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It’s the Jobs-to-Be-Done, Stupid!

I do product management for Spigit. I’ve done product management for other companies as well. And let me tell you, the easiest thing in the world is to fall into the trap of focusing on how customers are using your product. Product forms your relationship with customers. It’s how you know them. They will tell you about your product, and the features they want improved. You can’t not listen to that. Of course, you’re going to improve your product.

But don’t confuse that with understanding what your customers need.

Just because you’re on top of what you’re customers need from your current product, doesn’t mean you’re on top of market changes. Two titans of the television industry remind us of that. They have, in recent weeks, been dismissive of a rumored Apple HDTV:

Sharp isn’t paying much heed to rumors that Apple is developing an HDTV. Nor does it have much reason to, says Kozo Takahashi, head of the company’s operations in North and South America.

All Things D

“TVs are ultimately about picture quality. Ultimately. How smart they are…great, but let’s face it that’s a secondary consideration.” – Samsung AV product manager

TechCrunch

And there you have it. Apple HDTV? Whatever.

Of course, one might be reminded of the comment by Palm’s CEO before the Apple iPhone was introduced: “PC guys are not going to just figure [phones] out. They’re not going to just walk in.” Ouch!

What we’re seeing is incumbents falling back on the thing that got them to their position: features. This is feature-led innovation. It’s got its place in the market, but relying only on it puts companies at risk for missing either (i) critical market shifts; or (ii) emerging needs that will drive organic growth.

Divergence between Product Features and Jobs-to-Be-Done

In the graphic below, a typical scenario for feature-led innovation is depicted. What happens is that over time, companies lose touch with where the market moves, with customers’ changing jobs-to-be-done.

When a company “makes it” in the market, it has the features that meet what customers are trying to get done. On the graph above, that’s set as “Time 0”, where features match Job 1. Given this is the ticket to success, a company will of course continue to develop these features. And the people who were looking for Job 1 fulfilled will follow along as the new features are rolled out.

Somewhere along the line, a new job-to-be-done emerges. Call it Job 2. New jobs enter the market all the time, via what Re-Wired Group’s Bob Moesta calls the “push” force. After Job 2, Job 3 emerges. And on and on.

But many companies are never aware of this. There are too many customers. Product is selling. You know your company’s product, and you’ve gotten lots of feedback for improvements. Systems are in place to reward and nudge you further along the path that fulfills Job 1. When they do solicit feedback from customers, it’s all Net Promoter Scores, focus groups for new features, surveys, customer service ticket analysis. Believe me, I really can appreciate how companies get lulled into this cycle of feature-led innovation. Professor Freek Vermeulen of the London Business School calls this the innovation “success trap”.

Meanwhile, customers cast about for ways of fulfilling their new jobs-to-be-done. They improvise. They settle. They experiment. They’re open to new entrants that meet their emerging jobs. And this is how it happens to companies.

Let’s look back at what the Samsung product manager said: “TVs are ultimately about picture quality. Ultimately. How smart they are…great, but let’s face it that’s a secondary consideration.”

Here are three jobs I’d personally like fulfilled that aren’t about picture quality:

Situation Job to Be Done Success Metric
When I turn on my TV I want a set of recommendations
based on my viewing habits
Increased awareness of
shows that interest me
When I want to share a moment I want a link to post to
Facebook or Twitter
Decrease steps it takes to
share on social networks
When I’m watching a sports
event
I want to order food for delivery Decrease time it takes to find
food and place order

The first two of those jobs have emerged based on new technologies in other arenas (recommendation engines, social networks). The third is a tried-and-true job that’s been around forever. Might there be a play to improve that via my TV?

All three of those jobs-to-be-done are divergent from the ongoing focus on picture quality espoused by the incumbent TV leaders.

Parable of Digital Cameras

The feature race of the HDTV manufacturers has a parallel in the digital camera industry. A key feature of digital cameras has been the megapixels. The higher the megapixels, the better the image quality. It has been escalating so much in recent years, Consumer Reports ran a piece wondering when the megapixel arms race would cease.

But in another case of new jobs emerging, lower end digital cameras are seeing their sales decline. Why? As the L.A. times noted in December 2011:

According to a survey by NPD Group, 27% of photos and videos taken this year were shot with smartphones — up from 17% last year.

Wait a minute. Are you telling me that with all that megapixel firepower, we’re gravitating toward phone cameras? What’s wrong with people these days?

Nothing actually. There’s always been the job-to-be-done of capturing moments. It’s just that lugging around a separate camera everywhere you go is a pain. But people want to be connected – talk, messaging, email, surfing – and will gladly carry their phone with them. Which is quite sufficient to fulfill the job of capturing moments. Megapixels be damned. Of course, the megapixels are getting better on smart phones too. Clayton Christensen must be amused by the ongoing disruptive innovation.

Sharp, Samsung…heck, all companies…are you listening? How well do you know the emerging jobs-to-be-done by your customers?

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

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It’s an Innovation Geekfest! AT&T’s Tech Showcase

On Thursday, November 5, I attended the AT&T Technology Showcase in San Francisco. The Tech Showcase presents some of the latest cool inventions coming from AT&T Labs. Imagine a highly professional, well-resourced Maker Faire. AT&T calls the showcase, “The Art of the Possible”, stressing the experimental nature of this stuff.

While I’m not actually a geek, there were some cool things there. And notice the iPhone usage in these inventions.

