How To Develop Structured Thinking As A Product Manager? by@zedaio

How To Develop Structured Thinking As A Product Manager?

August 9th 2022 3,898 reads
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“Build this feature”, ”Where is this integration?”, ”Our competitor is doing it, why aren’t we?” etc etc etc. And to make things worse, all these requests are probably coming in from 10 different platforms.

As a Product Manager, your days are filled with incessant requests from internal and external stakeholders. And when you’re already working on your current roadmap and on your 5th cup of coffee for the day, it can be hard to get your thoughts around all these never-ending incoming requests. I mean, c’mon, we’re still human after all.

And amidst all this, we’re supposed to solve issues at hand, look at the big picture by understanding the real problem in a product and evaluate if the problem/opportunity is worth solving. But how do we do all of this without letting it be a daunting experience?

That’s where structured thinking comes to the rescue! Let’s take a look at some best practices to ensure structural thinking as a PM:

1. Prioritize time better

According to Jasper Curry, Product Managers often suffer from decision fatigue. Why? Simply because 90% of our work is about making the right decisions. Which feature to build? When to build it? … and more. That’s why it’s okay to not be super aggressive with every decision we make.

Resource: Structured Thinking in Product Management by Jasper Curry

These are some pointers to keep in mind before making a decision:

  • If a decision is reversible, it’s okay not to think too hard about it. Jeff Bezos famously uses this technique to make his decisions as well. He says, “Many decisions are reversible, two-way doors. Those decisions can use a light-weighted process”.

  • Think of the worst-case scenario. If the consequences of a wrong decision are limited, then it’s best not to spend too much time on it.

For example, let’s take the decision to change the “Sign up” link to a button. Now, even if the consequences of this decision are negative, it can easily be undone. This means you don’t have to waste too much time thinking about this.


On the other hand, let’s take the decision to change the company logo. First of all, it takes a lot of resources to execute and the impact on the company could be huge. Just like how when Uber changed its logo and no one could recognize the app anymore. Decisions like this should be thought out properly.


Resource: Making good decisions as a Product Manager by Brandon Chu

2. Follow the three C’s

Madhur Chadha, a PM at Google, uses the three C’s namely: Creation, Curation, and Consumption to stay organized and structured in his PM journey. Any problem can be segregated into these buckets.

For instance, if you wanted to improve WhatsApp as a platform, what would you do?

Creation: These are some things you might want to do to improve WhatsApp:

– how to get more people to join WhatsApp – how to get more people to use WhatsApp Pay

Curation: Curation would include how to achieve the steps under creation. – Turn on/off blue tick chat option

– Encrypted messages – Integration with other payment apps

– More emojis, stickers and gifs – Custom stickers and gifs within WhatsApp

Consumption: And consumption would be how your users consume these features and the different distribution channels.

– payment for businesses, mobile recharge and others

– different devices and surfaces

– group chats and broadcast

This is a simple yet effective way of breaking down what needs to be done and how it needs to be done, so you can focus your attention where it’s needed and not feel overwhelmed.

Resource: Structuring your thoughts by Madhur Chadha

3. Frame the problem

Before blindly diving into the problem, Product Managers must understand that framing the problem is more important than finding the solution. You may ask questions about the problem from your perspective, but the solution to the problem should fit all your customers’ use cases, which simply means that you need to have different frames of your problem to understand it from different perspectives. How do we do that?

Explain the overview of the issue or problem to different cross-functional stakeholders and instead of asking them to come up with solutions, ask them to come up with different questions about the issue.

For example: Back in 2008, YouTube was the #2 search engine after Google. It was soon realised that users were searching for content that didn’t exist on YouTube. So, the question was: “If a user searches for something, and we knew that we don't have the best result, should we "link out" to a third-party website?” Half the company suggested adding third-party links to the searched content, while the other half was against it, arguing that it would be difficult to license content natively if they drove traffic away from the site.

Instead of framing the problem as “Should we add third-party links or not”, an alternative frame was created, which was a choice between “consistency vs. comprehensiveness”. They studied many companies and found that customers loved consistency over comprehensiveness, and agreed to go with the same for this issue as well. They decided not to add third-party links. Not linking outside of YouTube became one of their core principles and framed a set of other difficult decisions. For example, they removed the ability for creators to opt content out of different devices and removed all third-party embedded players.

Resource: The art of framing problems

Another challenge is that with so many questions about the same problem, it can be hard to find solutions to each one of them. Another trick to do this is, from the list of questions you have collected, select the top 2 most important questions whose answers would effectively solve the problem. This will enable you to focus and think deeply into questions that really matter. Now find the solution to these questions. You’ll often find that the solutions to these two questions will answer the other questions as well.

4. Focus on that problem statement

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Albert Einstein.

Problem statements help you focus on the key issue at hand, but while doing this we get tempted to include potential solutions as well. It’s important to refrain from doing this because the idea is not to find the solution but to put yourself in the shoes of your target users and think of the problem from their perspective.

Here is a simple formula to follow to find your problem statement:

Standard formula:

(describe a person using empathetic language) needs a way to (needs are verbs) because (describe what you’ve learned about the stakeholder and his/her need)

For example: Patty from XYZ & co who likes using our product management platform needs to export some selected customer feedback to an excel sheet so she can send it over to the engineering teams to discuss different use cases for the same feature.

Resource: Product Management toolkit

5. Interview, interview, interview

This may be time-consuming – scheduling interviews when it’s most convenient for your users, taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to them, but there’s no one better to give you your user’s perspectives than your users themselves. That’s why it’s an investment that’s absolutely necessary.

You cannot just assume that your users use your product/feature to get a specific task done without validating it. For instance, you might be building the product so your users can get tasks A, B and C done, but the user probably wants to use your product to get task D done.


Resource: Jobs to be done by Alan Klement

The 5-whys technique was developed by Japanese Industrialist Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Industries. By repeatedly asking “why” 5 times, you’ll discover a lot and reach the core root of the problem. After your users tell you the description of the problem, ask yourself why. Now that you have an answer for the “why”, ask “why” again. Keep doing this until your answer to the last “why” explains the root cause of the problem.

Resource: The five whys technique by Thaisa Fernandes

Some everyday focus hacks

These are some tips and tricks that some PMs follow religiously on a daily basis to set apart some time for themselves to get work done. No matter how pre-scheduled your day looks, PMs can easily get pulled into last-minute meetings and discussions, leaving no room to focus on priority tasks.

  • Daily highlight: Pick one important task that you need to complete everyday. No matter how busy you get, and how many unscheduled meetings you get pulled into, your goal is to get that one task done before you log off for the day.

  • 2-minute/5-minute tasks: Any task in your task board that you think will not take more than 5 minutes, should not be on your task board at all. This simply means that such tasks should be completed before you attend your first call for the day. For example: Small tasks like following up on a meeting, scheduling a meeting, sending an email etc.

  • Calendar blocking: Block one hour every day, so you can focus uninterrupted to get your work done. Reject any meetings that your team want to schedule with you during this time.

Meet your go-to product management tool

Getting through all these tasks can be a daunting experience especially when you have 100 things on your task board, stakeholders repeatedly giving feedback on different platforms, your engineering teams wanting to know what they should work on, and so on., is an all-in-one product management tool that helps declutter all your everyday PM struggles, brings together all your stakeholders and their requests in one place and helps you nail that roadmap with perfection! And the best part? With no credit card, you can start your one-month free trial today!

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