How to Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution

Bart Jaworski will show you why it’s crucial to fall in love with the problem rather than the solution.

Our guest

Bart Jaworski is a Senior Product Manager and Product Management Teacher with his own Udemy course on How to Become a Great Product Manager. Bart shares his valuable product knowledge through Linkedin, YouTube, Medium, and various online courses.

Listen to this episode


Gosia: Hi, I’m Gosia from Whiteboards and this is the Agile on Board Show. I’m here today with Bart Jaworski, Senior Product Manager, and Product Management teacher.

Hi Bart, thank you for joining us.

Bart: Hi, thanks for having me.

Gosia: Bart has his own Udemy course on How to Become a Great Product Manager. I’ll provide the link in the description of this video if you’re interested and want to check it out.

Today we’re going to focus on the topic, ‘how to fall in love with the problem, not the product.’

First, can you help us understand why it is so important to fall in love with the problem and then, how to do it?

Bart: Certainly. First of all, this is a very common misconception with Product Management that you need to basically fall in love with the solution first and foremost. The next step is not to focus on the solution and focus on the product, but it’s deceiving because the product is the solution.

If you go deeper, if you understand that the solution is just the end result of all the work that Product Managers do with their team, then you know that it’s the core you need to focus on – the problem.

What is that troubles the user who uses the product in the first place or what are the problems within the product that make the solution less enjoyable?

Gosia: Do you think that sometimes there is a risk that if we actually fall in love with the product and we add a lot of new cool features, we can actually lose the product market fit? Is there a risk that we’ll just get out of business and we will stop providing value because we don’t understand the problem anymore?

Bart: Let me ask you a question. How are you enjoying your Nokia in 2023?

Gosia: I don’t have it!

Bart: I don’t use it but I still have it as a token and this is the perfect analogy to what you’re saying that the problem was always to connect people and Nokia did that well with their phones. Then Apple came in and told everyone that there are more problems that we can solve with the phone. First I recall that a lot of industry experts were ridiculing Apple for doing too much in a single device, that this will never work. Blackberry and Nokia were like – ‘Whatever, do what you please!’

Now let’s face it, we all have iPhones in our pockets whether those are iPhones or Androids, those are the same. It’s the same thing with different UI basically and different details.

If you are too sure of yourself, if you think that you are the absolute leader until the end of time, that’s pure hubris and you always need to think as a Product Manager about the future of your product. Theorize and brainstorm what will happen if this product is no longer desirable. What can bring it down? How to prepare for it?

Like what’s happening now with Google panicking about ChatGPT and what it can do to the search market. It’s a better response than Nokia’s to iPhones but still, I don’t think anyone predicted that Google will be in danger or in realistic fear of losing the leadership position on the market. And yet it’s happening and now it’s all hands on board for Google to make sure that they will prevail.

I mean they probably won’t go bankrupt because AI will provide better results experience. It will no longer be search, right? It will be questions and answers. That’s what it will come down to.

Gosia: It will definitely change. I guess it’s very hard to predict how as it’s still early days. Can we say that the only constant is change? That’s why we can’t fall in love with the product because then if we lose sight of the problem, or there are new problems that are cropping up, our product will be maybe no longer in use.

Bart: Just to add to that, Google even had a problem before ChatGPT because I’ve seen a lot of videos comparing Google as it was to Google as it is now and it’s gone worse. A lot of sites closed their gates before Google. You couldn’t get very good direct results from Reddit for example, monetization became more and more prevalent. The product really suffered and since there was no better alternative, people kept using it because they were used to it. Now we are on the brink of a new era and who knows what it will bring.

Gosia: Yes, it will be very interesting to pay attention and see how it’s going to affect the search market.
Now we know that it’s essential to fall in love with the problem because of the constant change.

Do you have some tips on how to do it? How to work with your team, any activities that you can recommend?

