Opportunity Solution Tree

Opportunity Solution Tree

Let’s say you are a product manager and sitting with your team on a Tuesday afternoon. You are discussing a new product idea you want to build. This product will help you to focus on solutions and opportunities successfully. At the end of the meeting, you may have gathered 15 broad ideas as a team. 

Now, you can’t build a product range with such a vague idea. So you break it down. But all of these ideas make sense, are solution-friendly, and solve the customer’s issues.

In such a case, how to distinguish one from another and start building the features? 

How to make the product discovery journey a fun learning process? 

How to reach a fruitful outcome and make your ideation process smooth? 

And how to segregate the excellent ideas from the good ones?

Enter opportunity solution tree or OST as it is most popularly known. 

What Is the Opportunity Solution Tree, and Who Discovered It?

In 2016, Teresa Torres invented the concept of the opportunity solution tree. 

Torres is a well-known speaker, coach, and author and has successfully trained product teams globally to help them make better product decisions. 

In Teresa’s words, “The opportunity solution tree is a simple way of visually representing how you plan to reach the desired outcome. She further explains that the OST also assists in making implicit assumptions explicit. The opportunity solution tree enables you to navigate opinion battles. 

Furthermore, it helps frame your decisions as ‘compare and contrast’ rather than ‘whether or not.’ The OST aligns around a shared understanding and communicates how you’ll reach the desired outcome.”

Torres developed this visual roadmap to quickly problem-solve and organize product teams’ information about the product discovery journey. 

She had read about the enormous benefits of mental representations by Anders Ericsson. And certain words of Ericsson struck a chord with Torres. 

Ericsson explained, “The mental representations are pre-existing patterns of information. These could be facts, images, rules, relationships, and so on. They are held in long-term memory and can be used to respond quickly and effectively in certain types of situations.”

Teresa then compared these mental representation learnings to product managers who are natural problem solvers. 

She struggled to keep up with the challenges of product teams who coached under her leadership. It seemed the teams needed guidance on what route to take next.  

After researching more, she developed opportunities with solutions since most teams were reasonably good at it. 

And that is how the opportunity solution tree was born. 

How To Build an Opportunity Solution Tree?

The opportunity solution tree consists of the four tiers that define the roadmap well. A product team must consider a plan before jumping to find a solution in product discovery.

But before proceeding, let’s look at some gaps discovered by the developer Teresa Torres. 

She found these gaps in the thinking of product managers that led her to build a visual representation as big as the OST.

Have a look at the four common mistakes a product manager knowingly or unknowingly commits and may land up with a lot of work in hand. 

Blindly Following the Ideas

The first mistake or gap is product managers blindly following an idea without considering the outcomes. 

Torres explains this by stating that product managers rush to build on the idea once all the ideas are collected. They don’t focus on why you should consider that particular idea or feature. 

Not Dealing With the Bunch of Ideas in Hand

There are often too many ideas on a product manager’s plate that needs attention.

In such a time, the first of many questions you might ask is, will this idea help us with something? 

The general answer to that would be it might help us reach an outcome that the company and teams desire. And then, as a team, we go ahead with that idea. 

The catch here is that not enough ideas get considered as a team. 

Any idea can derive an outcome, but will it be effective? 

That is the question that mostly gets sidelined.

Comparing Different Solutions With Each Other

Once we have different features in place, we compare and conclude which is better. But we often tend to forget that every solution can be categorized. And only the solutions that match each other or are related to each other can be compared. 

Instead of comparing the solutions, you can place each solution side by side and dissect each separately. 

Product managers can check if that particular solution solves the problem. If yes, in what ways?

After that gets done, you can check if other solutions may lead the company to a better outcome. 

Instead of debating which solution is optimal, product teams can focus on better ideas and features that will benefit the company over time.

Solutions Don’t Match the Outcomes

As teams, you can often vote for a solution based on your likes and dislikes. You may not consider the eventual outcome of that solution. It means there is a disconnect between the solution and opportunity or results. 

Similarly, product managers consider the idea because they like it or enjoy ideating that feature.

Teresa presents a solution for this by stating that taking the time out and externalizing the visual structure of the idea can go a long way. Considering these solutions will also prevent the mistakes from happening further.

What Are the Steps To Reach an Outcome With an OST?

Define a Clear Desired Outcome

A start to the journey to find a product idea begins with a clearly defined outcome. It is easy because every organization begins its product discovery process by identifying the result. 

But many product teams have a hard time jotting down the desired outcomes. 

Teams can use the objectives and key results (OKR) or other metrics such as revenue, conversion, engagement, or NPS, to efficiently handle this. 

Teresa suggests that product managers can take only one success metric into account. It is always better to use one key result for a particular OST. 

But if you decide to go with multiple metrics to improve at a time, then prioritize the goals accordingly. 

Building Products on the Pain Points

Listening to your customers comes with many added advantages to building a successful product. You can satisfy your customers’ product needs to become an established company. Ensure taking feedback from your customers regularly. 

You can take feedback by focusing on generative market research. Talking to your customers will help you reach an opportunity based on the pain points they face daily. 

It is vital to keep your ears open to doing this. Plotting the pain points on the opportunity solution tree will present a more precise mind map. 

You can conduct generative research to find opportunities in the problem areas. 

This kind of research helps the product managers develop a deep understanding of their audience’s pain points. Such an understanding helps to find opportunities for innovation. 

