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The Product Manager is the Chief Customer Development Officer

If pressed, what would you say is the secret to product success? Certainly there are a number of things that go into making and selling products. Prioritization, design, manufacturing frameworks, marketing, service, cost of production, etc. Each of these elements needs to be optimized, and there are people, practices and tools that do just that.

Despite rigor in much of the product process, there’s still too high a failure rate for products. I’ll bet you’ve seen this in your own company: proposed products that received a lot of internal resources only to be killed off, or that launched and didn’t hit the mark with customers. As you can see, there’s a story to it:

Product development success and failure

Consider that first panel for a moment. A third of launched products fail. That doesn’t include the projects that were killed before launch. 32% of development resources are spent on products that get scrapped or fail in the market. To put that in perspective, imagine similar levels of failure in other venues:

  • We  miscalculated 33% of the accounting entries
  • 32% of our inventory purchases were wasted
  • Our marketing initiatives fail to sell anything or raise brand awareness 33% of the time
  • 33% of our manufacturing capacity is chronically unavailable

Those levels of performance would be unacceptable in companies. Yet they’re considered part of the ‘art’ of innovation when it comes to product. The cost of doing business. Which is pretty sweet if you’re a product person…

OK, forget that. Let’s assume rational, ambitious people want to do better.

What works? Survey says…

In a survey of B2B firms, people were asked to identify the causes of failed products. The top answer was ‘lack of market analysis’. As in, did the market have the need, did the feature address it if so, and did it do so better than competing products? The next answer was that the ‘product didn’t satisfy customer needs’. There’s a pattern here.

Flip the analysis…what are the top success factors? All three  are specifically rooted in understanding customer needs:

  1. Product directed at customer needs
  2. Staying close to the customer
  3. Product adds value to the customer

Notice that pattern again? Products that succeed are designed and developed with customer insight.

Factors that make customer involvement successful

Researchers in Sweden conducted an analysis of firms’ product development efforts, classifying the products as successful or not successful. They tracked these product outcomes against the types of interactions the firms have with customers. Note they tracked product development efforts as incremental innovation. They separately tracked radical innovations as well.

For incremental innovation – i.e. the daily work of product managers – they were able to identify three factors that separated successful products from the rest. Factors that affected the “absorptive capacity” of the company to assimilate customer needs.

Engagement frequencyEngagement frequency: The more often a company communicates with customers, the more successful were it product releases. Communication can be oriented toward understanding needs, or for feedback on design iterations.

Two-way directionTwo-way communication: The nature of the communication dictates its value. If the company does all the talking, it’s not going to learn much. The more the communication is a dialogue, the better the outcome for the product.

Needs in contextNeeds in context: The more the insight is captured as part of a broader view of the activity, the better that insight is. Top insight is gathered as the customer experiences using the product. It’s also valuable to understand the why for insight. If the suggestion or need is in isolation, it can be hard to understand the core need.

Now, who is in charge of getting this insight?

Chief Customer Development Officer

Think about this. For marketing, it’s clear who owns that activity, and you can see processes, systems, people and priorities for it. Same goes for manufacturing / development. And design. And supply chain management. And distribution. And financial analysis. And human resources. And so on…

But where are the comparable processes and people dedicated to understanding the customers’ needs? Who plumbs the jobs-to-be-done and analyzes the key outcomes customers are seeking? The work of understanding customer needs, in one sense, is everybody’s responsibility. It’s what makes the company grow. But if something is everybody’s responsibility, it’s really nobody’s responsibility.

It’s an important question, because the degree to which one stays close to the customer is a primary basis of success or failure in product development. As a function, what would you call this work? Customer Needs Whisperer? Voice of the Customer-ologist? Actually, Steve Blank has it covered with customer development:

Before any of the traditional functions of selling and marketing can happen, the company has to prove a market could exist, verify someone would pay real dollars for the solutions the company envisions, and then go out and create the market. These testing, learning and discovery activities are at the heart of what makes a startup unique, and they are what make Customer Development so different from the Product Development process

Steve Blank, The Four Steps to the Epiphany

While Steve Blank’s excellent book is targeted at entrepreneurs who need to do the hard work of validating an idea, the mindset underlying customer development is well-suited for the need to stay close to customers. Hence, the notion of the Chief Customer Development Officer. And the product management team sits at ground zero in the customer development activity.

What distinguishes customer development from the current mentality in most companies? Cribbing from a Jack London quote:

You can’t wait for customer insight to come to you. You have to go after it with a club.

This is a change in mindset for many. Be proactive in understanding customers. Make communicating with customers a meaningful percentage of the weekly schedule. Don’t settle for inbound inquiries. Or only focus groups on an already-designed product. Or quarterly customer council meetings. Really own the customer development activity.

It’s worth it, as here are five concrete benefits of employing the customer development mindset:

  1. Develop understanding of what success looks like for the customer
  2. Customer becomes invested in the success of the product
  3. Elevate customers’ awareness of what’s coming
  4. Discover opportunities for growth due to underserved JTBD
  5. Reduce uncertainty due to lack of information

You only get these by being a proactive customer development officer.  In a future post, I’ll examine the different ways engage customers in the product development process. Because there are many.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

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10 examples of fabulously flawed product-first thinking

In talking about jobs-to-be-done here, I sometimes think that all I’m doing is stating the obvious. I mean, isn’t it obvious that you’d create something that helped fulfill a need or desire? What else would you do?

But I’ve seen in my own work experience, and across a multitude of initiatives in other industries, cases where that’s not necessarily the case. Invention was the thing. I mean that in this sense:

Invention creates. Innovation changes.

Exercising creative chops was the focus, with a thought that customers would have to take up this amazing thing invented. But unfortunately, that’s not generally the case. The invention is not adopted, and thus nothing changes for the target market. Innovation does not occur. The invention either does not address a job-to-be-done or the proposed solution was nowhere near satisfying the specific outcomes of an applicable job-to-be-done.

To illuminate how this “product-first” dynamic is a pervasive dynamic, I’ve collected ten examples of it. While the plural of anecdote is not data, see if you recognize similar examples in your own experience.

1. Because Apple, Microsoft, Google did it!

Context

Kareem Mayan wrote a great post Why only fools write code first. In it, he stated, “I have a confession to make: I’m 35, and until last year, I started building companies by creating a product.” The post describes on his evolution in thinking, focusing first on customer needs before building anything.

Product-first thinking

In the comments, someone wrote:

“Almost all of the successful startups I know of built a product first, simply because the founder wanted. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Dropbox — some of these are famous even today for never doing user surveys.”

This argument expressed skepticism about Kareem’s point.

Analysis

A good example of the ongoing pervasiveness of product-first thinking. It really is everywhere. Here, the commenter displays a classic example of the survivor bias. A focus on only those companies that made it, and what they do. Ignoring that perhaps dozens of competitors also charged ahead with their own product-first approaches. And were nowhere near as successful.

It’s like looking at the ways lottery winners live, and saying that’s the way you should live too. They’re not connected.

Of course, it’s also possible the commenter actually has no idea what those companies do in terms of understanding customer needs…

2. The “what you can do for us” attitude

Yahoo home page 2002, via All Things D

Context

Way before Marissa Mayer joined Yahoo, the company was a case study in mediocrity. From its glory days in the 90s, it had managed to become a bloated collection of media properties, without a coherent strategy due to a succession of changing executives and business models.

