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Why it's important to do Problem interviews


AKA: Why are we doing a Problem Interview

The goal of the problem interview is to figure who the early adopters of your product are going to be, what problems you can help them solve and how they solve these problems today.

In this blogpost we will focus on Social Media solutions as Social Media companies are creating the setting the Playing Lean boardgame.

So let’s say we are back in the end 90’s and thinking about creating a social sharing service. What’s the first thing we do?

When trying to see if you have a problem worth solving, it’s a good idea to look for existing alternatives. If a problem is big enough, customers will have found some way to solve it already. After just 5-10 minutes of internet search you should be able to come up with a vague idea about what’s out in the market, who else is trying to solve the same problems and how they are doing it. Found some competitors? Then your job is to create a better way to solve the problem.

So you researched the market. What’s next?

Get out of the building and do Problem Interviews!


  • Mark Zuckerberg’s first startup was called Facemash.
  • According to popular culture, he made the service to meet and rate hot coeds.
  • When the university stopped the service, Mark Zuckerberg had to figure out something else to do. 


Some problem interview questions are too solution specific. Although “funny cat videos” might be a (small) part of Facebook’s success today, nobody would have felt that as a problem worth solving.

Instead of coming up with a ready product idea, interview questions should dig deeper into the “why” of the perceived problem. So instead of “i would like an easier way to share LoL-cat videos” “I find it difficult sharing funny videos with my friends” might be a better approach. 

TIP: Avoid pitching your idea when talking to potential customers.The focus should be on learning instead.

A false negative is a result that appears negative when it should not. When your experiment tells you that your idea was no good, when in reality it would work well, you’re dealing with a false negative.

Example: In the end of the 90’s if you go out on the streets to interview people about how they connect online nobody would have ranked „Missing Social Media“ as their biggest problem. Yet Social Media platforms turned out to be the Next Big Thing on the Internet. Maybe something was wrong with your interview?

Selection bias happens when individuals, groups or data is chosen in a non-random way (within the population that is intended to be tested).

Example: You write a great script, but only asking our single male friends how they would use social media might be a mistake. Since the selection is not representative, the results can not be trusted.

Further reading:

Need some help with doing Problem Interviews? Ash Maurya, Author of Running Lean and creator of Lean Canvas wrote a great Problem Interview Scrip that you can follow. 

If you want to learn how to identify customer needs check out this post by thrv

Playing Lean Facilitator training is now available in an online version - you will get both the theory and practice you need to become an expert facilitator! Both the Facilitator training online and Game Master training online are 25% off! Promotion ends 19 April 2020.

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