The lean product process and understanding the problem space

This article is based on key anecdotes from ‘The Lean Product Playbook’ (a must-read for all current and aspiring product managers) by Dan Olsen.

The overarching framework of lean product process in Dan Olsen’s book is based on his very famous product-market fit pyramid as shown below:

The upper half of the pyramid is called solution space as it as about defining and building a product for users and solving a key problem for them. The bottom half as depicted above is called the problem space as it is about defining a customer segment and understanding its underserved needs.

The gap that links problem space and solution space is what Olsen defines as product-market fit.

Let’s look at the lean product development process in reference to the above pyramid:

  1. Determine target customers
  2. Identify their underserved needs
  3. Define the value proposition
  4. Specify MVP feature set
  5. Create MVP prototype
  6. Test MVP with customers

Overall the pyramid can be visualized as :

Dan rightly mentions customers aren’t very good at articulating their needs to help understand problem space and are more helpful in providing feedback in solution space. Coming from a marketing background I cannot stress the importance of this fact any further. Thus a good product manager has to be adept in extracting the key information from current or potential users to define and articulate the problem space.

Let’s look at key principles in outlining problem space:

Target customers

This section is mostly about segmenting your target customers based on demographics, psychographics, behavioral, and needs-based segmentation. The next step involves understanding their position in the technology adoption lifecycle (also referenced from Diffusion of Innovation theory by E.M. Rogers)which is defined as:

Technology adoption lifecycle

Innovators: Love new technology and products intrinsically and want to be the first ones to lay their hands on a new product

Early adopters: Adopt new tech to gain an edge in their area of expertise

Early majority: Accept products after careful review after witnessing successful adoption from innovators and early adopters. They are less tech-savvy.

Late majority: They only adopt new tech or products when pressured in their professional environment as the new tech becomes must-have in their area of work.

Laggards: They are life-long critics of new tech and products and are highly resistant to change. The goal is to minimize the negative influence of this group of customers.

It’s important to understand how each segment influences the next segment with respect to adoption of a new product idea or technology and product managers must take care to target the segments in a manner unique to their behavior (more information on this can be found at

Identifying underserved needs of target customers

This section involves undertaking adequate measures to define user personas and user stories to help define the value proposition leading to the much coveted product-market fit. Some of the tools to aid in this process include:

  1. Customer discovery interviews: To develop user persona and user stories
  2. Customer benefit ladders: To help prioritize needs and feature sets. Popular paradigms in this regard include Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs and the Kano Model.

I will discuss more about identifying underserved customer needs in the next article as it needs a separate discussion.

Analytics & Marketing Strategy at Amazon | UCLA, ISB, IITR Alum