Product-first thinking

As reported by Kara Swisher on All Things D, Yahoo’s home page became increasingly overrun with links. To cram more stuff above-the-fold, font sizes shrunk. It became a nasty hodge podge of links that no longer related to what users wanted.

As Yahoo’s Tapan Bhat, SVP of Integrated Consumer Experiences noted,  “It had nothing to do with the user, but what Yahoo wanted the user to do.”

Analysis

What Yahoo wanted the user to. What a wonderful expression of the approach. It’s such a pernicious mode, where the needs of the company eclipse those of the customers. Call it inside-out thinking. When the company’s, not the customers’, needs drive product and service decisions, it’s a good bet customers will turn elsewhere. It’s a great opportunity for competitors.

3. Dazzled by the invention

Source: NBC Bay Area

Context

Anyone remember the hype over Dean Kamen’s project code named Ginger back in 2001? Turned out to be the Segway, that amazing triumph of technology that allowed people to travel on a motorized two-wheel scooter. It really is amazing, with its self-balancing mechanism, easy navigation and smooth ride.

Product-first thinking

It was hailed as the next coming of great technology. No really, it was. Here are quotes by both Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos prior to its launch:

Jobs: “If enough people see this machine, you won’t have to convince them to architect cities around it; it’ll just happen.” (#)

Bezos: “You have a product so revolutionary, you’ll have no problem selling it.” (#)

Wow! So what happened? Well, have you taken your Segway out for a spin today? It  missed the mark in terms of how frequent the job-to-be-done was. For me, Segways are what tourists rent to travel around Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

Analysis

My own perspective is that Segway is an optimum mode of transport for journeys where walking would take more than 10 minutes and less than 30. And where you don’t need to carry anything heavy or bulky. And where weather would be OK for the journey. Steve Jobs, who did heap praise on it, was prescient about what needs it didn’t fill.

“Jobs said he lived seven minutes from a grocery and wasn’t sure he would use Ginger to get there. Bezos agreed.” (#)

So Jobs and Bezos were full of praise, but in a hard analysis couldn’t quite say what mass job-to-be-done the Segway fulfilled. And it turns out most of the market couldn’t either. Sometimes the invention is so dazzling, we’re blinded to understanding what need it actually fulfills. Invention first thinking.

4. Same template, different market

Via Bloomberg Business Week

Context

Ron Johnson did a fantastic job of creating the Apple stores. They’re enjoyable to visit, full of all the latest in cool technology Apple has to offer. The clean vibe, the on-the-spot purchasing, the Genius Bar. Clearly he brought some of the experience from his Target (aka “Tar-jay“) days to the job.

Based on this, the Board of JC Penney installed him as CEO to restore a retailer that had lost its luster.

Product-first thinking

Johnson put in place a number of changes to reinvigorate the retailer. He stopped the discounting, going for a low price everyday approach (like Target). He developed brands that would be exclusive to JC Penney (like Target). Trained employees to help people shopping (like Apple).

Ultimately, however, his changes didn’t take. Perhaps the most telling insight came from another executive:

Ron’s response at the time was, just like at Apple, customers don’t always know what they want,” said an executive who advocated testing. “We’re not going to test it — we’re going to roll it out.”

There it is, product-first — or maybe vision-first — thinking.

Analysis

It’s tempting to look at this as the hubris of being smarter than customers. But I don’t think that’s the lesson to draw. Rather, this is a case of previous success with a format in other markets (Target, Apple), and applying it to a new market. Without understanding the customers in the new market. The fact that Johnson didn’t feel the need to run the new strategies by JC Penney’s customer base was due to his success with the template previously. Why test? You know what customers want.

But in this case, it led to overlooking existing customers and what they outcomes were being fulfilled by JC Penney. This alienates the core customer base, while potential new customers ponder why they’d switch from Target to JC Penney. Unsurprisingly, the stock dropped 55% during his tenure, with a horrendous 32% drop in same-store sales in the critical holiday 4th quarter of 2012.

5. Blaze a new trail

Context

Tired of people saying you should listen to the marketplace, Dan Waldschmidt advocates something different. He argues that most of the time, people don’t know what they want. In making his argument, he references both American slavery and Martin Luther’s religious reformation.

Product-first thinking

Here is how Dan puts it:

One of the things business experts tell you when you are considering changes to your sales strategy is the idea that you need to “listen to your marketplace”. That you need to take your idea and run it by the people around you to get some feedback. Instead, blaze a new trail. Think about where you want to lead your market.

Analysis

Perhaps the key phrase is lead your market. That, in and of itself, is fine. Lead your market in sales. In profits. In innovations that resonate. But in the context of (i) ignoring the marketplace; and (ii) blazing a new trail, it comes across as advice to tell the market where it needs to go. Which actually is nice if you can accomplish it. Alas, the business landscape is littered with folks who tried to tell the market where to go. The market can be fickle that way.

To be fair, it is important to separate the jobs-to-be-done from the potential solutions. That’s a better way to think about Dan’s advice.

6. What Steve Jobs said

Via Inc. Magazine, 1989

Context

Perhaps you have seen this quote by Steve Jobs:

“You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them.”

Run a search on that exact phrase, and 687,000 results are returned. It’s a sentiment from one of the all-time greats that clearly has caught on.

Product-first thinking

Interpretation is important here. When you read a number of articles that reference the quote, the context is one of divining products that no one in the market would come up with. Use your inner genius to do this. As written about Jobs  in Fast Company:

He is a focus group of one, the ideal Apple customer, two years out.

And he was quite good.

Analysis

But for most of us, we’re not an ideal focus group of one. That’d be the dangerous lesson to draw from his quote. If every corporate product person, or innovator, or strategist decided to channel his inner focus group of one, there’d be a lot of  wasted resources. Actually, there are a lot of wasted resources

The other thing to note is the quote in its fuller context. Here’s more from Jobs in the 1989 interview with Steve Jobs where he first said that quote:

“You can get into just as much trouble by going into the technology lab and asking your engineers, “OK, what can you do for me today?” That rarely leads to a product that customers want or to one that you’re very proud of building when you get done. You have to merge these points of view, and you have to do it in an interactive way over a period of time—which doesn’t mean a week. It takes a long time to pull out of customers what they really want, and it takes a long time to pull out of technology what it can really give.”

Sound like he’s advocating to ignore your customers?

7. My business model demands your attention

Facebook Home user ratings

Facebook Home user ratings

Context

A few months ago, Facebook introduced Facebook Home. This app for Android became the user interface of the phone. In so doing, it dominates the experience on the device:

Designed to be a drop-in replacement for the existing home screen (“launcher”) on an Android device, the software provides a replacement home screen that allows users to easily view and post content on Facebook along with launching apps, a replacement lock screen that displays notifications from Facebook and other apps, and an overlay which allows users to chat via Facebook messages or SMS from any app.

Note that the existing Facebook app was still available, allowing you to get your Facebook updates via the phone.

Product-first thinking

What Facebook Home does is elevate Facebook above all others on the phone. It was a play to get Facebook front and center in your daily experience. There would be access to all your other apps, but the path to them would go through Facebook each and every time.

