Why is an Opportunity Solution Tree Important For Product Managers [+How to Build One]

What is the opportunity solution tree? How can it help product managers in the product development process?

If you haven’t heard of OSTs yet and are or simply want to learn more, you’re in the right place.

This article covers Teresa’s Torres famous opportunity solution tree method for continuous discovery and steps to build one.

Let’s dive in!

TL;DR

  • The Opportunity Solution Trees (OST) help product teams arrive at solutions that solve customer pain points during the product discovery phase; they can also be used in project management as a problem-solving tool.
  • The OST is a visual aid illustrating the interdependencies between the desired outcome, opportunities, solutions, and the experiments needed to validate the solutions.
  • The product discovery process is fundamental for developing products that help users effectively solve their problems, which is the foundation of product-led growth.
  • Product discovery is an ongoing process and should not be limited to the initial design/development stage.
  • The Opportunity Solution Tree is the brainchild of Teresa Torres; she developed it to help product teams progress through the discovery stage in a methodical way and without leaving any gaps between the desired outcome and the solutions.
  • The OST helps product teams to look for solutions in a structured way, enables them to stay focused on improving the relevant metrics, and ensures that experimentation is not neglected in the process.
  • You should consider building an opportunity solution tree when your team struggles with the prioritization of backlog items, experiences discrepancies between the solutions and the desired outcomes, and tends to concentrate on too many or too few opportunities, solutions, or experiments.
  • An opportunity is a customer need or pain point; eliminating it gets you closer to achieving the desired outcome.
  • Always start building your opportunity solution tree with a clear desired outcome like an improved NPS score or lower churn rate.
  • When you’ve chosen a relevant desired outcome, conduct generative research to identify the opportunities.
  • When the list of opportunities is ready, brainstorm multiple solutions for each of them.
  • Test each solution thoroughly to ensure it achieves the objective, so devise and conduct a number of experiments.
  • At each stage, prioritization is crucial; follow the 80/20 Pareto rule and focus on the ideas that bring the most value to the customer.
  • E-whiteboarding tools like Miro or Mural offer templates that allow product teams to collaborate on their opportunity solution trees.
  • Tools like Userpilot can help you identify the needs of your users using micro surveys and conduct experiments to test solutions.

What is the opportunity solution tree (OST)?

An Opportunity Solution Tree (OST) is a visual tool used in the continuous product discovery process developed by Teresa Torres.

It is a graphical representation of the hierarchical relationships between opportunities, solutions, ideas, and experiments identified by the product team to reach the desired outcome.

Opportunity Solution Tree. Source: Product Talk
Opportunity Solution Tree. Source: Product Talk

What is a product discovery process?

Product discovery is a process that allows product teams to develop products that are great at solving users’ problems.

It starts by identifying the user pain points or jobs that they need to accomplish. These are the opportunities for the company to improve its product. Once your team has the list of opportunities, they can start working on solutions and iteratively test their effectiveness.

Would like to see how to do the continuous discovery process? Watch the talk Teresa Torres gave in 2021 at Product Drive.

Opportunity Solution Trees are a part of the process. They allow the team to visually present the interdependencies between opportunities and potential solutions — as well identify as any gaps between them and prioritize the solutions that offer the best value.

An opportunity solution tree as a part of continuous product discovery. Source: Product Talk.
An opportunity solution tree as a part of continuous product discovery. Source: Product Talk.

Why do you need product discovery?

For a SaaS product to be successful, it needs to provide value to the user. If it doesn’t, it won’t make the cut because why would anyone spend any money on it?

Putting the needs of the users while developing the product is the foundation of product-led growth. If you develop a product that is great at solving users’ problems, they will become its most loyal champions. This is what will drive growth, and not necessarily the work of your marketing or sales teams.

More and more SaaS businesses are recognizing the value of product-led growth and embracing it as their go-to-market strategy (and all of them will, ultimately).

But how do you know how to deliver that value? That’s what you need product discovery for.

Product-Led Growth.
Product-Led Growth

The process allows you to get an intimate understanding of the issues your users face. By identifying the challenges they try to overcome, you can design your product roadmap accordingly.

Teresa Torres’ opportunity solution tree: how it all began

While working as a product discovery coach, Teresa Torres discovered that teams found it difficult to connect what they knew about the customer needs and the practical solutions they were experimenting with.

They also struggled with organizing and sequencing their efforts in a logical way.

She started to look for a tool that would enable them to move through the process of problem-solving in a more structured way.

The solution that she came up with was inspired by the theory of mental representations by Anders Ericsson and the work of Bernie Roth of Standford University.

Why and when should you build an opportunity solution tree

There are a few reasons why you should consider building an opportunity solution tree.

First, it helps you stay organized while generating ideas. The structure of the tree, with its four main rows, forces you to go through the process in a methodical way. You move from the desired outcome, through the opportunities, through the solutions, through the experiments to test them.

Next, it allows you to stay focused on improving the most relevant OKRs. Your solutions will stem from the opportunities, which are in turn directly linked to the ultimate objective.

Finally, building an opportunity solution tree helps you ensure that experimentation is embedded in the product development process from the very beginning.

This is fundamental to test the effectiveness of the proposed solutions, but it’s easy to neglect it or not approach it rigorously enough if you don’t plan and record it.

