CIRCLES Method - Overview and the Seven stages

Learn What CIRCLES method is, why is it popular, and how to implement CIRCLES method to come up with solutions to product design problems.


What is CIRCLES method?

CIRCLES Method is a framework that guides Product Managers/ Product Designers to make a thoughtful response to Product design questions. This framework helps in a structured, composed and persuasive thinking with empathy and prioritization. 

Why is the CIRCLES Method popular?

Here are some of the reasons why CIRCLES method is popular in Product management. 

  • Keeps the focus of product managers on Who they are building the product for and Why are they building the product.
  • Help Product Managers ask the right questions at every step and criticize themselves during the process.
  • Enable PMs prioritize things and build a product roadmap.
  • Guide PMs to the solution in a structured way instead of directly jumping to solutions.
Seven Stages of CIRCLES Method

The Seven Stages of CIRCLES Method

Here are the seven steps of the process that form the CIRCLES acronym. Below, you can find a more detailed explanation about what each of these means.

  • Comprehend the situation (What? Why? Who? How?)
  • Identify the customer
  • Report customer’s needs
  • Cut, through prioritization
  • List solutions
  • Evaluate tradeoffs
  • Summarize your recommendation

Comprehend the Situation

To solve a product design problem, you should have the answers to the following questions,

  1. What is it?
  2. Who is it for?
  3. Why do they need it?
  4. When is it available?
  5. Where is it available?
  6. How does it work?

This helps Product managers to solve problems with sufficient information. If you don’t have answers to all the questions, make appropriate assumptions.

Identify the Customer

No product is made for everyone. Be prepared with a target audience that can be your customers. Create a user persona that matches your target audience. Instead of just identifying Customers, you must also understand their personality and goals. You can create a 2x2 Matrix with details like user behavior, needs, goals and demographics. Don’t try to have everyone as a target audience, there is no product that does everything for everyone. 

Report Customer’s needs

This can be done by creating a user story to understand user needs. You can call it user needs, user requirements, or use cases. The use case format is a popular way to capture user needs. It does not describe how the solution works. Here’s how user story can look like,

As a <role>, I want <goal/desire> so that <benefit>.

Cut, through prioritization

Narrow down the various customer needs to the ones you feel will have the greatest impact. These can be prioritized according to time, money, efforts or other constraints. You can use the RICE framework to prioritize the needs. It’s not much different than real world prioritization.

List Solutions

After identifying the Customer’s needs, the next step is to list solutions. Some frameworks like Reversal method and Attribute method are great to come up with innovative solutions on the spot. For good outcomes, try coming up with more than three solutions.

Evaluate Tradeoffs

This step requires you to analyze and evaluate the solutions, and come up with the best ones. Evaluation requires you to be analytical, objective and thoughtful. Solutions can be evaluated by creating a Pros and Cons list. The ability to critically evaluate your solutions is in itself important to come up with best solutions to the problem.

Summarize your recommendations

The seventh and the final step in CIRCLES method is to Summarize your recommendations. This is necessary to ensure your solution comes off clearly and understood by everyone involved.

Conclusion

CIRCLES method is a great framework to find solutions concerning product development and product design, it can help the product managers, product designer, founders and other stakeholders come up with innovative solutions to problems.

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