Globally, the average smartphone user has 26 apps on their phone. For Facebook Home to be popular, the typical user would rank Facebook above all other apps. The games. Email. Twitter. Instagram. And on…

Analysis

Ultimately, Facebook Home withered in the market. I can understand why. In 2012, mobile time spent on Facebook surpassed time on the Facebook website. From a user experience perspective, Facebook wanted to make mobile even easier. From an advertising perspective, Facebook needed to establish a way to present more mobile ads. Imagine serving up an ad every time someone turned on their Android phone.

But the problem is that Facebook was solving a job that most users were already satisfied with. The Facebook App works well for its purpose. It also imposed new friction on using one’s mobile device. The burden of navigating through Facebook to get to your other 25 apps. As Joseph Farrell, EVP Operations at BiTE interactive, said:

“Facebook Home solves Facebook’s needs for more user data, but what does it solve for its users?”

8. Solution in search of a problem

Context

In a post, entrepreneur Ramli John talked about lessons he’s learned from failed startup efforts. Specifically, the experience gained with Lesson Sensei. Lesson Sensei didn’t make it.

Product-first thinking

Ramli states plainly the trap he fell into:

“Don’t lose focus of the problem. That was one of the biggest mistake I made in my previous failed startup, Lesson Sensei. About a few weeks in, we realized that we really don’t have a problem to solve. But, we had this awesome solution. So we started pivoting on possible problems we can solve with our solution. Each week, we tried a new problem to solve. Each time, we found a flaw with our assumption. Then, we started losing steam. Always start with validating a problem before you validate the solution. The other way around just takes up too much time and energy.”

Analysis

This is a classic issue. There’s a hazy sense of what an idea could address. It’s not nailed down yet, but there’s the rush of starting on the solution anyway. To be fair, there is some merit in this. You could be 50% there in terms of product-market fit, and the initial product can help elicit the right iterations. But as Ramli notes, that can be an expensive approach. It burns time, energy and money. And depending on how hazy that view is of the actual job-to-be-done and its attendant outcomes, you may be entirely off track.

9. We’ll get to those customers at some point

Context

Robin Chase is the founder and former CEO of Zipcar (acquired by Avis in 2013). After Zipcar, she founded GoLoco, a carpooling app. Unlike Zipcar, GoLoco didn’t make it. She is now leading Buzzcar, a peer-to-peer car sharing service.

Product-first thinking

Robin is open about the failure of GoLoco:

“With my second company, GoLoco – social online ridesharing – we spent too much money on the website and software before engaging with our first customers.”

Analysis

In some ways, this is a similar situation to Ron Johnson at JC Penney. Having been successful in getting Zipcar going, Robin had a confident attitude about her new endeavor. That confidence led her to develop first, worry about customers later. As she notes, this was backwards. The spade work of understanding customers’ needs is a critical first step.

10. Dazzled by the innovator and the hot trends

Color website is deadContext

Remember Color? This app would let you take pictures. These pictures were then visible to anyone with the Color app within 100 feet of you. It was a way for friends or strangers to participate together in some close proximity.

Color is no more. It didn’t fare well.

Product-first thinking

It was a can’t-miss app. It was started by an energetic, persuasive entrepreneur whose previous company was bought by Apple. It was SOcial. It was LOcation-based. It was MObile. It was SoLoMo!

With that combination, Sequoia Capital and Bain Capital felt confident investing $41 million. Product-first thinking.

Analysis

Presumably, the entrepreneur’s previous success was a good-enough proxy for understanding the target market’s jobs-to-be-done and attendant outcomes. However, as seen with GoLoco above, previous success doesn’t automatically grant the ability to divine customer needs. There’s still the work of understanding the market you intend to tackle.

GigaOm’s Darrell Etherington gets props for identifying the flaws of Color right at its launch:

“But I think it’s more likely this is a prime example of how, when it comes to apps, 1+1+1 does not always equal 3. An app can’t just hope to profit by being at the intersection of a number of promising mobile trends. Developers still have to think intelligently about how those trends integrate, and remember that user experience, especially the one following first launch, is still the key to wide app adoption.”

Remember this next time you see another startup in an overhyped space, say Big Data. What job-to-be-done does it fulfill?

Wrap-up

Perhaps not surprisingly given my work experience and interests, these examples have a heavy technology orientation.  One can imagine similar cases in financial services, apparel, consumer product goods, etc. Hopefully the examples here will be useful as you look at your own world. And in your own work. I’ll admit to being guilty of product-first thinking. The creative muse is a strong human characteristic. But recognize when that muse is taking you down a path you shouldn’t go.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

Uncover latent needs with a simple question

After publishing Latent needs are overplayed as an innovation dynamic, I got a lot of feedback. Plenty of agreement, but also some good counterpoints. And in reading through some of them, I realized that there is something to this. A lot of people are convinced that whole markets are waiting to be built based on people not really understanding their own needs.

Or if not whole markets, at least new products that can find success based on unrealized needs.

I submit that there is an antidote to this problem. That the issue is not that customers either do not know or cannot articulate their needs, or jobs-to-be-done. It’s that follow-up is required.

Are you asking ‘why’ enough?

The antidote to the scourge of latent needs is simple: ask ‘WHY?”

As you interview a customer, you’re seeking their jobs-to-be-done, along with the associated outcomes that are needed to be successful in that job. Here’s the thing: you’re going to get superficial responses initially. Not because people don’t realize their own needs. Rather, they’re fixated on current processes and product features (this is the ‘faster horses’ issue). We go with what we can recall the easiest. It’s a natural phenomenon, documented well by Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. But it can result in limited insight into what they really value and seek to accomplish.

When interviewing a customer, listen for your internal voice that says, “this need is not the real one”. You’ll know it, because it will be deeply entwined in the current product features. That’s when delivering a well-timed ‘WHY?’ will make a difference.

Faster horses - WHY comic

This is not a novel concept. Indeed, it’s part of the lean six sigma methodology, used to get at the root cause of issues (here’s a Jeff Bezos example). But it’s perhaps not so obvious to use WHY in the pursuit of latent needs.

I have found asking ‘WHY’ to be a great method for penetrating the “what I easily know” bias. Two examples below – one from a former HPer, one from me – relate the value of understanding ‘WHY’.

HP large format graphic plotter

Spigit innovation management platform

Related by Marvin Patterson, President Dileab Group, and formerly with Hewlett-Packard From my own experience as VP Product – Spigit
We were asked to figure out how to get HP into the large format graphic plotter business. In one customer visit after another we were told that accuracy was the critical requirement. The current product to beat utilized a magnetic x-y motor moving over a precisely grooved steel surface that was mounted on a super-flat granite slab weighing the better part of a ton. This $50,000 product had accuracy that was hard to beat.

During a visit to a semiconductor design company, I asked them to show us how they used these highly accurate drawings. We were ushered into a room where engineers were verifying the design of multiple chip layers. They did this by taping the drawings, each roughly 3×4 meters, to a large light table, with each drawing carefully aligned with the one below. They would then crawl around on top of the light table, literally on their hands and knees, sighting down through the layers of transparent Mylar, and checking the alignment and design of each layer.

