The opportunity solution tree helps product teams define a desired outcome and map the opportunities and solutions that can help solve that outcome.
January 13, 2023
The Opportunity Solution Tree (OST) is a visual tool that helps product teams define a desired outcome and map the opportunities and solutions to help them achieve that desired objective. Teresa Torres, the author of Continuous Opportunity Habits, has popularised this tool.
Opportunity solution tree (OST) is a visual tool that helps product teams define a desired outcome and map the opportunities and solutions that can help them achieve that desired objective.
If you haven't yet, I recommend reading Teresa's book. This post is a quick summary to help founders, designers, and engineers use this powerful visualisation tool in just a few minutes.
Understanding the parts of the tree
The Opportunity Solution Tree has 4 levels. Each level helps the product team hone in on different decision points.
These are the levels, from top to bottom:
Experiments (i.e. assumption tests)
Let's break down how to complete each level:
1. Desired outcome
Start by defining the desired outcome. The desired outcome is a quantitative goal, and it can be defined for the whole business, a feature or a marketing objective.
Example of desired outcomes:
"x%" weekly retention on first-time users.
Reach "x" NPS score for a set period (i.e. a month or quarter)
Reach "x" weekly new signups
Increase MRR for a set period (i.e. a month or quarter)
Opportunities are problems, pain points or desires that the customer is facing. Opportunities should be written in the first person and from the customer's perspective.
Opportunities are problems, pain points or desires that the customer is facing.
Give structure to your tree by using parent-child relationships and grouping sub-opportunities that belong to a larger one.
Only some opportunities belong in your Opportunity Solution Tree. If any of these is false, then you can leave that opportunity out of the tree:
Is the opportunity framed as a customer need, pain point or desire and NOT a feature request?
Does this opportunity come across often, or is it one in a million?
If we solve this opportunity, will it have an impact on our desired outcome?
A common mistake with opportunities is allowing them to be hidden feature requests. Remember, the opportunity is a problem, burden, or need your customer faces in their work or everyday life.
The 3rd level in the Opportunity Solution Tree is solutions. Solutions are the features the product has though which the opportunity can be solved.
Experiments are, in my opinion, the most important part of the Opportunity Solution Tree.
Experiments are ways in which we will test the assumptions behind each defined solution.
Whenever we define a solution, we imply that a specific set of assumptions is true. A common mistake we make as product managers is to overlook those assumptions or assume them true without confirming them. Here is where the biggest mistakes in product management occur.
The key to this step is to identify what those assumptions, uncover as many as possible and create experiments to test the riskiest ones.
According to Teresa Torres, there are four different types of assumptions we can test:
Desirability assumptions: Does anyone want it? Is the customer willing to switch from their current solution to our proposed one?
Viability assumptions: Is this solution financially viable? In other words, will we see enough ROI to justify developing it?
Usability assumptions: Will customers be able to learn on their own how to use it and explain it to others?
Ethical assumptions: Are you harming your customers in any way with this solution? What data are you collecting, how are you storing it and for what use? If our customers have full knowledge of this assumption, would they be ok with it?
The two common ways to test whether an assumption is true is by conducting user interviews or unmoderated user testing. For unmoderated user testing I highly recommend Maze.co. Maze makes is insanely easy to load high-fidelity mockups from Figma into an environment where you can record what the user does with the mockup and measure whether the user got lost trying it out or how easy the feature was to use.
Free Figjam Template
Thanks for reading all the way. To make it as easy as possible to use this powerful tool I've created a free FigJam template with helpful tips:
Knowing what features to build is every product manager's dilemma. The key to sound product decisions is to compare and contrast the benefits of the different paths we are evaluating.
The Opportunity Solution Tree is a tool that allows product teams to view their different paths to achieving a desired outcome and identify which ones still carry the riskiest assumptions and thus lead us to mitigate that risk by talking to customers and getting more data on those assumptions.
I believe the most powerful part of the OST is the assumption tests. We often assume our assumptions to be true or even worse our cognitive bias keep those assumptions in the dark. Every product decision has assumptions and the beauty of the Opportunity Solution Tree is that it instills in product teams the habit of detecting those assumptions and testing the riskiest one before moving forward.