Hans Carlson is a Product Manager at MATCHi, an online booking and administration platform for racquet sports. Today we discussed product discovery, and how to build an opportunity solution tree based on existing product research and company objectives.
Ben: Thanks for joining us Hans! to kick things off, tell me about your current role?
Hans: I’m currently a Product Manager at MATCHi. MATCHi is an online booking and administration platform for racquet sports. We have several product teams at the company, I am responsible for the core team, which is the booking engine and main experience for our customers. I’ve been working in product management for 6 years and prior to this, I worked in a number of different consulting and BD roles.
Ben: Can you expand a bit more on your day-to-day work? What does product discovery look like for you as a PM?
Hans: At the core of product discovery, it is all about learning from customers. It is about learning about customer pain points, understanding their problems and needs and how we might deliver solutions to meet them. A big part of it understandably is about gaining alignment with the team and the wider organisation. So we all have a shared understanding of what those pain points are, so we can make better decisions.
Ben: You mentioned alignment. What does that look like in reality?
Hans: It is a tough one. Naturally, everyone wants to solve problems and we all have great ideas about what to build quickly so we can solve them. But discovery to me is a lot more about truly understanding the important problems that customers have and falling in love with a problem, not a solution. Boiling down the specific customer problem and understanding the “why” is the most important thing when it comes to aligning with stakeholders, as it makes for better conversations when we are talking about the outcomes that we are trying to achieve.
Ben: You mentioned problems, outcomes, ideas and solutions. How do these all relate to your product discovery work?
Hans: I really like the strategic part of product management. Outcomes are the best starting point when trying to better understand what customers want to achieve and how we as a company can be successful. From here, you can find opportunities or challenges that customers are trying to overcome and you can then land on a structured way of thinking about where solutions and ideas arrive from there. Those solutions relate to opportunities and outcomes.
Ben: How do you work with other others in your team? How do designers and engineers fit within discovery?
Hans: It is always hard to get this working really well without the concept of a product trio (design, product and engineering). If there is an understanding that it is structured in this way, then it means discovery work becomes part of the daily or weekly routine. This is an important step and breaks through the idea that our only roles are related to execution.
Ben: You mentioned structuring your discovery work. Can you tell me a bit more about how you do this with opportunity solution trees?
Hans: We had a lot of growth at the end of last year. We went from one product team to six, after splitting our product organisation into several different product teams. Part of this was having a CPO that was very much on board and in favour of empowered product teams. That was a great starting point for us to do something new, which is how I first came across and used an opportunity solution tree.
We had a number of solutions we were already delivering on. So we took this as a learning experience to ‘work backwards’ from here to track back to our team’s objectives. It isn’t an ideal way to do it, however, looking back it gave us a great experience to come together as a team and learn how to structure it. Once we moved on from those objectives we were able to start a new tree and could do so with a shared understanding and experience of how to structure our discovery work together.
It was successful because we had the opportunity to learn. We weren’t starting from a blank page so it was helpful to use the work we had ahead of us to think about framing opportunities and aligning on objectives.
Ben: How do you think about learning and experimentation?
Hans: We are trying to change the mentality of purely building and delivering, by having a bit more of a focus on learning and experimentation. We try to take the time to conduct very small experiments, often with sales and customer success and try to get into the mental space of learning. Having the time to really focus on learning and experimenting while balancing delivery is a tough thing to get right.
Ben: You also mentioned empowered product teams. what does that look like in terms of product discovery activities?
Hans: To me, the idea of an empowered product team is that we are empowered in the sense that we own the problem space and solution space of our product. This doesn’t mean we have complete freedom to do whatever we want. It obviously needs to be aligned with the company’s strategy, goals and vision, but we own this area and we take responsibility to learn as much as possible to actually solve problems in that space. We went from a product team of five to thirty, so we really want to keep challenging ourselves to be proactive instead of reactive in this area.