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Two cases of job-to-be-done driven design

In doing some reading this morning, came across a couple examples of practitioners with a customer-centric orientation emphasizing the job-to-be-done. They come at it from different angles, but share the essence *first* understanding what the customer is trying to get done first, *then* getting down to design and development.

37signals Ryan Singer:

I need to relate the problem to a situation in order to understand it. The reason I am making a product is to give people capability they lack. That’s why they pay for it. The gap between the person’s current situation and the situation they want to be in defines value for them. They hire your product to do a job. The job is their definition of progress from here to there.

When the job isn’t well-defined, the team doesn’t know what to include and what to omit. They design based on logical speculations, not real situations. Instead of targeting a problem like a sniper, they cast a net and hope to catch the value somewhere within its expanse. Casting a net means building more functionality in more places, so the project grows in scope and complexity.

Sometimes people think they have defined the problem, but they really just defined a feature. Like “users want file versioning.” It’s important to understand that a feature is not a situation. You can dig into a situation to learn what is valuable and what is not according to the goal. Digging into a feature definition doesn’t do that. It has no origin and no goal. Analyzing a feature definition leads you to play out all the things a person might value from the feature instead of learning what they actually value.

Michael B. Fishbein on SinglePlatform founder Wiley Cerilli:

Wiley began hearing complaints from restaurants about how hard it was to manage their web presence and all the sites they have information on. He wasn’t sure what the exact solution was, but knew that the problem presented an opportunity.

Instead of building something and seeing if restaurants would want it, he start by getting feedback from customers and pre-selling.

Wiley began by going in to restaurants with a PowerPoint deck on an iPad describing a product that he thought they would want. In our conversation, he emphasized the importance of not simply asking “would you buy this” when delivering customer development interviews because people will generally feel uncomfortable saying no. Instead he described it to customers as his friend’s product or would ask them to write a check if they said they liked it. When you ask someone to pay for something you start hearing information that you would not have heard otherwise because people would rather not be disagreeable.

Over a three month period of delivering customer development interviews, a lot of “no-s,” and several iterations of the deck, Wiley came to 5 slides that resonated strongly. In fact, many were willing to write him a check, even knowing that he didn’t know have a product built yet. He had identified a strong enough customer pain point and a product value proposition that resonated strongly enough, that customers were willing to prepay. Wiley knew he had a real opportunity on his hands at that point and began building the product and brought on a couple sales people to distribute it.

The emphasis on validating customer needs and avoiding spending time and money on something that customers don’t actually want didn’t stop after the product was built. SinglePlatform would consistently test, pre-sell, and run customer development interviews on new features.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

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Do big companies need a ‘slow development’ movement?

Read this comment by George Ciardi from a discussion about why products fail in the Market Research Group on LinkedIn:

While proper research could certainly be part of the blame for the failure of some new products, I also see the realities of business pressures to launch “no matter what the research says”.

Most companies have internal objective to launch new products throughout the year. These new product launches have sales estimates of demand, which in turn feed through to company projections of future growth.

If you accept my statement to be true for a moment, then it would seem that part of the solution is to have a more flexible business plan and a corporate culture that would permit business objectives to be more fluid and allow for products not to be launched that are not ready to market in the first place.

But who is going to tell the CEO that they will miss their second half sales estimates because their new product isn’t ready to launch just yet? Do we have any takers for that assignment?

A rush to “get something out” can be driven by the calendar. In startup companies, specifically software ones, the advice is to release often. Get stuff out there, see how it performs. Y Combinator’s Paul Graham advocates this.

But does that advice work for large companies? Not just software entities, but other industries as well? It’s not as realistic. PT Boats can adjust course and channel resources much more quickly than can aircraft carriers.

Which puts a premium on “getting it right” as much as possible before release. Not fix what went wrong afterwards. One can argue that philosophically, big companies just need to be more nimble. That advice and $3.00 will get you a cup of coffee.

Big organizations would do well with a slower development cycle that…

Puts a premium on understanding customers jobs-to-be-done: Before developing anything, spend time talking with customers about what their needs, desires and pain points are. There is some of this via focus groups, but my sense is that those are (i) sporadically used; (ii) designed to elicit opinions on something already in development. People who express these jobs are potentially good candidates for any co-creation the company wishes to engage in.

Allows for small experiments: Once you’ve got a bead on what jobs customers are hiring for, try out some solutions. In many ways, this is taking a page from Steve Blank’s customer development methodology. Talk with some customers, particularly the ones who identified the job-to-be-done.