Bart: I think it goes down to remembering the product basics, having a solid vision, solid strategy for the product, understanding your users and always being on the lookout for innovation that will improve the solving of the problem, not the product itself. That’s sometimes hard to do and stakeholders demand instant results.

It’s hard to find that brain space when you fight with bugs and deal with day-to-day product ongoing issues. At the same time, I think that how we PMs need to divide our time is to never focus on the here and now and the most recent future exclusively. There needs to be 30, 40, 50% of your time dedicated to actions that to the external observer might look like a bit of a waste of time. When you are just ironically googling different trends, finding stories, finding new startups, anything that’s connected to your problem space that can help you out in the long run.

Gosia: Always be one step ahead, right?

Bart: Exactly. Be one step ahead. Be inspired by things that are naturally your competitors or your market and still look for new and creative solutions to your problem. Maybe you will find that your product is no longer the best way to do it and you can present an alternative within the company before the alternative emerges somewhere else and steals your business.

For example, if you compare Jira to Trello. They have the same owner and they might appear as very different products. Jira is pretty complex and gives you a lot of options to customize, to manage your development process while Trello is just a small Kanban board but essentially they solve the same problem, how to organize your tasks.

Having an extremely complex and customizable solution and a very simple one sounds like securing the market for the same problem space on two different ends of the axis of complexity.

Gosia: For different target audience, right? Different set of users.

Bart: Very often I was asked when I was still at Microsoft, working for Skype, ‘how come Microsoft keeps both Teams and Skype? They do the same thing.’

Yes, they do the same things but Teams is for business, for large companies and they basically compete with Slack while Skype is for friends, family, and small businesses, but that was never the intended audience, but this is how it was used for small communities.

Their focus was different. While Teams would be very heavily focused on making sure that the business side of things is covered and that business features are added to the software.

We would be asking ourselves what would make a call between a granddaughter and a grandpa more enjoyable or easier or how to make the whole experience more engaging, and pleasurable.

We would never spend time making sure that you can, co-edit excel spreadsheets in a single call, right?

Gosia: Different use case.

Bart: Exactly.

Gosia: I have one question. Let’s say we’re falling in love with the problem. Does this mean that we have to make hard decisions sometimes and decide – ‘okay this product is not providing value anymore, we have to stop upgrading it and put our energy somewhere else.’ Do you have to make those decisions sometimes?

Bart: You do, but I would say that this is a lesson that comes from looking at the product lifecycle chart. It usually goes that – you start with very small, you grow, you reach the top, then you start to decline, and then sunset the product.

I think that this is a big, gigantic misconception because it should be a philosophy of trying to find the best market fit, the best solution that will keep the product profitable; that will still appeal to the users, and basically do what’s best for the business and not surrender immediately. Sometimes indeed it will be a maintenance mode and doing the bare minimum.

If you look at the history of a game called ‘Among Us’ that blew up during the pandemic. It’s a small mafia-style game on a computer. Before the pandemic hit, they were almost ready to sunset the game completely because they didn’t have enough users, and then a single streamer started playing it with his friends, and it got really popular because of it. It exploded to an enormous size and probably if this hadn’t happened, they might have not exploded. The pandemic might not have happened and we would have never heard of ‘Among Us.’

This is just one of the stories of how the world shaped the market so that different products could work differently.

Skype had its small resurrection during the pandemic, Zoom blew up. Teams are the dominant product because of the pandemic when they gave it out for free to many institutions like schools.

It’s all about loving the problem, observing your users, observing your market, and finding the best tools to fix those problems. To express your love. Sometimes it will be with the product you have and sometimes you will need to flip this product upside down, but it’s not about the love of the product, it’s about solving the issue and being the best at it.

Gosia: And providing value. Thank you so much. Thank you for providing all these tips. Thanks everyone for listening to this episode of Agile on Board, tune into our future episodes and subscribe to our Youtube channel. Take care and see you next time!

Bart: Bye, thank you.