The last few years has seen high-performing product teams increasingly shift their focus towards product discovery with a desire to be outcome-driven rather than output-driven. With this shift comes a need for frameworks that can help teams better contextualize and prioritize the products and features they are working on.
One framework in particular that has gained popularity is the opportunity solution tree – an opportunity map that helps teams become more outcome-driven by visualizing the connection between their outcomes, opportunities and solutions.
What is an opportunity solution tree?
An opportunity solution tree is a practical way to break down large, ambitious outcomes into manageable chunks whilst offering visibility into potential challenges and roadblocks behind every potential solution.
If you're looking to become more outcome-driven and are looking for a practical way to integrate opportunity solution trees into your discovery process, then read on.
Who created the opportunity solution tree?
Teresa Torres is credited with coming up with the first concept for the opportunity solution tree. Torres herself is an internationally renowned product designer, speaker, and entrepreneur whose work is centered around helping teams build products focused on user outcomes.Her original goal was to help product teams better understand how and when to best use the different tools, methods and processes at their for validating and prioritizing ideas. The simple idea behind the opportunity solution tree (or opportunity mapping, as Torres sometimes calls it) is to help teams visualize the connections between the product and features they are building (solutions), the customer problems they’re solving (opportunities) and the goals they’re trying to impact (outcomes).Nowadays many product teams use opportunity solution trees to challenge themselves on the “why” behind their product decisions and to ensure that their validation and prioritization efforts are focused on ideas that actually solve real problems and drive key outcomes.
How does an opportunity solution tree work?
An opportunity solution tree visually represents the link between outcomes, opportunities and solutions. The starting point for any outcome-minded team is, of course, the outcome. From that outcome, you map out the opportunities that could potentially directly impact it. Only once those opportunities are fully mapped out (and yes, you can break big opportunities down into smaller opportunities) do you start defining and mapping solutions for each opportunity.The key is to have a visualized ‘tree’ that shows how everything you’re working on ties together whilst highlighting the potential impact some ideas have and the gaps that you still need to explore.
At its core, an opportunity solution tree is all about providing an overview of all the things you could be working on, so that you can more easily focus on where you need to validate and prioritize.
Why are opportunity solution trees so important for product teams?
An opportunity tree can help teams stay focused on their outcomes, as it helps them narrow down their search for opportunities and solutions. One of the biggest time drains for product managers is all the admin work around backlog management. Companies rarely lack ideas and standard prioritization frameworks can hit their limits when there is an idea-overload. By first prioritizing opportunities before prioritizing solutions and making sure that everything you consider links back to your most important desired outcome, an opportunity tree helps you create clarity and focus so you can make faster decisions.Another benefit of using opportunity solution trees is that they force you to break down very large, seemingly unsolvable problems into digestible and manageable chunks. Ultimately, a great product experience is all about solving customer problems, which is easier if they’re broken down into specific problems that have specific solutions. The added benefit of breaking these down is that it very quickly exposes your blind spots – areas where further research is needed to better understand an opportunity and how to address itFinally, most teams that start with opportunity mapping share that the exercise challenges a lot of underlying (false) assumptions that they weren’t even aware of. For example, seeing how solutions that seem related actually link to different opportunities, or how solutions that appear similarly impactful turn out to be impactful for completely different outcomes. These are the sort of assumptions and biases that lead to low-impact products. By visualizing the structure of the problem, teams can quickly identify which areas need further exploration and research.This encourages teams to ask more questions, think deeper, and come up with creative solutions that could add the most value by solving the most salient customer problems
How to create an opportunity solution tree (with examples)?
Step 1: Identify your key outcomes
Outcomes are ideally formulated as a desired change in customer behavior. This helps keep the customers’ perspective in mind when you start looking at opportunities. Objectives and key results (OKRs) are a great goal-setting framework for outcome-driven thinking. Define your key strategic objectives and how you will measure success towards achieving them. Chances are your team already has OKRs or some sort of goals in place. That should be your starting point. If not, make sure to define your team’s objectives based on your company’s overall goals or strategy. Most importantly, make sure the outcome(s) you choose are attainable. You can always break bigger goals down into more manageable outcomes.
Step 2: Identify, validate and prioritize your biggest opportunities
Opportunities are best thought of as customer problems, needs and desires that you need to solve in order to reach your goals. Chances are, you already have some idea of the customer problems you need to be solving. Make sure to clearly define them and focus only on the ones that could directly impact your chosen outcome. If you have a lot of solutions but few defined opportunities, take ideas, products or features from your backlog and ask yourself, “what problem does this solve for our customers?”. Make sure to also validate the opportunities you identify so that you can prioritize them effectively.
Step 3: Define ideas and solutions
The next step on your opportunity solution tree is the step you’re probably already doing. Identifying ideas and solutions for improving your product. Chances are you already have a backlog or roadmap in place, so here you can start by aligning existing ideas to the opportunities you defined in step 2.
Step 4: Link it all together and map it out
Once you’ve identified your outcomes, opportunities and solutions, it’s time to map them out. If you did the above 3 steps, your solutions from step 3 will link back to the opportunities from step 2, which in turn link back to the outcome from step 1. This is crucial because your outcome serves as a key element in scoping your focus. Once these elements are all defined, simply visualize them as a tree whereby your outcome links to your opportunities and each opportunity links to the relevant solutions. Ideally, you will list your opportunities and solutions from left to right or top to bottom based on their priority (depending on what framework you use for prioritization).
Step 5: Add nuance to your tree
Once you’ve made the first draft of your OST, have a look to see if you can add any nuance. For example, are there opportunities that don’t totally, directly align with the solutions? See if there are any opportunities that can be broken down into smaller sub-opportunities that are more manageable.
Step 6: Identify gaps
One of the most impactful parts of building an opportunity solution tree is that you quickly see where more research is needed. Are there obvious opportunities missing? Do some opportunities have more solutions whilst others have very few? Identify the gaps in your opportunity map and do the additional research and testing needed to fill them.
Step 7. Test and iterate
As your goals and products evolve, so will your opportunity solution tree. Make sure to continuously experiment, test and iterate until you feel that you’re getting the most out of your OST. Remember that this is just one of many frameworks for prioritizing and getting a strategic overview of your work. Make sure your OST links to your customer journey maps and product roadmap for maximum impact.
Here’s an opportunity solution tree example:
Track and measure the results of each solution over time to determine its effectiveness. Make adjustments as necessary to ensure that you are meeting your goals.
Conclusion: Opportunity trees – a great way to visually prioritize
Opportunity solution trees are a great way to visualize your biggest opportunities and align them to your goals. Much like journey maps and roadmaps, they are a crucial tool in gaining a strategic overview, providing key customer context and aligning teams around your priorities. Though opportunity solution trees are new to a lot of product teams, they are quickly becoming one of the most popular tools for strategic alignment. They are a fundamental part of product discovery and a valuable tool for the whole company. If you’re looking for a way to make creating, updating and maintaining your opportunity solution trees easier, check out NEXT, the all-in-one platform for product discovery.