Finally, senior executives need to look at this as an essential part of increasing the odds of success for new product introductions.

Will Quorans Develop Enough Spine to Ensure Quality?

On Quora, this question was recently asked:

Is the upvote bias towards more popular answerers a threat to quality on Quora?

One answer caught my attention, and it’s one with which I wholeheartedly agree:

I would say it’s very important for Quora users to use those voting powers to downvote answers by A-listers that are just not good enough. There is a LOT of expertise by practitioners now, it’s up to us to upvote knowledgeable answers and downvote answers without substance when they occur, regardless of how popular the responder might be.

This is a critical cultural element that must take hold in Quora for it to thrive. If it becomes an A-Lister’s club where everything they say is gold, well, the site will slowly die.

I’m going to give two examples where A-Listers gave irrelevant, humorous answers to a discussion. In one case, it was on Quora. In the other, it was Hacker News. The outcomes are instructive.

Dave McClure on Quora

First, on Quora. There’s a question that asks, Which VCs and angels are investing in early stage, enterprise 2.0 companies? A number of VCs weigh in there. After a while, well-known angle investor Dave McClure added his own answer, a faux pandering to Enterprise 2.0 start-ups, which came across as mocking some of the other VCs’ answers. Funny? Sure. Meta commentary on the other answerers? Yup. Relevant to the original question? Not at all.

Yet check out the number of up votes it’s gotten:

Fortunately, the answer has been down-voted enough to fall from its #1 position. But it’s still the #4 answer of 17 provided. What’s with the 29 up-votes there?As a point of reference, imagine if you had written a similar answer. It would have been quickly buried at the bottom of the question with multiple ‘Not Helpfuls’.

This is not about Dave McClure, whose answer is very consistent with his personality. He’s a funny, smart guy. You’re always going to have some answers that aren’t helpful, it’s a fact of online life. But it is about the culture of the Quora community and the disconnect between the site’s objectives and the community’s actions.

Joshua Schachter on Hacker News

Let’s look at the case of the second A-Lister. On Hacker News, someone posted a story in the Wall Street Journal, Five Signs You’re a Bad Boss. First sign? “Most of your emails are one-word long.” That one includes an anecdote about a boss who was even worse – he wrote in single characters. Y for yes, N for no.

It hit the front page, and got a number of comments. Including one from Delicious founder Joshua Schachter (“joshu”) that was a humorous homage to that bad boss:

But check that out. Joshua was voted down by some power user on Hacker News. He actually has -1 points there. No immediate fawning, no appreciation for the humor of the A-Lister. Now in checking the answer several hours later, it has 3 points. So even Hacker News has some of that “A-Lister gets the benefit” element.

Overall, these two examples offer a clear distinction in culture between Quora and Hacker News. Hacker News continues to grow, and includes Fred Wilson as a fan:

I use techmeme, hacker news, tim o’reilly’s twitter links, dave winer’s 40 most recently links for tech news

Developing the culture that will mercilessly ding a poor or irrelevant answer regardless of source is critical to Quora. Learn to love the downvote, otherwise Quora becomes a graveyard of dead questions.

Email’s New Freight – Posting to Social Sites

This post is a test of something I have not yet tried with wordpress.com: posting by email. It’s meant to be mostly an experiment.

But it’s also a realization that in a mobile world, email has a new found importance. Delivering social content payloads.

In a separate effort, I’m trying to get things done (GTD!) with my iPad versus my laptop. I’m curious how much one can get done.

One thing I want to do is to write a blog post. Surprisingly difficult! WordPress.com doesn’t fully function on Safari (where is that scroll bar to get to the bottom of my post???), and the wordpress iPad (er…iPhone) app is pretty poor. No surprise it only has 2 stars.

However, there is post by email. And to get a photo “out there” to Flickr, you can email it. Who knew? Mobile drives email

One final test. I’m pasting some embed code below. If wordpress accepts it, you’ll see a cool pic from Flickr. If wordpress doesn’t recognize it, you’ll see a bunch of funky code.

Driving Wheels of the Frisco 4500

Sent from my iPad

Beyond Social CRM: The Open Innovation Revolution

The idea of bringing customers into the process of defining the products and service of your organization is one that is gaining a lot of steam. One manifestation of that is the increased interest in Social CRM. In this scenario, companies engage their social customers for feedback and marketing purposes. Taking it a step further, Mark Tamis and Esteban Kolsky see the higher purpose as organizing the business around the newly social customers.

And then there’s Stefan Lindegaard.