“See,” said our host, “that’s why we need the accuracy.” But, in fact, this application did not use the accuracy at all. It depended, instead, only on repeatability between one drawing and the next. Repeatability is fairly cheap and easy to accomplish. Accuracy is really, really expensive. After a thorough survey of the market, we decided that repeatability was the crucial specification in most applications, so we traded off accuracy for lower cost. The resulting product employed a radical new plotting mechanism that delivered extremely good repeatability, fairly poor accuracy, and sold for under $15,000. Within three years its sales exceeded 50% market share.

I performed a jobs-to-be-done exercise with multiple customers. One job that several talked about was the need to get more people ‘down-voting’ ideas. What they were seeing was that people tended to be positive only, or they didn’t rate an idea at all.

More down votes JTBD

Hence the desire for more down-votes. But I asked for more than that. “Why?” Because they wanted better distinguishing of the good ideas from the bad, and getting only up-votes made that hard.The real need was better ways to distinguish ideas. The request for ways to increase down votes was the way they expressed that.Customers were providing feedback on the current process/features when they talked about more down-votes. But pressing them to understand why unveiled the real need. And there are a lot of other ways to stratify ideas besides increasing down-votes.

Marvin got to the real need here by pursuing customers’ responses through ‘why’. Note that repeatability wasn’t an unrealized need. Customers were doing this with every design! They indeed realized they needed to do it. It’s just that they were caught up in the current process they used when expressing This insight was used later in the product roadmap to address the real need. Rather than push to get users to do something they were uncomfortable with – down voting – there are ways to leverage what they actually do.

In both cases, customers were providing feedback about current process and product features. But with some digging, the root job-to-be-done was secured. Nothing latent or unrealized. Just some work penetrating the natural way people think: starting with what they can easily recall. Dig deeper with WHY.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

Tell your work story with an infographic

Resume screen shot - reflectionI have recently found myself updating my resume. Why? After 4 1/2 years at Spigit, I have moved on as the company has been acquired by Mindjet. It was a good run there.

So I needed to dust off the resume. And you know, it was eye-opening how limiting resumes are. They are great for their core job-to-be-done: provide a history of your work. But they’re terrible if you want to go into more depth. You see advice to limit resumes to two pages. Use “power” verbs. Avoid graphics that foul up automatic scanners.  Good counsel, but not what I want.

I wanted to communicate a narrative about my work at Spigit. We spend so much time in our jobs, and there is always a story there. It’s richer than anything you can communicate via a series of bullets about your skills. I want to describe the circumstances of the work. Give some key milestones of my employment. Describe the projects and outcomes of my work. Creative types will augment resumes with portfolios. What about the rest of us?

It occurred to me that infographics are good for my purposes. They get across key information in a narrative using a visually interesting style. But they don’t require a significant investment of time and focus for the reader. So I created my own infographic to describe the context and work of my time at Spigit:

VP Product Spigit infographic

I tried using one of the infographic-generation sites, but wasn’t satisfied with the results. The default templates didn’t match the story I wanted to tell, I wanted to do more with the interplay of text and graphics, and the PNG image upload was buggy. Instead, I used two free apps to make it:

  • Google Docs – drawing app
  • GIMP image program (installed)

I exported the Google Drawing to PDF. To turn the PDF into a high resolution PNG file, I followed the advice on this StackExchange post.

The final question is where to put the infographic. It doesn’t exactly fit a standard letter (U.S.) or A4 size, so you can’t append it to your resume. So I’ve uploaded it to Slideshare and Scribd, added it to my LinkedIn profile, and it graces the About Me page of this blog. Would be kind of daring to send it to a prospective employer, eh?

If you’re interested in creating one of these, feel free to contact me. I can offer you what I learned in making it. And in case you’re wondering, Spigit’s revenues are publicly available via SEC filings by its lead investor PICO Holdings.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

Latent needs are overplayed as an innovation dynamic

Reading this thought piece from the Silicon Valley Product Group, The End of Requirements, I saw this point about latent needs:

Unrealized needs (also called “latent needs”) are those solutions where customers may not even be aware they even have the need until after they see and experience the solution. Examples include digital video recorders, tablets, always-on-voice, self-driving cars, etc.

In other words, customers often don’t know what they want. This is essentially another version of the Henry Ford quote, “If I asked people what they wanted, they’d have said faster horses.”

I want to differ with the Silicon Valley Product Group here. People do know their needs, it’s incumbent on companies to understand them. Then it’s appropriate to try out ideas that can better satisfy those jobs. This diagram illustrates the two separate dynamics:

Decoupling customer JTBD from solutions

In their post, they use self-driving cars as an example of “latent needs”. Two issues with that. First, self-driving cars are not yet in the market, so it’s not possible to say that was a latent need, as described by the Silicon Valley Product Group. The second issue is that self-driving cars will actually address known jobs-to-be-done. I wrote a whole post on that, Exactly what jobs will self-driving cars satisfy? In that post, I outline several jobs-to-be-done and some key outcomes desired:

Job-to-be-done Outcomes
I want to get from point A to point B Minimize commute time | Minimize accident risk | Minimize commute risk | Increase driving enjoyment
I want to get work done Increase digital work completed | Increase availability for conference calls | Minimize distractions
I want to improve the environment Minimize emissions | Minimize fossil fuel consumption
I want to enjoy my personal interests Increase spent on activity | Minimize distractions

The point here is that these are not latent needs. Some are needs that people do not think about now in the context of commuting in a vehicle. But they are not latent needs.

I do agree there are some needs that can be hard to discover, or which become more important as societal norms and expectations change. Sure, there are some needs that are not obvious and may indeed become more visible in the face of a potential solution. But these are exceptions, not the norm.

Making product and innovation decisions based on the thought that, “Well, people don’t really know what they want” is a recipe for a lot of wasted effort. It’s not a sustainable basis for growth.

Agree? Or think I’m oversimplifying things?

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

Generate opportunity maps with customer jobs-to-be-done

JTBD Opportunity MapIn seeking to better understand customer jobs-to-be-done, I found myself a bit underarmed. Meaning, I didn’t really have a way to do this. The value of jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) thinking has only emerged recently. It’s still nascent, and there aren’t ready guideposts to follow. However, Tony Ulwick has been at it over two decades. Indeed, his outcome-driven innovation remains a powerful methodology with the structure needed to effectively identify opportunities. It is the JTBD standard.

But in my work, I wasn’t ready to engage external consultants. My project was more low level, relating to a significant enhancement to an enterprise software platform. My needs – and budget – didn’t rise to the level of a full-fledged consulting engagement. Also, I wanted to be the one talking with customers.

So I did what anyone interested in innovation would do. I hacked my own approach.  I wanted a way to elicit jobs-to-be-done that had the following aspects:

  • Accessible anytime I wanted it
  • Low cost (free!)
  • Allowed me to rank  different jobs-to-be-done
  • Created a way of seeing where the opportunities are
  • Deepened my understanding of, and connection with, customers

The presentation below outlines a method to generate opportunity maps with customer jobs-to-be-done:

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As you’ll see in the presentation, I consider this an initial blueprint. One that can, and should, be hacked to optimize it. But as the approach exists now, it will provide significant value. And for those who haven’t engaged customers at this level of dialogue, you’ll be amazed at what you learn.

