the existing solutions, you know you have uncovered an opportunity.
Problem validation, part 3: Are people willing to pay for a solution?
Create an offer
Put together a proposal. Make sure that your offer is more attractive than the current solutions. (E.g. because your solution is cheaper, faster, better, easier, more sustainable etc.) Show the proposal to potential customers and ask them for feedback.
Look for ‘launching customers’
Talk with potential customers and be transparent about your situation. Ask them if they are willing to pay for your solution. Tell them upfront that you are looking for ‘launching customers’ and that you need their feedback and financial support to realise the solution. In exchange you can offer them; influence on product development, discount on the first product, discount on the long run (for the next couple of years). etc.
Sell before you build
Prototype your solution as soon as possible. Build a website or create a product-brochure that show how your product or service would work. Send an email or use Google Adwords to attract potential customers. Show them your ‘fake’ solution. If people show interest, thank them and explain that the solution is still in the making. If there is enough interest, you can start developing the product.