Stefan is a leading open innovation consultant and author of the recently published book, The Open Innovation Revolution. He sees things advancing even further. From page 13 of his book:

Open innovation is about integrating external partners in the entire innovation process. This should happen not just in the idea or technology-development phase but also in all other phases toward market acceptance. User-driven innovation is great because it directs your innovation efforts toward market needs. Open innovation takes you to the next step by providing more opportunities through external partners as you address those market needs.

Stefan is on to something. To illustrate his point, I put together these two graphics, based on a hypothetical product delivery value chain. The first graphic might be properly termed, “lightweight open innovation”:

Here’s where Stefan sees the (r)evolution of this:

That’s quite a feat there, isn’t it? Incorporate a greater range of external input throughout your company’s innovation process. As Stefan describes it on page 12:

User-driven is highly related to open innovation, but it has to go further to become open innovation. This happens when you not only get ideas from external sources but also let external players become key players in the process of turning ideas into a business.

The Value of Open Innovation

And what is the value of taking open innovation to a more integrated, advanced level? Procter & Gamble illustrates the benefit. In 2000, P&G CEO A.G Lafley set a goal of having 50% of the company’s products derived from external sources. To accomplish this, the company consciously engaged external parties through its Connect + Develop initiative. Through Connect + Develop, P&G conducted a two-way exchange of ideas and feedback with industry, leveraging a dedicated staff of over 50 people. The results?

  • In 2000, the success rate of new products was 15-20%. By 2008, the new product success rate rose to between 50 – 60%. (pdf)
  • R&D investment as a percentage of sales is down from 4.8% in 2000 to 3.4% in 2006. (link)

The company attributes its success to its open innovation model. And the advantage continues. Diversified, globally-based P&G’s stock price is up 7% over the past 5 years, while the diversified, globally-based businesses of the S&P 500 are down 2%. That’s a 9 percentage point spread.

P&G sees a key benefit of its ambitious open innovation model as this: to be the preferred partner of choice when external parties have a good idea. Think about that. The volume of good ideas that can occur outside your organization is significant. When individuals, academics and industry players do have these ideas, who’s at the top of their mind for partnering? That’s a significant, sustainable competitive advantage.

The Open Innovation Revolution looks at a number of aspects companies need to address to integrate open innovation more fully into their company’s processes.

It Starts with a Vision and Planning

The initial steps are crucial for establishing an open innovation strategy. Stefan observes that you only get “one-and-a-half chances to do this thing right”. So what are the key considerations for organizations considering open innovation?

  1. Establish a clear mandate, a strong strategic purpose and an ideation theme
  2. Conduct a stakeholder analysis
  3. Develop a communication strategy
  4. Build a common language
  5. Include organizational approaches that achieve TBX (T = top; B = bottom; X = across)
  6. Strive to be innovative instead of working to become innovative

His book addresses each of those elements. He also includes examples of companies (often Danish) incorporating these steps.

The step that most resonated with me is the first one, establish a clear mandate. When this is done, it moves the initiative from an interesting suggestion to an approach supported culturally, with processes, management buy-in and identified key players.

But it’s also the hardest and is less amenable to bottom-up experimentation. I say that as someone who has read the value of bottom-up viral adoption and experimentation in the Enterprise 2.0 world. If an organization is going to engage external parties in the co-creation, co-development process, you’d better make sure you’ve got legal and senior management signed-on.

And Stefan emphasizes the issues that will be faced internally at companies as they seek to establish their open innovation mandate. A favorite term of mine is “corporate antibodies”. These are the people inside an organization that will seek to sabotage an open innovation initiative. Why?

They don’t see the effort as 2+2=5. For them, it’s 2+2=2

Essentially they fear having their own projects derailed, and potentially losing their power inside the organization. This is where senior management needs to push the effort, and even crack a few skulls if needed. Here’s how Stefan relates it (page 32):

Mads Clausen, former CEO at Danfoss, was very good at taking managers aside and looking them straight in the eye while telling them that he really believed in this innovation initiative and that he hoped the manager shared his approach.

Innovation leaders must also educate executives on open innovation and, more importantly, must make the consequences of executive decisions very clear.

In Chapter 8 of the book, Stefan addresses strategies for overcoming corporate antibodies.

People, Networking, Roadblocks, Personal Brand and Time Management

Throughout the rest of The Open Innovation Revolution, Stefan discusses a variety of elements that factor into open innovation success.

With people, he has identified two archetypes: innovation leaders and intrapreneurs. Innovation leaders work at the strategic and tactical level to build the internal platform to handle open innovation. Intrapreneurs work at the operational level on initiatives. Key questions he answers are: how to identify and develop these people?

