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Understand, Identify, and Execute
A useful framework for building products, managing your career, and making decisions
The most useful framework that I learned during my 3 years at Meta is from Naomi Gleit (now Meta’s Head of Product):
To solve a problem — understand, identify, and execute — in that order.
“In that order” is the most important part. As someone who loves to get shit done, I often have to stop myself to ask: “Wait, which stage am I currently in?” So let’s cover:
How “understand, identify, and execute” works
How you can put it into practice to:
Manage your career
Make everyday decisions
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How “understand, identify, and execute” works
“Understand, identify, and execute” is a simple framework for solving problems:
Understand: What’s the problem?
Identify: What’s the best way to solve the problem?
Execute: How to get it done?
Let’s use a simple analogy to illustrate this loop:
Suppose that you’re going on a fishing trip at a nearby lake. First, you need to understand if the lake has fish. Next, you need to identify the right gear to bring. Finally, you need to execute by casting your line and reeling in your catch. If you miss any step — such as fishing at a lake that doesn’t have fish or forgetting your gear — you’ll be out of luck.
The point is that you need to know what stage you’re in and proceed through the stages in order. Don’t start executing without identifying the plan and don’t try to identify the plan without understanding the problem space.
How to use this framework to build products
Let me share an honest story:
At Reddit, I led the team that built the live audio product, Reddit Talk.
We scaled Talk to millions of users and hundreds of top communities. Users loved talking about shared interests and had many magical moments together.
But a few years later, the product was canceled. So what happened?
I understood the user problem, identified how to grow the product, and executed on my plan well.
But I didn’t spend enough time understanding the business problem. I (and the leaders who funded this project) didn’t think enough about whether Talk was the best product to grow overall Reddit users and revenue.
I see product teams make the same mistake all the time. They don’t stop to ask:
What is the user and business problem?
How do we know that this problem exists?
Why is this the best solution to solve the problem?
They don’t talk to users, look at data, or take a step back to think about the above questions holistically. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself:
How many companies are building gen AI products right now without understanding the underlying user or business problem that they’re solving?
Note that the “understand” stage doesn’t mean that you should only do research for months without shipping anything. Often, the quickest way to understand if a product is valuable is to ship something to test for demand.
For more on this, see my post on replacing product sense with the skills that matter.
How to use this framework to manage your career
Here’s another story that some of you may resonate with:
Early in my PM career, my goal was to manage more PMs.
I thought that this was a necessary step to climb the ladder to VP/CPO. After all, the job description for the most senior positions was to build orgs vs. products.
But I didn’t stop to reflect on if that’s what I really wanted.
I want to craft products. My favorite meetings are when I’m talking to customers or when I’m on a whiteboard with designers and engineers. I also enjoy managing PMs, but I wouldn’t want to spend all day managing orgs.
Understanding what I wanted helped me identify the right jobs to take. It turned out that the “manage and grow headcount” approach wasn’t sustainable for the industry either.
If you haven’t already, reflect on what you want in your career. Check out my interview on how the PM role is evolving for more about this topic.
How to use this framework in your everyday life
One last story:
I’ve been trying to teach my 5-year old daughter how to swim.
In the first few weeks, she would go to the pool and refuse to learn. She just floated around in a life vest.
One day, I took some time to understand what she was really afraid of. It turns out that she didn’t feel comfortable learning how to swim in deep water.
The solution became obvious once I understood the problem. I started taking her to a shallow pool instead and she’s been making incredible progress since.
This same “understand, identify, execute” loop can help you address many everyday problems. For example, if your spouse is complaining to you about something, first understand if that thing is the underlying problem. I know I’ve skipped this step too often and paid for it. 😅
A few closing thoughts
Let’s wrap up with a few takeaways:
Understand, identify, and execute — in that order.
Whether you’re facing a product decision, career move, or daily problem — stop and think about what stage you’re in first.
If you’re like me, you probably need to spend more time in the understand stage.
Learn to navigate the “understand, identify, and execute” loop efficiently and I promise it’ll make your life much easier.