Give it a try and let me know what value you get in talking JTBD with your customers.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

Exactly what jobs will self-driving cars satisfy?

On Twitter, I made this observation about the future of self-driving cars:

A moment later, Megan Panatier made this skeptical counterpoint:

This is a great example where it pays to consider the jobs-to-be-done. Self-driving is in the realm of experimentation right now. There’s no hindsight of how obviously this was going to be a success. Self-driving vehicles could end up being the next Segway. An interesting technology that never catches on.

Image via Engadget

How can we begin to know self-driving cars’ fate? Do some outside-in market analysis. Understand what jobs-to-be-done relate to the act of commuting. Know those, and you can determine what opportunities exist for self-driving cars.

To that end, here are four relevant jobs-to-be-done that I see:

  1. I want to get from point A to point B
  2. I want to get work done
  3. I want to improve the environment
  4. I want to enjoy my personal interests

Where can self-driving help? Know that, and you can see how it will fare in the future. In the analysis that follows, self-driving is compared to two common alternatives: regular, manually driven cars; and public transit like buses and trains. Concepts from the Strategyn jobs-to-be-done innovation approach are used to assess the alternatives: outcomes and satisfaction with those outcomes. While a typical job has 50 – 150 outcomes, we’ll focus on a few summary level outcomes here.

Job #1: Point A to Point B

This is the core job of driving. Getting from one place to another. What’s key here is understanding the important outcomes that are desired for this job. The table below shows outcomes for this job, and how well satisfied they are for different transit alternatives.

Outcomes Regular car Bus & train Self-driving
Minimize commute time Satisfaction - medium  Satisfaction - low Satisfaction - medium
Minimize accident risk  Satisfaction - medium  Satisfaction - high  Satisfaction - high
Minimize commute stress  Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - high Satisfaction - high
Increase driving enjoyment  Satisfaction - high  Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - low

Reviewing the desired outcomes, where might self-driving vehicles provide an advantage? It’s dependent on how the different alternatives are considered. For instance, self-driving vehicles will not provide better commute times than manually-driven cars. But they are better than what buses and trains provide. Buses and trains are bound by set routes and schedules. These inject delays in commute times. Cars generally have an advantage here because of their direct door-to-door operation.

But self-driving vehicles do provide improvements over regular cars on two other outcomes: accident risk and commute stress. A great opportunity in ‘accident reduction’ applies to driving under the influence of alcohol. Self-driving cars will get you home safely. In this sense, they are more akin to what Megan Panatier tweeted. They’re like trains.

Taking those three outcomes together, it becomes clearer that self-driving vehicles will provide greater satisfaction on the Point A to Point B job-to-be-done.

There is one outcome where self-driving cars are a step backwards: driving enjoyment. Think about those commercials with high performance vehicles speedily taking curves on beautiful rural roads. The high performance manually driven car market will still be intact even in a world of self-driving vehicles. People will want that visceral pleasure.

Job #2: Get work done

A recent survey sponsored by Jive Software highlighted that people are working outside office hours more and more. While the causes of this vary, the result is that this has become an important job-to-be-done for many. Let’s look at the key outcomes for this job.

Outcomes Regular car Bus & train Self-driving
Increase digital work completed  Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - medium Satisfaction - high
Increase availability for conference calls  Satisfaction - medium  Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - high
Minimize distractions  Satisfaction - medium Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - high

Self-driving vehicles really shine in this job-to-be-done. They essentially become traveling offices. Fewer distractions and the ability to focus on the work tasks at hand.

The other advantage is better availability for conference calls. Ever tried to be on a work call while driving? Your focus is diverted by driving issues. And you really don’t want to be one of those people who loudly talks on the phone while commuting on a bus or train. When a conference call includes a shared screen, you can participate on that via the self-driving vehicle vs. driving a car.

Getting work done is one of those jobs that you might not associate with commuting. But self-driving opens up the ability to better satisfy this longstanding job.

Job #3: Improve the environment

Improving the environment continues to be an important job-to-be-done for a majority of Americans, and the world. And driving is a critical aspect of environmental impact. Two outcomes are assessed for this job below.

Outcomes Regular car Bus & train Self-driving
Reduce emissions  Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - high Satisfaction - low
Reduce fossil fuel consumption  Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - high  Satisfaction - low

When self-driving vehicles are considered as replacements for trains and buses, it’s possible that environmental benefits may be conflated between the two alternatives. Public transit is often touted for its environmental benefits.

But self-driving cars are not public transit. They will still have the same environmental impact of regular cars. Now, as automakers continue to improve the environmental impact of vehicles (electric vehicles, hybrids), then self-driving cars will follow the same improvement curve as regular cars.

However, self-driving vehicles provide no improvement on satisfaction for the key outcomes of the environmental improvement job. Indeed, to the extent they replace public transit (bus, train), they could contribute to increased environmental issues.

Job #4: Enjoy personal interests

Enjoying personal interests is a job that we do everywhere. Read in bed. Crochet during a television program. Engage in physical activity. Video gaming. There are numerous individual jobs-to-be-done here, but we’ll lump them into a summary job for this analysis. Below are two outcomes for this job-to-be-done.

Outcomes Regular car Bus & train Self-driving
Increase time spent on activity  Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - high  Satisfaction - high
Minimize distractions  Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - high

Similar to the ‘get work done’ job, this job is well served by self-driving cars. Regular cars really prevent the ability to enjoy a range of personal interests, due to the majority of time spent on…actually driving.

The individually controlled environment of a self-driving car also facilitates more engagement in personal interests. No competing phone calls, loud conversations, crowded space.

Self-driving vehicles will be fantastic for this job-to-be-done.

Conclusions

Based on analyzing the jobs-to-be-done, two conclusions can be drawn about self-driving vehicles.

Target market: urban areas. The jobs and outcomes outlined herein point to a better fit of self-driving vehicles to urban areas and the surrounding suburbs. People have longer, more stressful commutes than in rural and lower population areas. They also tend to have professional employment where digital work and conference calls are more the norm.

Urban areas do not lend themselves to driving enjoyment. Hard to take those curves when there are red lights, sharp corners and lots of traffic around you. So the ‘increase driving enjoyment’ outcome – a weakness of self-driving – is less relevant in these geographies.

Future design. The current look of a self-driving vehicle is essentially that of a regular car. And why not? The technology is being tested and iterated. No need to adjust a car while the technology is on that stage.

Eventually, self-driving technology will be perfected and be ready for broader adoption. Then the jobs and outcomes outlined herein become more relevant. What we currently know for car interiors and shapes will most certainly change. The basis of design changes from optimizing the driving experience (the outcomes) to optimizing for other jobs-to-be-done. One can imagine basic manual override driving capability for vehicles as a back-up in case the self-driving technology fails.

But the focus of design changes. Vehicles will be optimized for existing jobs-to-be-done that can now be newly satisfied via the self-driving technology. And new internal accessories will be developed to take advantage of this expansion of the market through increased jobs-to-be-done. Like a little exercise during the commute? How about a modified stationary bike inside your car?

Self-driving vehicles will be a source of significant new market opportunities.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

What do you mean customers don’t know what they want?

If I’d asked customers what they want, they’d have said more convenience and relevance.