With networking, he applies concepts of social network analysis. And spends some time talking about how you individually can go about your networking. Networking’s value is in finding new ideas and connecting with people globally, and even internally.

Roadblocks include the corporate antibodies, but other issues as well. Top executives may not “get” open innovation. Also, radical innovation is too high a threshold to seek.

Personal brand is a useful term, and one that immediately puts some people off. One interesting tidbit Stefan notes is that establishing a personal brand is seen as manipulative in many countries, but “less so in the United States.” In the chapter discussing personal brand, he includes some worksheets to help you think about your own.

Time management is no doubt an issue for most of us. He includes Parkinson’s Law, which I hadn’t heard of but immediately recognized as true: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” He provides advice and frameworks for better managing time.

Admittedly, the personal branding and time management sections weren’t quite my cup of tea. But my guess is they reflect conversations he’s had over the years with many employees of companies who are figuring out open innovation. For example, remember his note that Europeans and the rest of the world outside the U.S. are reticent about this personal branding thing.

Start Thinking about Open Innovation

An area which I’d like to see more is a description of how open innovation works operationally. For instance, do you have existing personnel lead the interactions with external parties? Or is it better to have external connectors lead the coordination? What are the intellectual property issues to be considered? What are the contractual models for sharing the benefits of the effort?

Perhaps this is fodder for a future book by Stefan. But as it is, The Open Innovation Revolution is a smart, rich introduction to the concepts underlying this emerging practice. Stefan knows his stuff, and readers will come away with a better sense of how to prepare their organization, and themselves, for the coming revolution.

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

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 051410

From the home office in outer space, where I’m blogging from the space shuttle Atlantis’s final mission

#1: RT @georgedearing Pilot advertisers happy with initial results from Twitter’s new ad program // http://bit.ly/twittermarketers // #fb [ADWEEK]

#2: The debate about pilot projects in social business http://bit.ly/c3EViV by @leebryant #e20

#3: RT @amyjokim How to build a sustainable community http://bit.ly/bJtkes (practical tips for hands-on community management)

#4: Applies to enterprises as well: RT @sidburgess How Cul-de-Sacs Are Killing Your Community http://bit.ly/cGg6yi #e20

#5: Does Reputation Ranking Make a Difference in Idea Management? (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/cfPWa0 #innovation #e20 #reputation

#6: Customer Suggestions: When to Listen, When to Ignore >> Pragmatic Marketing #innovation http://post.ly/fMoz

#7: RT @jorgebarba Game-based marketing takes off from frequent flyer programs to social media | VentureBeat http://ff.im/-k2bW1

#8: Noticing an uptick in Foursquare friend requests lately.

#9: Would love a laptop like this: Future Designer laptop – ROLLTOP http://bit.ly/dkypIY

#10: My kindergarten son made this “spy” laptop computer today – no Flash support though… http://twitpic.com/1nk9pw

Three Models for Applying Customer Feedback to Innovation

Customers have always been core to companies’ existence. An obvious statement for sure. Customers are the source of cash flow, and have historically been thought of in marketing and transactional contexts.

But in recent years, we’ve seen the rise of a new way to consider customers. As vital influencers of company activities and strategies. Two popular ways this is taking form are the social CRM movement, and the emergence of open innovation.

If you follow discussions in these developing strategies, you see that there are differing views as to the value of customer feedback. Understanding the different use cases of customer feedback helps organizations to set objectives and expectations appropriately, and to create effective frameworks for engaging customers.

Let’s look at three models for applying customer feedback to innovation.

Customer Feedback and Innovation Objectives

The graph below highlights the three models:

The three objectives on the graph are:

  • Features – product or service requests
  • Product’s “job” – understand the deeper purpose your product fulfills
  • Proposal – putting a new concept in front of customers to understand its key value drivers

The X-axis measures the difficulty of getting feedback relevant to a particular objective. The Y-axis measures the impact on company results for the different objectives.

Some notes on the three models follow. For context, I’m including some ideas proposed by Starbucks customers on the My Starbucks Idea site.

Features

Customers – hundreds, thousands, millions of them – are constantly using your products and services. This makes them well-positioned to suggest future product features and service enhancements. As a customer, you become intimately familiar with a product’s utility, and what else you want to see.