In general, your opportunity solution tree can help you when you:

What is an opportunity in the OST?

Opportunities are the needs or pain points of the users that we want to solve.

Brainstorming sessions can generate lots of solutions. However, how each of the solutions helps you achieve the desired outcome, e.g. improved product adoption, is often difficult to see.

By introducing the opportunities layer into the process of ideating solutions, you give it a clear focus. Instead of brainstorming random ideas, the team members focus on solutions to specific needs.

This also allows better prioritization of the solutions.

How to build an opportunity solution tree?

There are four main steps when building an Opportunity Solution Tree:

1) Focus on the desired outcome

2) Identify opportunities

3) Decide on solutions

4) Prioritize experiments

What does each of them involve? Let’s check it out.

Start with your desired outcome

First, decide what you want to achieve. Do you want to improve your engagement? Or is it your customer satisfaction? Maybe one of your OKRs?

Improving one of your OKRs could be a desired outcome.
Improving one of your OKRs could be the desired outcome.

Choosing your goals is not easy but it is the foundation for the rest of the process, so don’t rush through it.

Ideally, you should concentrate on one outcome at a time as it makes it easier to control the process. If you decide to work on more than one goal, prioritize them in case you need to make some compromises.

Also, if you are focusing on multiple objectives, it’s easier when you create a dedicated tree for each of them.

Identify opportunities

As we mentioned above, opportunities are the needs of the users and the pain points they experience. They are recorded in the second row in our tree and they allow you to identify solutions that actually matter to the user, so never skip this stage.

To identify the problems your users face, you need to conduct some generative research. It will help you get a better understanding of your users and find out how they frame their problems.

Tools like Userpilot can help you at this stage. You can use it to collect user feedback with micro surveys and use the analytics functionalities to identify patterns in user behavior.

Userpilot allows you to collect user feedback with microsurveys.
Userpilot allows you to collect user feedback with microsurveys.

This should be an ongoing process where new data from the users is used to constantly update the opportunities in your OST.

Just as with the outcomes, you need to prioritize the opportunities to make sure that the most urgent ones are addressed first. Remember the 80/20 Pareto principle? 80 percent of the value comes from the top 20 percent of the effort, so that’s where you need to focus your resources.

Opportunity scoring and Cost of Delay are two agile prioritization techniques that could be used at this stage.

Decide on solutions

Now it’s time to generate solutions. There are a lot of techniques that you can use.

Brainstorming is the classic one. It allows the team to come up with plenty of ideas within a short time and has the added benefit of energizing and engaging the team.

To make the activity more productive, ensure that the participants concentrate only on solutions linked directly to the identified opportunities.

If you want to engage the less outspoken team members, consider silent brainstorming, where each participant suggests potential solutions on their own and anonymously before they are collated for further discussion.

Once you have a good selection of ideas, it’s time to evaluate and prioritize them.

Again, make sure the entire team has a chance to participate. Some team members, often the most senior ones, might want to impose their views on others, so the choice of prioritization techniques is crucial. A round of Priority Poker could be the way to go.

This is a challenging stage, so it might be a good idea to engage a trained facilitator to get the best results.

Brainstorm as many solutions as possible. Source: Teresa Torres
Brainstorm as many solutions as possible. Source: Teresa Torres

Prioritize experiments

Having chosen the solutions, it’s time to test them. This is necessary to select the final solution.

For each of the solutions, identify and prioritize sets of experiments to test individual assumptions behind them. To test your ideas, you can carry out both qualitative and quantitative research.

Fake door tests can help you test the waters, and see if there’s any interest in the proposed solution at all.

A beta version requires an investment of more resources but will give you more tangible data on user behavior and allows you to collect more meaningful feedback.

A/B tests, like the ones you can design in Userpilot, are another way to assess your solutions. Bear in mind though that they focus on the solution as a whole, and not the assumptions behind them.

As in the previous steps, create the right environment for every team member to contribute their ideas and conduct experiments.

To make sure you don’t forget about this stage, build a separate row in the OST for experiments.

Embed experimentation in the product discovery process. Source: Teresa Torres.
Embed experimentation in the product discovery process. Source: Teresa Torres.

Opportunity solution tree template

You don’t really need a template to create an Opportunity Solution Tree.

It is a visual aid that needs to show what your team is working on — your goals, your opportunities, your solutions, and your experiments. How many of each of them you are going to have depends on the product, so the usefulness of templates is limited.

Miro offers an Opportunity Solution Tree template. Source: Miro.
Miro offers an Opportunity Solution Tree template. Source: Miro.

The tools you use are of secondary importance. Having said that, there are great e-whiteboarding tools that will let geographically dispersed teams collaborate on OSTs, like Miro and Mural. These two have OST templates that are easy to edit and customize.

Conclusion

The Opportunity Solution Tree (OST) is an important product discovery tool. It allows product teams generate and test solutions to specific user pain points without losing sight of the desired outcome they want to achieve.

If you would like to see how Userpilot can help you with the product discovery process, get the demo!

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Userpilot is a Product Growth Platform designed to help product teams improve product metrics through in-app experiences without code. Check out userpilot.com

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Userpilot is a Product Growth Platform designed to help product teams improve product metrics through in-app experiences without code. Check out userpilot.com

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