From Problem Space to Product Market Fit | 6-Step-Guide

How to get from Problem Space to Product Market Fit

Achieving Product Market Fit is often the ultimate goal for product teams and founders. The biggest reason to fail at the attempt of ever racing is not starting in the problem space. The entrepreneurial drive to solve problems leads us to think about the solution even if we believe we are still talking about the problem.

The following article provides you with all the things you need to know to: 

  • Truly start your discovery in the problem space
  • Differentiate between problem space and solution space  
  • Know when to move to solution space
  • How to finally create a product users love by using MVPs correctly

Problem Space vs. Solution Space

Before we discover how to use the problem space to build better products it's crucial to understand the difference between the problem space and solution space.

Problem Space Definition and Meaning:

The problem space can be described as the Area of tasks, pain points, and user needs that your target customers face. In this space, you're goal is to identify and understand the problems before attempting to create any solutions. In fact, in this space, any thought or mention of solutions should be ignored because it distracts from the underlying user needs. 

The problem space can be seen as the foundation of the solution space. The more you understand your user’s problem space the bigger the potential solution space can be.  

Solution Space Definition and Meaning:

The Solution Space, on the other hand, is where you use your insights gained from exploring the problem space to think, create, and test solutions. It involves everything where a solution is already introduced like brainstorming ideas, designing features, and developing an MVP or services to test the identified assumptions.

When creating a product it is easy to end up in the solution space very early. In the solution space, you will ask “how” something should be done. In contrast, the problem space is more about “why” something is needed.  

Why not just start with an MVP?

You might succeed if you are skipping the focus on the problem space. But you are playing a game of luck with the odds against you. It are limiting your potential solutions early in a way that can never be undone. 

This is best understood by a short example: 
A startup wants to help people create podcasts faster with less editing effort. They immediately build an MVP (solution space). Their first product is a software product that makes editing faster with the help of AI. They test and refine but somehow the users never really want to use it. 

One day they came across an article that educates them on the importance of problem discovery to find product market fit. They followed the first steps and found out that the user had a totally different set of problems. They want to get rid of the process completely. So instead of building them a software solution they now think about a service to outsource the work or a marketplace to find professional podcast editors. 

This of course is just a tale without deep research into that topic. Nonetheless, it highlights the narrow focus of starting with a solution. If you want another example read more about the famous NASA Space Pen failure. Please note that it is also more of a tale than a fact to highlight the concept.

How to find Product-Market Fit with a Problem-First Approach 

Finding Product Market Fit is all about resolving the unmet needs of your target customers while providing a great experience. 

There are two established models in that field I want to mention. The Double Diamond Model, created in 2005 by the British Design Counsel, and the Product-Market Fit Pyramid created by Dan Olson. 

Both are great illustrations of how problem-focused product development could work. That inspired me to create a very hands-on approach to problem-first product development. 

Therefore, the process below tries to leverage the problem space to create great products faster. I tried to stay as close to real tasks as possible to ensure it is usable in your development journey.

As shown in the graphic we are moving along with our target customers and the problem we are focusing on through research. This will lead us to a huge solution opportunity space where we will ideate and iterate our way to PMF by staying in touch with the user and their problem throughout the development phases.

1. Define the Problem and Target Customer:

You most likely either have an idea, an existing solution or found a problem you want to solve. Regardless of your stage, think about your problem area and target customers first. Create a definition of your general problem and list all groups that you think might have that problem. If you are having a hard time identifying all potential groups, then already do some research with the single purpose of finding all customer segments. I would suggest social listening. Find out who is talking about the problem online. 

2. Purify the Problem:

If you have a list of customer groups and an initial problem description it is time to get rid of everything that creates a bias. A problem description like “I want to help people who need another podcast editing software” is limiting already as you make assumptions about the problem space. 

Always ask yourself why they have that problem in the first place. That way you always go one level up. Maybe you come up with something that doesn’t sound like a problem anymore like: I want to help people who create a podcast. 

That sounds very generic but it is unbiased compared to the first statement and allows you to find a whole new set of problems, some might be about editing others about publishing or creating content ideas. 

Your opportunity space will grow massively compared to the first statement. You might as well get rid of podcasts and make it to audio editing but you don't have to go that broad as it is good to have a clear addressable market.

3. Explore and narrow Focus:

Now it is time to dive into explorative research within your problem space. There are several ways to conduct that kind of research and there are a lot of things to consider. Therefore, you should read this guide about user needs assessment, where I cover the research process in detail.

It is absolutely fine to cross out groups from your target user list at this stage. Some might have a different problem set that doesn’t fit into the one you are focusing on. 

When are you done with your research? A good sign you did enough research is that you do not discover a lot of new insights anymore. There will never be a stage where research is absolutely pointless and you will come back to that step later. 

4. Discover Opportunities:

As your understanding grows, you are ready to start building your opportunities solution space. The goal of this step is to cast a wide net over all possible ways to tackle a problem. There are many ways to brainstorm ideas but instead of doing it unstructured I like to use a user needs map.
Before you think about any solution, map out all user needs that you uncovered. Try to put similar needs close to each other or create branches to deepen to problem aspects.
When you have a user needs map you can look at every need separately and think about a solution to just solve that one problem. Create thought perspectives to come up with more ideas. Like:

  • how would a salesperson solve this?
  • how can this be solved and scaled manually? 
  • how would a solo founder or an enterprise solve this? 

When you are done weigh the problems and see how to fit the most unmet and highly important needs into one solution. 

5. Validate Opportunities:

Testing your solution idea is critical. Create prototypes or other quick ways to see if your proposed solutions resonate with your target user group. This step decreases the likelihood of investing in concepts that may not gain traction. Whatever you create to validate your idea, can already be seen as your minimum viable product for that stage. 

6. Iterate, Test, and Measure:

If your initial validation sounded promising, then it is time to continuously iterate on your solutions. Test and gather feedback from users throughout the development life cycle. Measure results and make sure to have clear goals in mind. Keep adjusting your product to fulfill the market's needs. This iterative process refines your product until it achieves product-market fit.

This last step sounds comically easy compared to how hard it can be in reality. There are great resources on how to build, measure, and learn correctly. I will recommend further reading at the end of the article. Although the development process can be a long and challenging journey, you can be sure you improved your chances of ever succeeding drastically by starting in the problem space!


Knowing the difference between problem space and solution space will improve your overall understanding of the product decisions you are facing. Thoroughly understanding the problem and empathizing with your target customers should be the foundation of any product or feature development. 

The process described in this article provides a structured path, ensuring you navigate this journey effectively. Remember, it's not a one-time linear process but an iterative one. 

Further reading:

The Lean Startup

Build. Measure. Learn.

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