Product Management – Solution versus Product. What is the difference?

What is a solution and what is a product? Like everyone else I have struggled with this question for a long time.  How differentiate between the two? Solutions are mixture of various components where the sum of the components are greater than their parts. A product is a singular component that solves a singular purpose. This explanation sounds very easy conceptually but when you try to implement it practically, it is very hard. But it need not be.  Solution and product depend on the problem that is being solved. Now let me assure you all I am not an expert at this and what I am writing is strictly based on my experience, so feel free to disagree with me and provide your feedback to me on this topic so that I can improve my understanding.  When I am not able distinguish between the two i.e. solution or a product. I take a look at something that we all take for granted each day, when we are thirsty we need a drink. Let us a take take a closer look at this.

Problem:  I am thirsty
If I am thirsty, I usually have a few options. I can go the cheap route and grab myself a glass of water or  the expensive route get bottled water (funny same water packaged in a bottle is more expensive, but we will get to that part later). I can even get a  bottle of juice if I feel that I need something with a little more taste. Now water, juice, and energy drinks they are products if my perspective was to quench my thirst, then any of them would be a suitable product to quench my thirst. But suppose my intent is in the context of an  athlete and as part of my athletic regimen, I did not want to dehydrate or get a cramp while I am training or physically exerting myself.
Problem: I sweat a lot and hence dehydrate and cramp up, I need something to replenish my energy
Whoa ! what just happened here? We just went from me being thirsty to me not wanting to dehydrate and wanting to replenish my energy, and there lies the subtle difference between product and solution. In order to make sure that my energy and dehydration problem is solved I do not need just a product, I need a solution to my problem.  Now that solution could be a product or a group of products but the sum of all capabilities of a product (products) solves my problem of not dehydrating and still being able to enjoy peak performance. 
So when a product or a set of product tends to focus on the bigger  problem that a person is having, the propensity to do what it takes to solve the problem is greater. Because the cost of not fixing the issue has serious consequences (based on the context). Now even if I was thirsty and I decided to forgo my drink of water for a few more hours it generally does not hamper my overall performance and I can always make up for not having water later anyways (through drinking coffee, tea or something else). 
Oh! I almost forgot about the bottled water reference earlier, is the filtered bottled water a product or a solution ? I say it is all a matter of perspective. Please feel share your thoughts on this one.
You can contact me @ kkanakas on twitter with your comments
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2 thoughts on “Product Management – Solution versus Product. What is the difference?

  1. Adam Murray

    Kartik, great post. You focus on the customer's perspective, and that is key.When I think of the word solution, my mind is drawn to two ideas — the first from Chemistry, that a solution is the mixture of two or more substances (think products, or.. solvents and solubles) which create a new, stable substance — it's neat that you chose liquids as your example, because that's how we sometimes think of chemistry solutions!The second idea is that products on their own are not so useful, or even desired.. outcomes are… so we wrap combinations of products in services (catalytic, perhaps!) and we introduce them into a customer environment where they gain purpose. This even allows us to subtly shift the definition of solution from chemistry to mathematics — for the right set of problems, and the right balancing coefficients (products and services), we can find the right solution for our customer.Your post also distinguishes casual needs from professional needs, and that makes good sense, too.Great post, please continue!Adam

    Reply
  2. Kartik

    Thanks Adam, I used the liquid examples because water being the commodity it is, goes up and down demand curve based on just minor differentiators. The masters of this are coke and pepsi. To me it is a great example of value that we take for granted on daily basis! I appreciate your kind words looking forward to more of your comments with my other posts.

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