Toolkit: The Problem Tree

I recently wrote; when pitching VCs, state the problem before the solution.

Ask yourself first though, do you REALLY understand the problem?

A product (or service) is a response to a problem. Making sure you understand the problem thoroughly will stand you in good stead when you come to raise money, build a product and build a team.

A problem rarely exists in isolation. There are reasons for the problem and there are onward implications of the problem.

These are the problem CAUSES and EFFECTS.

Here's a technique I recommend which can help you think the problem through; create a problem tree.

The Problem Tree

  1. Get together with your team, advisors, friends - get together enough people to brainstorm the problem. 3 or 4 is good.
  2. Start thinking about what you believe the problem to be.
  3. Write your problem down. A good problem is stated clearly. For example, "Too many cyclists are killed on London's roads".
  4. Your problem will have what you think are causes. Individually write down on post-its as many causes as you can think of.
  5. Regroup and discuss your causes. Try and figure out which causes are "primary causes" and which are "secondary causes" and how they are related. Secondary causes are ones which influence the primary ones. For example, a primary cause might be, "Lorry drivers do not have sufficient range of vision to be aware of cyclists in danger". A secondary cause of that might be, "Safe lorry mirror systems are not mandatory".
  6. If you can, drill deeper. There are tertiary causes and so on. You can go many levels deep, the deeper the better.
  7. Now do the same for the effects. An effect on our example problem might be "Some cyclists are put off using London's roads".

Once you've mapped the tree, go over it again. Refine the definitions. Get precise, tweak the language,

The tree will reveal to you some truths. Equally it will reveal some unknowns. It will reveal some assumptions.

Validate the truths, research the unknowns, test the assumptions.

Do this well and you will be making smarter product decisions. When you come to pitch you will be properly prepared.

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