“I need a shoe!”

A product management metaphor for focusing on the users’ problems, not feature requests

Once upon a time, Alice is walking down the corridors of a building, with a bag full of assorted items, and passes by Bob, who is standing close to a wall, barefoot.

[Photo by Eva Blue (unsplash.com)](https://unsplash.com/photos/2yc0Jofvezo) Photo by Eva Blue (unsplash.com)

But who is Bob, you might ask? Bob is someone who makes a living driving nails into walls. Bob has done this all his life, and the only tool he knows for doing so is…the sole of his shoe.

[Photo by Radek Skrzypczak (unsplash.com)](https://unsplash.com/photos/WlB8TsI_th0) Photo by Radek Skrzypczak (unsplash.com)

And now, as Alice passes, Bob has (for mysterious reasons) found himself in the situation of needing to drive a nail into that wall while being barefoot (and not having his shoes anywhere nearby). So as soon as Alice comes close, Bob begs her:

I need a shoe!

As per his request, Alice goes through her bag full of assorted items, hands him a shoe, and leaves.

.

.

.

Thing is, the shoe Alice had to give Bob had a soft sole.

[Photo by Camila Damásio (unsplash.com)](https://unsplash.com/photos/mWYhrOiAgmA) Photo by Camila Damásio (unsplash.com)

Although Alice fulfilled Bob’s request, Bob’s problem wasn’t solved—and now Alice is gone, and who knows when someone else will pass by. If only Alice had stopped to ask:

Why?

she would have understood that the real problem here was not that Bob needed a shoe: Bob needed to drive a nail into a wall, so he asked for the only tool he knew to solve that problem: a shoe. By the way, Alice had three different hammers in her bag all along.

[Photo by Adam Sherez (unsplash.com)](https://unsplash.com/photos/PtgLGdMzi-Y) Photo by Adam Sherez (unsplash.com)

So, next time you, as a product manager, are asked to add a certain feature to your product, focus on understanding what is the final purpose of the user. Dress this with any named framework you know (Jobs To Be Done, 5 Whys, …) or don’t, but focus on the user’s problem. You might even find out that several feature requests (by one or more users) stem, in fact, from the same need. If you then strive to understand how to best cater to that need, you stand a greater chance of satisfying all these users while adding the minimum viable complexity to your product.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination this morning. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, actual events, or explanations of cryptographic protocols is purely coincidental.

This post represents my personal opinion on this subject, not that of any company I work at/for on this subject area.