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Product Perspectives & Innovation

by Leah Tharin

You can also read this article in German, Spanish, French and Italian.

Feature view or solution view? Which perspective helps us innovate better?

This series, Products & Their PMs, by Leah Tharin, Product Lead at Smallpdf, aims to delve into the dance between product and product manager, and the delicate balance that needs to be struck to achieve not only impact, but success that can be sustained.

In the first article of this series, we touched on how one might view a product: as merely an object with benefits attached to it or as a solution to a potential problem. Moreover, we asked how the way we define or view a product might influence how we set ourselves up to improve on that product and, ultimately, to innovate.

Feature View vs. Solution View


Two different perspectives on products were posited: One is when we define a product based on its features (feature view) and the other based on the solutions (solution view) it brings to specific problems.

While the feature view is generally more inclusive and best aligned with an objective description of a product, the solution view is potentially much more subjective and may not ever cover all the potential uses of that product.

People are usually much more inclined to adopt a feature view than a solution view when they communicate about products or objects to others. This means that, yes, the feature view, while easier to use to describe things, is still less useful when it comes to improving or innovating products, because it doesn’t shine a light on why people need a certain product.

It’s only when we adopt a solution view that the problem that the product solves comes into full focus, which is the very foundation of product improvement.

Why Is This Distinction Important for Innovation?


When talking about innovation, we usually talk about creating something new or providing something that has never existed before, or that does something much better than any of its counterparts.

In his book, “Zero to One,” Peter Thiel, billionaire entrepreneur and co-founder of PayPal, talks about a ten times (10 x) improvement on a product to be considered a worthy innovation that has the right to win a market. Important to note here is that winning a market is simply a catchy phrase for having a great product and distribution to convince people to use it.

So how do we create innovative products? The simple answer is that there’s no easy answer. Even so, there is some consensus on what it isn’t and that is just adding more and more features or improving on existing ones.

Creating or improving on existing features means you’re focusing on what you already have in your product and not what problem it solves. If you know your product satisfies a need for transportation, for example, vs. what features it offers, you will retain the perspective and openness to understanding that a car may no longer be the best solution to solve the original problem.

Yes, you could be thinking, ‘Electric cars are the future!’ and you might even be right, but the truth ultimately looks different for everyone who has (or maybe doesn’t have) one:

  • ‘Eco-friendly transportation is the future’
  • ‘Stronger cars are the future’
  • ‘I need the newest tech regardless of what car it is’

Even though all the above three statements apply to electric cars, they address different needs. By extension, if you know what problems your customers are solving for themselves, you are already better informed about what you could potentially offer them. You’ll also have a better idea as to what extent your product development and innovation are worth pursuing—by far, a better approach to product development and innovation than a guessing game.

Enjoying this series so far? Stay tuned for Leah’s next installment about product managers and how they can make the greatest impact within their organizations.

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Leah Tharin
Product Lead @Smallpdf