How to frame a product design problem: the SSUN framework

I’m preparing for product management interviews. Like all PMs I love frameworks, and a fun thing about interview prep is that I get to quickly try out lots of frameworks and even invent new ones where what’s out there isn’t working for me.

A popular framework for product design cases is Lewis Lin’s CIRCLES Method. In my experience it’s been helpful as a starting point, but for a few reasons I’ve found it hard to use.

So I’ve been tinkering. I’m attracted to the idea of more modular frameworks that can be recombined as needed for a variety of cases. SSUN has a narrower scope than CIRCLES, and I’ve been finding it quite useful for its intended scope.

Here’s the idea.

When you’re facing a product design problem (either in an interview or on the job) you need to separate the problem from solutions. First get clear on exactly what the problem is — who you’re solving for, what their needs are, who else is affected and what their needs are, and who you’re ignoring (for now). Get that clear in mind before attempting to create or evaluate solutions. .

SSUN is designed to systematically make sense of problem space. It stands for Stakeholders, Segments, Use cases, Needs.

The way to approach it is from left to right.

If you do the whole thing you’ll form a tree that looks something like this:

But in an interview, you won’t have time to flesh out the whole tree. You’ll need to focus. The way to do that is to make each of the four steps a two-stage process: first brainstorm a list (diverge), then prioritize and select one (converge).

You’ll wind up with a tree that looks more like this:

“Need 1” is both well-defined enough and narrow enough to tackle in the space of a single interview question.

As an example, let’s say you’re faced with a product design prompt like this:

How would you improve LinkedIn’s endorsements feature?

After you’ve confirmed with the interviewer that you know what the endorsements feature is, you can apply the SSUN framework to get clear on who you’re designing for and what their goal is. That might look like this:

Now you’re clear on the problem, and you can move into solutions.