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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.

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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:

——-

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.

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.

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.

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