Look familiar? I’ve riffed on that Henry Ford quote about faster horses, yada, yada. It’s not too far off from what customers would theoretically have been seeking in faster horses.

Makerbot Replicator 2I altered that quote to fit a modern day phenomenon: 3D printers. If you haven’t paid attention to them yet, these are machines that manufacture physical, 3 dimensional objects. These objects can be solid, or have more intricate internal workings. One leading manufacturer is MakerBot. In September it released its latest 3D printer, the Replicator 2.

Why is this relevant to a discussion on “customer wants”? Because 3D printing is one of those technologies that holds high disruption potential and is a significant departure from existing products. In other words, it’s all the things that disruptive-innovation enthusiasts look for in innovation. And many of the same people will argue such innovations cannot be identified via customer needs and desires.

There is truth there, but the argument is stunted, incomplete, even glib. It’s the inventor’s argument, not that of the innovator.

We’re talking different things

In discussing the role of customer needs and wants in innovation, we must separate the process, as illustrated below:

Decoupling customer JTBD from solutions

Start from the position that we, as humans, have a pretty good idea of what we want. Define this as our job-to-be-done. We are a bundle of many, many varied jobs-to-be-done. We have personal jobs, family jobs, social jobs, workplace jobs, athletic jobs, etc. The global economy runs by finding ways to satisfy these jobs-to-be-done.

I have heard the argument that customers cannot express all their jobs, that they have latent needs. I tend to side with Tony Ulwick’s view that latent needs are a myth. I do think it can be challenging to get at all the jobs-to-be-done a customer has. But I ascribe that more to the methodology of eliciting them than to the idea that customers cannot express them. There are good ways to understand customer needs and wants, such as Strategyn’s Outcome-Driven Innovation, Gerald Zaltman’s ZMET, and Stanford d.school design thinking concepts.

But the key point is that customers do know what they want. Their jobs-to-be-done are actually fairly stable. They are the keepers of the source basis of success.

It’s the next step where inventors come in. They either:

  1. Haven’t grounded themselves in customers’ jobs-to-be-done and the level  of satisfaction with each
  2. Understand the true jobs-to-be-done and know where underserved outcomes are

When some people pronounce that “customers don’t know what they want”, I worry that they’re actually operating under the #1 scenario. They don’t really understand what jobs are valid and underserved (e.g. see Cuil’s ill-fated attempt to displace Google). They’re pursuing a Hope Principle. Hey, someone always wins the lottery too.

It’s the #2 scenario where the potential for success exists. But it’s not guaranteed. Ideas are generated to improve the outcomes of jobs-to-be-done. Who generates them? Entrepreneurs. Corporations. Customers themselves. Researchers.

Here’s where the “customers don’t know what they want” concept has more validity. There’s no reason a customer is uniquely positioned to generate the best ideas. Others may be focused on new technologies, adjacent market trends, biomimicry, innovations pulled from distant fields, etc.  This is where the art and magic of innovation surfaces. The fun creative part, if you will.

Ideas which best improve outcomes on jobs-to-be-done have the advantage here. Each idea will do so to varying degrees. The ones that best fit multiple jobs-to-be-done and significantly improve outcomes for those jobs win the market.

3D printing is an idea that could satisfy a number of jobs-to-be-done

This is my take on the difference between invention and innovation:

Invention creates. Innovation changes.

Invention is the creative act. Innovation is the adoption of an invention to improve jobs-to-be-done.

Which brings us back to those 3D printers. Right now, they are an invention. Will every home have one the way we do PCs, televisions, dishwashers, etc.? We don’t know yet, as the technology continues to improve and prices need to come down. Indeed, here are the sorts of questions one finds currently:

“Who would buy this?”, they ask. “Why would anyone want to create objects themselves?”

But you know, customers do know their jobs-to-be-done. Here are is a sample of jobs-to-be-done where 3D printers can potentially improve outcomes:

Type Context Job Success metric
Toys When I plan out gifts for my children’s special events (birthdays, Christmas, Hannukah, etc.)… I want to give presents that are targeted to their specific interests. Increased satisfaction by my children with the presents provide
Medical When I need to provide a prosthetic replacement for a patient… I want a prosthetic that matches the patient’s specific size and characteristics. Reduced time and cost  to provide a perfect-fit replacement for the patient.
Pharma When I am on a drug regimen for a condition… I want to have my pills available as I need them. Reduced time to procure the pills I need.
Fashion When I am getting dressed for various activities… I want accessories tailored to my unique style. Increased personalization in my daily look.
Education When I am teaching kids about a specific subject… I want to provide physical objects that aid hands-on learning about the concept. Increased understanding of the topic.

Will 3D printing take off?  Or will it be the new version of a kitchen bread-making machine (cool concept, never used much after getting one)? I’m optimistic on 3D printers, as I can see them fulfilling a number of jobs-to-be-done.

But the key point here is that customers do know what they want. Now let the Henry Fords and Steve Jobs of the world dazzle us with their ideas to better serve the outcomes of our jobs-to-be-done.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

Finding opportunities to unseat incumbents

On Quora, this question was asked:

Competition: How do you assess the value of a new product or service vs an incumbent’s?

Is there a starting set of criteria? eg. price, quantity provided, ease of use, breadth and so on. I’m thinking specifically of a product to supply financial news and information and prices.

What struck me about this question is that it has the entrepreneur’s optimism in it, while also running into the classic issue of running into entrenched players in the market (e.g. Bloomberg, Reuters). Entrenched players can be quite hard to displace. Not impossible of course, as we’ve seen with RIM’s one-dominant Blackberry.

I put together an answer that combines two concepts. It’s re-published below.

———————-

Focus on two areas to distinguish yourself from the competition:

  • Jobs to be done
  • 9x-improvement ideas

JOBS TO BE DONE

Start from the customers’ perspective. Always. In this case, get a handle on their Jobs-To-Be-Done. What are they hiring incumbent providers for? How are they using the financial information?

Given you’re looking at a startup in this field, I’m sure you have a good initial sense of what customers are doing. But I’d wager it’s incomplete. I work in the innovation management software realm, but I know I have incomplete knowledge about the jobs-to-be-done.

By knowing three things, you will be a long way toward identifying the competitive opportunities for your idea:

  1. The jobs-to-be-done
  2. The level of satisfaction with each
  3. The ranked importance of each

Next, I want to borrow a phrase from Jack London, “You can’t wait to know the jobs-to-be-done. You have to go after them with a club.” This means engaging prospects. There are some methodologies out there, such as Steve Blank’s The Four Steps to the Epiphany (2005 Book).

One thing I’d stress is that in soliciting the jobs-to-be-done, I’d stress three elements that should be known:

  • Context: “When I…”
  • Job: “I want to…”
  • Success metric: “Decreased…”

I recently wrote up an approach to doing this, you can see it here:
Applying jobs-to-be-done to product and service design by Hutch Carpenter on Jobs-to-be-Done

An important result of that process is the generation of an opportunity map:

JTBD Opportunity Map

 

See where the highest priority, lowest satisfaction jobs-to-be-done are. Then…

9X-IMPROVEMENT IDEAS

OK, after talking with different prospects in your target market, you’ve got a good sense of what they’re trying to get done. You know where they feel current solutions are falling short, and how important the various jobs are.

