How the CIRCLES Method Help Product Managers in Problem Solving

Explore the CIRCLES Method — a systematic problem-solving framework tailor-made for product managers.

Circles method

The CIRCLES Method is a structured approach to problem-solving, specifically designed for product managers to break down and address complex issues. Lewis C. Lin, a renowned figure in the product management space, is credited with its inception. Lin’s work has centered around helping aspiring PMs master interviews, and his books, including “Decode and Conquer,” have become staples in the industry. The CIRCLES framework emerges from his rich experiences and insights into the intricacies of product management.

The CIRCLES Method is immensely beneficial when it comes to conceptualizing new product ideas, refining existing features, or dealing with user experience challenges. It assists in structuring thoughts during high-pressure interviews for product roles. Moreover, it’s valuable for stakeholder communication, ensuring that ideas and issues are comprehensively covered. It’s a go-to tool for product managers when confronted with ambiguous problems or when a holistic understanding of a situation is required.

How it works

Step-by-Step Algorithm:

C – Comprehend the Situation: Begin by clarifying the problem. What are the knowns and unknowns?

I – Identify the Customer: Understand who the user or customer is. What are their pain points and desires?

R – Report the Problem: Clearly define the problem statement based on your understanding and research.

C – Cut Through Priorities: Decide what’s urgent vs. important. Prioritize tasks based on impact and feasibility.

L – List Solutions: Brainstorm potential solutions. Don’t filter—just get all ideas down.

E – Evaluate Solutions: Weigh the pros and cons of each idea, considering the user’s perspective, technical constraints, and business implications.

S – Summarize: Conclude with a recommendation. What steps will be taken next, and what’s the anticipated outcome?


Problem: A popular e-commerce app has received feedback about its checkout process being too inconvenient.

Comprehend the Situation: Users report abandoning carts due to the lengthy checkout.

Identify the Customer: Primary users are people aged 25-40 who shop regularly online.

Report the Problem: The checkout process for our e-commerce app takes too many steps, leading to cart abandonment.

Cut Through Priorities: Fixing this could boost sales significantly, so it’s both urgent and important.

List Solutions:

  • Integrate a one-click purchase option.
  • Offer guest checkout without account creation.
  • Minimize the number of screens users need to pass through.

Evaluate Solutions:

  • One-click purchase offers speed but requires users to have an account and saved payment details.
  • Guest checkout helps new users but might not encourage account creation.
  • Minimizing screens could streamline the process but requires significant UI/UX work.

Summarize: In order to address immediate concerns, implementing a guest checkout can bring the quickest results. At the same time, the UI/UX team can work on reducing the number of screens in the checkout process.

Key Takeaway

The CIRCLES Method provides product managers with a structured approach to problem-solving, ensuring comprehensive, user-centric solutions. Its systematic approach guarantees no stone is left unturned, making it an invaluable tool in the PM toolkit.

Andrey Solntsev

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