Being Open to Solutions Coming From Everywhere

It is not just the job of the executive, CEO, product lead, or the people at the highest position to come up with a solution-based idea. As a team, everyone can put forth their ideas with ease. 

Solutions coming in from everywhere can help the team diversify. Now the teams can view the same problem from different angles to find and reach an opportunity. That way, you can develop an opportunity that may not have crossed your mind previously. 

It is vital to remember that every solution must be related to chance.

Experiment With the Solutions

Using multiple experiments to test a single solution helps reflect on the answer per se, not on all of the solutions together. 

On the OST, you can assign a solution key to various experiments simultaneously. 

This will help distinguish the solutions.

What Are Some Scenarios That Show How You Can Use the OST Tool Better?

The coach herself, Teresa Torres, presents four scenarios to depict how you can use the OST efficiently and derive the results smoothly. 

She mentions these examples in an article that takes us through her journey of discovering OST. Let’s look at two of these scenarios that illustrate how OST can be helpful. 

These examples mention scenarios that product managers and team members across the organization would have observed before. 

Case-1: At Any Given Time, Considering a Singular Solution, Opportunity, and Experiment. 

Opportunity Solution Tree

OST can come in handy because it will help the teams look at the bigger picture of the solution and the opportunity. But, in this case, there is an imbalance in the depth of the tree. 

When the tree is too deeply rooted, this can be problematic. Because here, the teams are trying to focus on a single solution, opportunity, and experiment. 

A steep OST shows that product managers and teams did not conduct the generative research on a large scale. And there was no further discussion about the opportunities and ideas, leading to fewer experiments. 

In this case, conducting generative research and being open to solutions can help in generating opportunities and lead to experiments.

Case-2: At Any Given Time, Consider Too Many Solutions, Opportunities, and Experiments.

Opportunity Solution Tree

This scenario is precisely the opposite of the one defined above. In an earlier scenario, there was no multitracking. But multitracking too often is also not advisable. This case is a more cluttered one. 

When product managers regularly experiment with an idea, opportunity, and solutions, that is an excellent start to building a product. 

When testing takes place for every possible idea, opportunity, and solution, the problem arises. 

This continuous testing of all the ideas takes more time than needed. The whole process will delay the primary goal of the product discovery, that is, to build a feature/product. 

As Teresa puts it, ‘We have to balance horizontal expansion with vertical depth. Our discovery has to lead to delivery”.

Who Can Use the Opportunity Solution Tree?

The OST can be helpful for anyone willing to move through the four tires. Though it mainly focuses on the product teams and people in the software business, OST will benefit various organizations. Product managers can also customize it to their needs. 

OST is a tool that helps you stay on track with what you are trying to build. It also enables you to focus and stay organized throughout the product discovery process. 

A solid groundwork can be carried out with the help of the OST, not to be bothered later at the peak stage of building a product.

Example of the Opportunity Solution Tree

To better understand how you can use the opportunity solution tree, let’s look at an example.

Let’s assume a company, XYZ, has developed a range of online products. A product that must appeal to the musicians is not well received. 

And the major concerning points are customer conversion and satisfaction. People who do use the product don’t wait for the purchase plan. What is the solution?

There are many opportunities, in this case, to experiment and bring out the desired results. With the help of OST, we will fill out all four categories.

Define a Clear Desired Outcome

We are looking at two outcomes in this example. 

The desired outcome will capture at least 40 percent of the customer’s stay for the subscription.

We will focus on two parameters: One is to get the target customers to stay and sign up for the premium subscription of the product. And the second one is to get a good result from the existing customers. 

Here we clearly defined the outcome on two critical parameters of objectives and key results.

Building Products on the Pain Points

The next step is to identify the critical opportunities linked to the end goal. After conducting generative research, the XYZ company found three pain points to turn into opportunities.

The pain points were that the premium subscription was too high for the musicians just starting their careers. 

Musicians couldn’t come together online or offline in groups because timings didn’t match. 

And lastly, getting the essential tools such as instruments and voice recordings in place was complex.

Being Open to Solutions Coming From Everywhere

The above point brings us to the next tier in OST, generating solutions that will best beat the customers’ problems. After brainstorming with the entire team, some of the answers were:

Let’s consider one of the solutions for one of the problems. 

And that is the premium subscription being too high for artists just starting. In this scenario, three probable solutions could be:

  1. The organization provides discounts on a yearly subscription.
  2. Adding a one-month free subscription to the artists subscribed for 1+ years, or 
  3. A bonus of different features available to subscribers who are just starting.

Experiment With the Solutions

Finally, time to experiment! 

Now the experiments could range from company to company. 

In this case, maybe XYZ company has decided to test with discounts, such as 10% and 20% discounts. 

There you go! We covered all the four tiers in the OST, and now the company can decide what step to take next. 

You can always return to the original OST and add or experiment with it however you and your organization deem fit.

Opportunity Solution Tree Template

Below is the OST template you can use to plan out the product discovery. 

Opportunity Solution Tree

In Conclusion

Product teams get excited when a new tool gets introduced in the market. But a tool such as the OST may help you focus on opportunities and solutions. It is only helpful if used with proper engagement, understanding of the tool, and purpose. 

When the opportunity solution tree combines with Teresa Torres’s other tool, the continuous discovery framework, it can guide you throughout product discovery. 

So what are you waiting for? 

Have a product discovery planned out using the opportunity solution tree. 

And then keep the pointers mentioned above in mind, and get ready to ideate and create successfully.

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