And you know what they value in an outcome (success metric).

Here’s the tricky part of innovation. You need to displace the incumbents. Which is not easy. MIT researcher Andrew McAfee has a great post on the subject of displacing an incumbent: The 9X Email Problem

In it, he highlights research by a colleague regarding customers’ behavior when it comes to replacing an existing product/service with a new one. The gist of it is:

  • People tend to underweight the prospective benefits of a technology by a factor of 3
  • People tend to overweight the value of whatever it is they are being asked to give up by a factor of 3

Together, you get the need to improve on the current situation by 9x.

The good news is that the success metrics described by prospective customers in the job-to-be-done phase point to where a 9x improvement could potentially be designed.

Certainly, though, this is the art of innovation. How well does an idea deliver on improving those success metrics?

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

McDonald’s wins on the fast food jobs-to-be-done that matter

Consumer Edge Insight conducted a survey of consumer perceptions about 20 different fast food restaurants. Specifically, how are they ranked by consumer perceptions on different attributes, such as:

  • Good value
  • Convenience
  • Low prices
  • Fast service
  • Great tasting food
  • More…

The customers were asked to rank order the different attributes, and “great tasting food” actually ranked 8th. The first four above were the top ranked attributes.

Which explains this unusual finding when it comes to McDonald’s:

McDonald’s scored very low in “satisfaction with last visit”. Only 22% of respondents were extremely satisfied with their last McDonald’s experience. Highest satisfaction scores went to Chick-fil-A (66%), Long John Silver (56%), and Whataburger (54%).

McDonald’s scored very high in “extremely likely to visit again”. McDonald’s 64% score on that measure was third behind Subway (68%) and Chick-fil-A (67%).

Wha…? Yeah, low satisfaction combined with high intent to visit again. Strange isn’t it? Are consumers masochists? Well, no. The key here is recognizing that customers have a number of jobs-to-be-done when it comes to eating. Translating the four attributes into jobs-to-be-done (using the previously defined structure):

Attribute Context Job Success Metric
Good value When I purchase food… I want to spend the same or less than what I would for preparing the same food myself. Perception that the food quantity and quality is commensurate with the price paid.
Convenience When I need to eat with limited time… I want to find food to eat quickly Decreased time to get to the food that I will eat.
Low prices When I need to feed myself and others… I want food costs that fits within my budget. Food that costs less than [X]% of my daily income.
Fast service When I need to eat with limited time.. I want food that is served quickly after I’ve ordered. Food is served within [2 minutes] after I order it.

On the highest ranked jobs-to-be-done (remember, jobs should be ranked ordered), McDonald’s is at or near the top. What’s interesting is that the “satisfaction with last visit” score was low for McDonald’s. But it turns out that’s not the most important question. Rather, the question should be, “how satisfied are you with the jobs-to-be-done that matter?”

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

A Method for Applying Jobs-to-Be-Done to Product and Service Design

Say you’re designing something new for a product or service. Of course, you have your own ideas for what to do. But, how informed are you really about what is needed?

This is a question I faced in thinking about game mechanics used in a social platform. A common product approach is to work up some game mechanics ideas, get them designed and deployed. The source for ideas? My own fertile mind. Inbound suggestions (“in World of Warcraft, you can…”). Competitors. What companies in other markets are doing.

But that wasn’t sufficient. Game mechanics are an evolving, somewhat complex field.  I wanted to understand at a more fundamental level: why game mechanics? So I decided to learn more from our customers. What needs would game mechanics address? Initial question: what’s the best way to go about this?

Jobs-to-Be-Done: Only for game-changing innovation?

The jobs-to-be-done framework struck me as the right approach here. What are customers trying to get done? As legendary professor Theodore Levitt said:

People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.

Similarly, I didn’t believe customers wanted to buy “game mechanics”. They want to buy results, which game mechanics can help deliver. Using the jobs-to-be-done framework, what jobs were game mechanics being hired for?

Yet, in reading the advice on jobs-to-be-done, one gets the impression that eliciting jobs-to-be-done can only be done effectively via intensive in-person interviews. Well, I didn’t have the capacity to fly around for one-day deep-dive sessions to understand the jobs-to-be-done related to game mechanics.

Customer Insightini

And this gets at something related to jobs-to-be-done as it stands today. It’s very much positioned for high-impact, game-changing innovation. Which is awesome, by the way. Firms like Strategyn and ReWired Group are setting the tone here. When the payoff for intensive, expensive efforts like in-person interviews is high-value innovation, you do them.

But my needs were at a lower level than that. In the Customer Insightini™ to the right, I segment the types of initiatives where customer insight can be useful. The bottom is the minor stuff (“it should support colors red, green, blue…”). The top is the game changing endeavors (e.g. surgery stents). My game mechanics inquiry? Right there in the middle. Introduction of something new in the same market.

Since I couldn’t find a good framework to elicit customers’ jobs-to-be-done, I hacked together my own methodology. It’s described below.

  1. Job-to-be-done structure (link)
  2. Focus the effort (link)
  3. Rate satisfaction with fulfillment of each job (link)
  4. Rank order importance of jobs to create an Opportunity Map (link)
  5. Use a website to manage the jobs-to-be-done (link)
  6. Conversations are as valuable as the jobs themselves (link)
  7. Step-by-step plan (link)

Job-to-be-done structure

I needed a common language for the various jobs-to-be-done. Specifically, I needed a reliable format that provided the right information. I came up with the following:

Context: “When I am…”

Job: “I want to…”

Success metric: “Increased…”

Context is important, because I want to understand the background for the job to be done. When did it happen? What was the larger goal? The job itself is the core information to be collected. The success metric told me what the customer valued in an outcome, and provided a basis for measuring whether the idea implemented to fulfill the job was actually doing so.

Focus the effort

Something I’ve learned in the realm of innovation management: focused initiatives outperform post-whatever-you-want initiatives. In other words, participants should be asked for insight on a specific topic. Otherwise the exercise risks spinning off in many directions you’re not ready to pursue.

In the game mechanics effort, I started with a definition of gamification itself. This set the tone for the discussion. I believed there were several areas that could benefit, so I focused the discussion around collaboration, engagement and three other areas. This framed the discussion without corralling customers too tightly in what they wanted to express. It also gave a nice rhythm, as we worked through each of the five areas.

Unsurprisingly in the discussions with customers, they had ideas for applying game mechanics to a job-to-be-done. Since the discussion was focused on their needs and wants, I would take these ideas and add them to a separate idea community.

Rate satisfaction with fulfillment of each job

This step was critical. It wasn’t enough to have the various jobs-to-be-done. Understanding the level of satisfaction with each one is the metric which shows where good opportunities lie.  I asked customers to bucket each job-to-be-done as:

  • Satisfaction with current outcomes = HIGH
  • Satisfaction with current outcomes = MODERATE
  • Satisfaction with current outcomes = LOW

Now, there was a natural bias for customers to provide jobs where their satisfaction was lower. They wanted to talk about things that need to be improved. But I wanted to ensure a broader look at the landscape of jobs. So in the course of the discussion, there were three sources of jobs-to-be-done that came outside of these  low-satisfaction ones:

  1. Seeded obvious jobs: I seeded the site with some of the more obvious jobs, to provide examples.
  2. Jobs provided by previous customers: As I learned new jobs from a previous discussion, I’d add them to the new discussion. This was good to see how customers felt about what others were trying to get done.
  3. Jobs elicited in discussions: After getting one job from a  customer, we’d discuss it. In that discussion, you’d hear another job-to-be-done. While that one may not be low satisfaction, it was important to capture it for a fuller understanding.

