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Product Management

How to Implement the CIRCLES Framework into a Services Company?


As product owners, we think of brilliant ideas that can create an impact. We strategically build a team and start working to turn an idea into a viable product that would change people’s lives. What if the solution did not serve the purpose you were seeking? What went wrong?

Among various reasons, one could simply be that your idea is not a viable solution to your end user’s real problem. You jumped onto an idea quickly without analyzing the problem. In order to not repeat the same mistake, let’s work on finding a solution to gather information and make thoughtful design decisions for probable products and services.

To explore the ideas of many start-ups and enterprises, we use a simple technique of asking the right questions- the CIRCLES framework.

Lewis C. Lin defines CIRCLES Method™ as a framework on what makes a complete, thoughtful response to any design question. It is a problem-solving framework that involves asking the right questions to design a better product. The framework can be beneficial to both product owners and product managers as it will act as a checklist to ask the right questions, offer insights into the scope of the product, and prioritize the end-users.

CIRCLES framework

Image Source: Decode and Conquer: Answers to Product Management Interviews book by Lewis C. Lin

The CIRCLES framework, as seen above, identifies seven steps. You start with comprehending the situation. If you are a product manager, begin by asking clients the “what, why, who, and hows” of the product. Then, identify who the customers are and craft user personas, which will give you a clearer perspective on the needs of your customers. Set priorities of what features you should work on first. Then, list your solutions and make tradeoffs by using data you collected about your customers. Finally, summarize the recaps and recommendations. Always remember to focus on asking the right questions.

For instance, when you develop a mobile app for elderly people without analyzing the users first, you could end up realizing that 65% of elderly people do not use smartphones. The impact decreases the size of your market segment.

If you ask the right questions in the product discovery phase, you could easily avoid building a solution that does not serve a larger audience. It is always better to go through the CIRCLES checklist to avoid such cases. Ask questions such as who your audience is? How would they access your solution? Do they use the medium you are offering? And so on.

Be it a small project or a large one; CIRCLES can be implemented to find solutions to your product. For a small project, the time spent on product discovery is shorter, while larger projects demand more time. We suggest you break down features and then apply the framework to analyze your product better. Once that is done, scale it to your entire product. Breaking down the features will also help simplify the complexity involved in a large project.

Are there any downsides to CIRCLES Framework?

Yes, a few.

No matter how good a framework is, it will have a few cons. In our case is the possibility of dealing with difficult clients. This framework is helpful in the product discovery phase, where you explore the scope of the problem, the audience, and the product itself. However, not all clients will be welcoming to questions. Therefore, you should set expectations with product owners in the first meeting to avoid turning the questions into a hindrance.

On a brighter side, the arsenal of questions asked before developing a product comes into aid while recognizing and solving a problem. This framework helps in identifying the risk during product development. It also helps to come up with solutions to solve it.

A product manager should always ask the right questions during the product cycle. If the product manager can do so, the team members can work accordingly to meet the product goals, which results in client satisfaction.


To unpack more questions related to product development dive into our Product Podcast.

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