For easy reference, I’ve included some anchor links below:

iPhone Microprojector

AT&T iPhone microprojectorThis was really cool. It’s a device that lets you broadcast video and images on any surface. You insert your iPhone into the microprojector and point it where you want to display. It uses three-color lasers to display images. With lasers, the image is always in focus, regardless of distance from the display surface.

The inventor stressed the medical uses of it. He showed how a brain scan would look. Doctors can view results on-the-fly, on any surface. This gives them the ability to react much more quickly to medical conditions.

But another guy watching this and I both had the same thought: this would be great for business. Sales presentations held on your iPhone. It also seems like something that work at trade shows.

And how about watching videos through your iPhone? Not on the small iPhone screen, but broadcast on a nearby wall or a screen in the back of a car seat? That would be pretty slick.

iPhone as Voice-Powered TV Remote

For the ultimate in minimizing the steps needed to find a show: the voice-powered TV remote. Here’s how I saw it work:

  • Say something like “basketball this evening”
  • System searches a show schedule for “basketball” instances
  • It’s intelligent enough to understand “evening” as a set of defined hours
  • Serves up a list of programs that match the voice-entered search
  • Pick the one you want, watch or record it

To use this, you need an Internet Protocol (IP) TV. For a demo, see MG Siegler’s YouTube video, taken as part of his TechCrunch coverage:

Ad Hoc Social Networking

Under the research initiative, “Just in Time Mobile Services”, is this wild concept.You ask total strangers to provide you with information about some location in which you’re interested. Here’s a process flow:

Ad Hoc Social Networking process flow

Say there’s some place you want to go to, but it can be hit-or-miss there. Maybe too crowded, not enough people, delay in some event, etc. You reach out this Ad Hoc Social Network. The Network system finds people who are in that location. They agree to answer a question. You check out the ratings for those people, select the one with a sufficient rating. You then ask them about the location. After they give you an answer, you determine whether the answer was good, and rate them.

All of this done anonymously.

Key here are the ratings. Your rely on those with better online reputations. As for incentives to participate, maybe there’s some lessons in foursquare (points, badges, mayors).

Internet Protocol TV

AT&T offers a digital TV content  delivery service called U-verse. It uses Internet Protocol to deliver signals, and competes with Comcast and other cable providers, as well as satellite TV providers. There are some cool experiments developed for U-verse, including a few they aren’t ready to make public.

Here are some of the cool things they’ve done in the Lab for IPTV:

Use iPhone pictures to find programs: The monthly U-verse guide provides information on upcoming programs, including photos from those programs. Use the iPhone to snap a picture of a program. Send it to the application in the  IPTV. The TV matches the picture from the iPhone to a program, and shows a list of upcoming episodes. Record the ones you want.

Twitter: Add a scrolling ticker to the bottom of your screen. You when this would be good? When BIG stories break that capture the nation’s attention. They invariably have # hashtags. Have a running ticker of hashtags across the bottom of your screen while watching live coverage from a new station.

Throw media objects from phone to TV: Say you have a video on your iPhone 3GS. With this app, you simply “throw” it to the IPTV. The video will be loaded to the TV, and begins to play. If you had an IP stereo, this would work for music.

FamilyMap: Want to know where your kids are? This app tracks the signals for your family’s phones, and plots their locations on a map. A FamilyMap. I’m going to remember this for my kids in about a decade.

Telehealth Remote Monitoring

At the World Innovation Forum, futurist Paul Saffo said that sensors are the BIG next technology wave. The telehealth remote monitoring project shows one way this will be true.

At the Technology Showcase, one Labs researcher showed off a sensor that tracks the foot signature of people (“smart slippers”). With four sensors in a slipper, it tracks the unique foot signature of an individual. The sensors will measure the footstrike, and provide data that can identify if something is off. If something is off, family and care providers can be alerted.

AT&T has a vision to develop sensors that can track a number of health related conditions. I took a picture of a poster that gives a high level view of their direction. Notice the age demographic of the couple under “You” to the left of the picture:

AT&T Telehealth Remote Monitoring

This is an area of growth, not just for AT&T, but for the technology industry overall. The New York Times just ran a story about this topic, Watch the Walk and Prevent a Fall. The article noted:

Researchers are beginning to apply the digital tools of low-cost wireless sensors in carpets, clothing and rooms to monitor an older person’s walking and activity. The continuous measurement and greater precision afforded by simple computing devices, researchers say, promise to deliver new insights on risk factors and tailored prevention measures.

If The Graduate were remade today, the man at the graduation party would whisper “sensors” in Dustin Hoffman’s ear.

GeoCasting

Finally, I took in the GeoCast demo. What is GeoCasting? It allows you to communicate between mobile handsets without the need for a cell or data network.

Sort of like an updated version of walkie talkies.

This is essentially a very localized peer-to-peer way of communicating. It relies on sensing nearby phones. The use case demo I saw related to public safety. Imagine there is a disturbance of some type on a college campus. School authorities would have access to a broadcast application, which would localize instructions to students on the campus. If you were inside a building where the disturbance was occurring, you’d get one set of instructions, perhaps telling you the safe way out. If you were on a different part of campus, away from the problem, you’d get instrucitons to stay in your room and lock it down.

GeoCasting is an innovative way to localize information out to mobile handset holders. One could see interesting commercial applications for this, such as retailers sending messages to consumers nearby.

Good stuff coming from the AT&T Labs guys. Look forward to some of this becoming commercial. I may seriously have to get U-verse TV when it becomes available in my neighborhood.

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