Going Beyond “Make it Easier”: The Importance of a Clear Product Hypothesis for Successful Product Development
Understanding the “North Star” of product decisions is crucial for effective decision-making in product management. It is not feasible to make every decision top-down and ahead of time, as newly discovered details or changing circumstances may require team contributors to make their own decisions. However, for these decisions to be coherent in the context of the work as a whole, every team member must understand the reasoning behind past decisions, which is often referred to as the “north star” of the product.
The “north star” answers the question of how the work is meant to provide value for the customer. A common answer to this question is “make it easier,” which, while useful, is not actionable, doesn’t help create alignment, prioritize work, or serve any other functions of a north star.
The best approach to developing a product hypothesis is to follow a hypothesis-driven design approach, with a high-level product hypothesis comprising four sections. Each section informs the following section, making it testable. The sections include the user’s end goal, the friction users experience while achieving that goal, the missing customer benefit that we could provide to overcome those frictions, and the proposed solution that delivers that benefit. Understanding the user’s goal when looking at problems is crucial as it helps evaluate the magnitude of the pain they cause, enabling the clear framing of the problem being solved.
When a mission statement like “make it easier to discover content” is presented, filling out the product hypothesis it implies can be challenging because “make it easier” is only a starting point. The statement cannot guide the selection of different solution ideas since they may provide different capabilities, solve different problems, and possibly even deal with different types of content or user segments. Treating “make it easier” as a starting point and using research to fill out the rest of the product hypothesis is more effective than treating it as a strategy and falling into the pattern of validation.
The stages of the product hypothesis must be applied in order because every stage helps prioritize competing areas. Additionally, rooting the features in concrete needs allows for a frank conversation with interview participants about cost. Beyond just A/B testing solutions against one another or comparing the pain of two problems, “nothing” becomes a reasonable response.