heuristic is “an aid to learning, discovery, or problem-solving by experimental and especially trial-and-error methods.” There are a number of heuristics that product managers will find useful and powerful. Last week I talked about the “Mission-Critical Core/Context model” for product managers, and I’ve talked before about various other models and heuristics. In this post I start to drill into how they  help you solve product management problems. Some of my favorites – because they give me the best insight – are:

The Top 10 Heuristics for Product Management Success 1
Model Airplane – CC 2.0 licensed, by TeoJPG
  1. Cynefin and Probe, Sense, Respond
  2. The Three Laws of Marketing Physics
  3. The Five Whys
  4. Agile
  5. Get In The Van or Customer Safari
  6. The Lean Startup
  7. The Minimum Viable Product
  8. Customer Development
  9. Prototypes and Mockups
  10. Mission-critical Core/Context

These are all aids that help you reduce uncertainty, map a course through complexity, and give you more information about both your landscape and your response to the landscape. In fact, we can divide them up (roughly) into mapping heuristics and response heuristics (some, like prototyping and MVPs) fit in both categories).

Mapping heuristics

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  • Probe, Sense, Respond
  • Prototypes
  • Get In The Van
  • The Five Whys
  • Agile

Response heuristics

  • Three Laws of Marketing Physics
  • Mission-critical Core/Context

Another way to look at these heuristics is that they are about exploring. Some are for broad exploring, getting a sense of “where is there a problem?” and some give you more focus: “OK, I’ve found a problem, can I solve it?”, and “Have I solved it?” For broad exploring you’re going to use things like “Get In The Van” and many of the other techniques that are described, for example, in the d.school bootleg (download). You will use the Five Whys. You might use prototypes in this phase as well, with the goal not of validating that your solution is good, but that there is a problem that needs a solution.

Once you’ve found a problem, then you use a set of heuristics for determining if you have the ability to create a solution, then to determine if your solution is effective and valuable.

About the author

Your host and author, Nils Davis, is a long-time product manager, consultant, trainer, and coach. He is the author of The Secret Product Manager Handbook, many blog posts, a series of video trainings on product management, and the occasional grilled pizza.

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