You can see this on the My Starbucks Idea site. Some examples of customer product and service ideas:

  • Use dark chocolate in espresso drinks #
  • More milk substitute options #
  • Healthy food items #
  • Mobile QR codes with payment info and drink order (scan-n-pay) #
  • Separate lines for drip coffee buyers (during morning rush hour) #

Often, I see this type of innovation pooh-poohed, as if it is not worth the effort. I fundamentally disagree with that position. This is the important, block-and-tackle work of serving a large market.

As the graph shows, these individual innovations won’t dramatically change a company’s fortunes. But in aggregate, they become a vital part of the product strategy for companies. Soliciting useful ideas for features is relatively easy.

It is important to remember that no company will blindly follow whatever ideas are suggested.  Innovation here is customer-centered, but not majority centered.

Product’s “Job”

The notion that customers hire your product to do a “job” is one I learned from Clayton Christensen. He stresses thinking of what customers need to accomplish, as opposed to thinking of product features or customer demographic segments. This frees your mind to address products differently than as a collection of features.

The challenge is to go deeper on what the customers are requesting. This is where customer feedback is not the final answer. Rather, it’s an important clue as to what “job” your customers are hiring for. Take a look at these five ideas from the Starbucks ideas site:

  • I need a 24 hour Starbucks #
  • Have late night locations near hospitals #
  • Later Weekend Hours #
  • More comfortable seating and extended hours #
  • New/additional 24hr locations #
  • Open late #

Now as features go, the ideas above are pretty basic. Keep Starbucks open later. But rather than look at them that way, are they providing clues about the “job” customers hire Starbucks to do?

It’s obvious customers are hiring Starbucks for more than a cup of coffee. Starbucks has consciously built out a more lifestyle-based experience. These requests for nighttime hours are indicators that Starbucks has an opportunity to address a new “job”. Here’s my interpretation of the “job” (yours may be different):

People want the solo intellectual pursuits of reading a book, creative writing, researching or getting projects done on a computer. They could do this at home with their own coffee brew or tea. But there’s something social about being around others, even if you’re not engaging with them. You’re connected to the world, as you view it through the periphery of your mind’s focus.

People want to pursue their individual interests, but do it in a way that let’s them feel connected to larger society, be around kindred types and keep tabs on what is happening.

If you accept that as the “job” that customers hire Starbucks to do at nighttime, then the next activity in customer-centric innovation is to come up with other features of the experience that address the “job”.

This is where Starbucks can suggest new features to customers, based on a better understanding of the “job”. The new features can be put out to the customer community for their feedback.

Proposal

Roberto Verganti describes a “proposal” in his book, Design Driven Innovation. A proposal is a product that is not a linear change in your offering, but represents a radical change in meaning. Many purchases – such as a Starbucks coffee – have meaning beyond the coffee. In fact, I’d argue Starbucks has successfully performed a radical change in meaning with its coffee varieties, “baristas” and lifestyle experience. Much different than say, a Dunkin Donuts or McDonalds coffee.

Verganti also takes a fairly dogmatic position against customer-centric innovation. Rather, he argues for vision-centered innovation. The inspiration and sources for vision comes via learning from networks at the edge of societal change, within your industry and outside it. But it’s not without a role for customers after all. As he wrote recently on the Harvard Business Review:

They need to propose new unsolicited products and services that are both attractive, sustainable, and profitable. It is only within the framework of a vision-centered process that users can provide precious insights.

In this model, customers cannot tell you the new, unimagined things they want. Would anyone have suggested a need for Adobe Acrobat, Turbotax, Facebook or Twitter? But once a company has a new proposal for customers, they can become part of the development process. As Russell Ackoff and Herbert Addison wrote in the Little Book of f-Laws (pdf):

There is no point in asking consumers – who do not know what they want – to say what they want. Many new product and service introductions have been disastrous despite the extensive surveys conducted to show that there is consumer interest in, and intention to buy, such a product or service. These surveys have incorrectly assumed that most consumers know what they want.

Consumers can discover what they want in products and services by designing them. It is in design that people find what they want. Furthermore, consumer involvement in product/service design almost always gets creative results.

Engaging customers to get their ideas for something radically different holds great value here. This is not an exercise in determining market interest – although that might be a side outcome. Rather, it’s a process of getting ideas to flesh out this proposal. Let customers help determine the radical innovation of meaning for a new concept.

Progress on the Open Innovation and Social CRM Fronts

The graph above is really more a spectrum, not a series of discrete models. For example, where feature requests leave off and become input about a product’s “job” isn’t a step function. More part of a continuum. But it’s helpful for discussion purposes to describe three models, because there are differences at different points of the spectrum.

As both open innovation and social CRM progress, think about the implications of these approaches on integrating customer feedback into innovation.

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