As you can imagine, there were varying views on level of satisfaction for the same job across customers. Is the software performing differently for each? No. But each customer was communicating the level of outcome they deemed satisfactory.

Rank order importance of jobs to create an Opportunity Map

After the jobs were sorted into the LOW, MODERATE, HIGH satisfaction buckets, I asked the customer to rank them in relative importance, highest to lowest. This was their chance to tell me just what they valued most. Even if their satisfaction was moderate with a job’s outcome, it was valuable to know what they deem most important. Useful for fuller understanding of why customers buy. Because you want to avoid being one of these companies:

The vast majority of companies have no clue what their customers value in the products and services they buy.

Here’s what you get after you’ve done this: an Opportunity Map as determined by the customer’s expressed needs.

JTBD Opportunity Map

After talking with each customer, you’ll be able to generate an Opportunity Map. By aggregating the responses by customers, you have a broader Opportunity Map    that begins to reflect something of the market.

Use a website to manage the jobs-to-be-done

The preceding elements of eliciting jobs-to-be-done are the method. The method needs a place to execute it. For my gamification project, I used the free post-it note site Listhings. With that site, I can add unlimited canvases (for different customers) and individual notes (for the jobs). You can color code the different sub-topics within the question you are asking.

Examples of Listhings culled from an actual customer discussion:

Listhings example

Conversations are as valuable as the jobs themselves

In the process of collecting the jobs-to-be-done, I found the discussions around each job-to-be-done to be incredibly valuable. And this is an important point: customers want to talk to you about what they’re trying to get done! The discussions were intelligent and gave me insight into their world. An insight I cannot get from data about usage or the user stories I write in a vacuum.

This experience is what makes me cringe when I read others throwing around the old Henry Ford chestnut: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they’d have said faster horses.” It assigns customers to the Dumb Bucket.

Interesting experience in doing these with 8 different customers. I would schedule a one-hour session with our admin leads at each. Inevitably, we’d run out of time in that first session. Every single customer was up for a second session. One customer even wanted a third and fourth session, bringing actual end users into it for their perspective.

Perhaps this can be a good path for a design thinking approach, as it really boosts your empathy for what customers are trying to get done as you discover their jobs-to-be-done.

Step-by-step plan

OK, that was a lot of information about individual parts of this jobs-to-be-done methodology. Let’s put it together into a plan:

  1. Establish a topic you want to explore more deeply with customers.
  2. If the topic is somewhat broad, break it down into sub-themes.
  3. Sign up for a site where you can collect jobs. Criteria for such a site:
    • Each job is visible in full on screen
    • Ability to segment the jobs by sub-themes
    • Ability to categorize jobs by level of satisfaction
  4. Seed the site with some obvious jobs that your product/service provides.
  5. Select customers to engage.
  6. Use a web/screen sharing tool to run the discussion (e.h. WebEx, GoToMeeting, Skype, Google Plus).
  7. Plan for an hour, expect to need a second one.
  8. As you talk with the customer, post the jobs in real time so she sees them on screen.
  9. Run through the satisfaction bucketing (LOW, MODERATE, HIGH)
  10. Rank order the jobs within each satisfaction bucket
  11. Collate and aggregate the responses after you have finished the customer discussion. I used Excel for this.
  12. Identify the jobs that were most important and received LOW or MODERATE satisfaction across your customers.
  13. Plumb your notes from the discussions for additional insight that will be useful

The other thing you’ll gain from this are customers who have a demonstrated interest in the phases that follow in the design and development process: ideas, prototypes, early purchasers.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter, and I’m a Senior Consultant with HYPE Innovation.

Net Promoter Score is a window into jobs-to-be-done fulfillment

I’m a big advocate for better understanding customer needs, particularly in the jobs-to-be-done form. Companies should spend more time on this, instead of the all-too-common approach of implementing someone’s vision in a near vacuum. Although I admit it isn’t easy to do. Focus groups are a start, but are both logistically and financially hard to scale, and fraught with their own issues. So the state of getting customer insights is still fairly immature.

So I was interested when I received this email invitation from American Express:

See there? AmEx wants to better understand my needs. Charge cards fall into that overall payment realm which includes PayPal, Square, Stripe, Google Wallet, etc. It’s a deep part of our society and something we can all relate to.

Sure, the most basic job-to-be-done is:

When I am purchasing something, I want to provide payment to the seller. Success means I complete the purchase.

But is that all there is? No, of course not. I have jobs around paying off AmEx, understanding my spending habits, merchandise assurance, along with emotional ones like a feeling of assurance I can buy when I want to. AmEx even works on fulfilling a status-based job-to-be-done. Extending out from there, there are adjacent jobs related to the purchase decision process before the transaction and better understanding my financial activity after the transaction. Heck, I’ll bet AmEx could come with more areas where I have relevant jobs-to-be-done.

 I click on the Begin Survey button in the email, passing through three set-up screens first:

Now, if you look at those three screens, that’s a good amount of setup. An intro screen, a list of “helpful hints” and finally confirmation of the product I’m using. Feels like I’m about to undergo a weighty exercise.

Well…no. Rather, this is the meat of the entire survey:

A net promoter score question. NPS has become more and more popular, and is a simple report card on how your customer perceive your product or service. Customers who click 9 or 10 are called Promoters, 7 or 8 are Passives, and 1 to 6 are Detractors (read more on net promoter scores). For the record, I picked ’7′. AmEx is a fine card, but in my wallet I can’t really distinguish it from my Visa or Mastercard. It’s the only charge card Costco takes, so I can recommend it based on that.

But a broader question occurred to me. What will AmEx do once they have all the NPS’s collected from customers? Say the NPS comes in averaging ’9′. They’re done, right? Pretty much nailing it. If it comes in around ’7′, they’ll wonder what is wrong, why people aren’t more gung ho.

Assuming they will take action based on the NPS collected from us customers, I can see a few paths here for what happens next.

Marketing focus: Product is fine as-is, it’s the messaging around it that we need to improve. Also, we’re not reaching customers where they are. TV is declining, we need new ways to get across why our card is better. That will get our NPS’s up.

Internal product development focus: Work on ways the card features and experience can be improved. Smart people work at AmEx, and they can come up with some interesting approaches. Focus group the ideas after they’ve honed them down to a few. That is, get customer insight after the fact.

Jobs-to-be-done focus: As Steve Blank espouses, there are no facts inside your company’s walls, get outside of your purely internal focus. Initiate a program of exploring jobs-to-be-done by customers. Incorporate customer wants into determining the design of new products. This is insight before committing to any ideas.

Indeed, the NPS is a great first cut on identifying customers to approach about getting deeper insight. Each person’s NPS is essentially a window telling you how well AmEx Green matches their particular jobs-to-be-done.

What do you think AmEx will do next?

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

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