🛠️ The Product Person #14 - A Mental Model for Product Decisions

A mental model for deciding what product/feature to create next.

🧠 Mental Model?

Simply put, a mental model is structured knowledge one has about an aspect of life. It helps us deal with incoming information.

When faced with a situation, all our past experiences, learnings, presumptions, etc are boiled down into a simplistic bullet-point list of “things we know” and we make decisions in that situation based on that list.

For example, a chess expert and a chess novice look at a halfway-played chess game. To the novice, it looks as if the pieces were placed randomly. For the expert, based on that simple bullet list of “things chess experts know,” they can see why those chess moves were made, who’s currently winning, and how the game could play out.

Mental models can be applied to pretty much anything —startups, cooking, sports, music, etc.

📌 Ok Cool, Now Apply It To Products

Alright, two concepts: Reframing & Multitracking —Remember them.

Reframing = question your questioning for new understanding
Multitracking = generate multiple solutions from that new understanding

We also want to ask ourselves 4 questions:

  1. What do you want to build?

  2. Why? —Once we build this thing, how will it contribute to our topline metric?

  3. What else can we do/build to achieve that same effect?

  4. What opportunities are we tackling with these solutions?

For example, let’s say you work in product at Facebook. And you and your team think it would be cool to build a dislike button to increase engagement—Facebook’s topline metric.

What? = Dislike button
Why? = To increase engagement

This is reframing.

We want to build a thing but then we pause to question why we want to build that thing before investing time/money —To understand what we really want to do.

Now that we understand that we what we really want is to increase engagement, you and your product team propose two other solutions: highlighting past stories to share, and turning off story notifications.

What else? = highlight past stories to share, turn off story notifications.

From this new point of understanding, we want to consider many solutions that’ll tackle the problem.

That’s multitracking.

Ok, now we have multiple ideas to achieve the same desired outcome. What next?

Well, we know we want to increase engagement and we have a few ways we can do that. But the engagement that each solution aims to increase is slightly different. This is where we filter by opportunity —To narrow down the problem.

We may ask, “What kind of engagement are we trying to foster?”

This is systematic multitracking.

We can look at how well we engage people around existing story content and how well we engage people to share new content. Then, we can ask ourselves which of these opportunities is more valuable.

This helps us make strategic decisions about where to invest our time, before we debate the merits of our solutions.

Opportunity filter can also mean filtering by market —How much money are people actively spending to solve that problem?

The more money being spent, the better the opportunity. The ideas generated within that opportunity will likely be better investments.

By using an opportunity filter we avoid dumb debates like “adding a dislike button is a better solution than highlighting past stories.” —Both good solutions, but they tackle different opportunities.

We also avoid a gap in our thinking where we consider a solution that doesn’t connect to an opportunity at all. We can’t identify a problem that it solves. We just like the idea.

Beware of orphaned ideas.

For example, let’s say my desired outcome is to increase subscribers for The Product Person. Now, I have the opportunity to up my Twitter game.

I can do that by writing blog posts, for those that like longer written content. I can also write dope tweets, for those that like bite-sized written content.

Wait, what about people that prefer to consume audio content —an important constraint that should be considered. Maybe I should start a podcast, right?

Well, it’s a good idea by itself. But it doesn’t align with the current opportunities that I want to explore. So, for now, I won’t invest my time into creating a podcast.

♻️ Let’s Summarize This Bad Boy

Ok so this was a mental model for deciding what product or feature to create next.

The goal is to explicitly frame the problem that you’re solving so that you can scrutinize your solutions that you come up with (reframing) and then use that new understanding to generate more and better solutions (multitracking).

We can accomplish this by considering 4 questions:

  1. What thing do we want to build?

  2. Why are we building that thing?

  3. What else can we build that’ll have the same effect?

  4. What opportunity does each solution explore?

🖇️ The concepts in this issue were summarized from this blog post. —h/t to Jim England for suggesting this to me!

Feel free to DM or Email me if you have any article suggestions.


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❤️ Thanks for reading Issue #14. This took me a while to summarize, so I’d truly appreciate it if you hit that heart button & share this with another product person that’s missing out on this newsletter —It helps a lot.

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Enjoy the rest of your week :)

~ No newsletter next week —need a break + want to spend more time talking with you my readers via Twitter & Email. So expect to see my name in your inboxes at some point lol.

- Anthony