Solutions Designed for Important Customer Jobs Fail all the Time
Practical Jobs-to-be-Done Series
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Imagine a scenario - as hard as it might be - where a one or more senior executives come up with an idea, allocate resources to develop a product based on that idea, and direct the marketing and selling teams to get behind it.
This is not hard to imagine because it happens every single day! It's gotten to the point where about 15 years ago we started hearing the term fail fast. This term (and the concept that evolved from it) was supposed to embrace what we were good at while also giving us another group we could belong to that put a happy face on failure while mocking those who were not in the club.
It was a nice distraction from a problem no one was able to solve. Now we can all feel good, right?
In hierarchical organizations, it's extremely difficult to find anyone who is willing to stand up and risk feeding their family. People that rise to the top are commonly not the type of folks who question their own judgement. And often, they've got lots of great ideas. Just ask them. So the thunder of their own egos often squelches ideas from others even when the tell you they have an open door.
But these people don't hold themselves accountable for their failed ideas. You hear "You didn't build it properly" or "You didn't position it properly" - right before they pull the product, blame you, and tell you try the next product...and sometimes an even better version of the one that failed.
While I can make this much more complicated, I'm going to share a very simple way to understand why it's not OK to ask customers about current solutions, and even less OK to rely solely on their perception of the importance of that solution (there's a trick in that statement!). If you aren't armed with data, you're going to lose. Data is your only hope with “the big guy.”
In order to protect confidential information, I am going to use a made up story about a very innovative company who brought to market a solution that made it so much easier to listen to music in so many contexts. This weird CEO who liked to wear black turtlenecks told the world the product was equivalent to having 10,000 songs in your pocket. It took the world by storm! Let's call the product iPod for lack of a better term.
Not to sit idly by, a competitor - one known for software - decided that the world was so in love with this physical product that the competitor couldn't possibly fulfill all of the demand. So, they decided to jump into the hardware game because a) they have the resources, b) they don't like to pass up on great opportunities and c) these things run on software, which they were experts at.
They calculated the size of the market by the number of units sold times the price (like we all do, right?). Then they calculated the projected growth rate of the market by plugging a number into a spreadsheet (they make those!) and also the percentage they figured they could steal from the iPod customer base simply because they would have even more features while being competitive on price. [deep breath] On top of that, the marketing department named it with purpose so it would be clear what the product did. Let's say they named it Zune.
OK, the product flopped. But I’ll share one simple way they could have seen in this in advance by using forward-looking data. This technique does not require a deep study. Marketing would have done it wrong anyway because they like to look backwards for some reason.
Identify the underlying job that the product is hired to enable. Many of your focus on the product, which could have been the iPod, or if performed a few years earlier it might have been focused on MP3 players or CD players, etc. But we want to focus on the organic market, which is comprised of a group of people trying to get a job done (the underlying goal when hiring a product). In this case the group is "music enthusiasts" and the Job is “listening to music.” Putting it all together:
Music Enthusiasts who Listen to Music
How hard is that?
In a survey that statistically represents the overall population of music enthusiasts, ask:
How important is it that you are able to listen to music? Use a 5 point Likert scale for the responses
Not at all Important
Given your current solution(s) how satisfied are you with your ability to listen to music?
Not at all Satisfied
Note that we didn't ask them how important it was that they had an iPod, and how satisfied they were with their iPod. While that may have gotten the same results, what it wouldn't have done is find where consumers struggle with the underlying goal of listening to music.
Once we get the data back from our survey we can take a look at how this lays out. No algorithms are necessary as we're just going to take a look at a simple matrix view where we spread importance along the x-axis and satisfaction along the y-axis with the percentage of respondents as values. Here's what it looks like:
You'll note that 56% of the market (green dotted box) says that being able to listen to music is very or extremely important. It jumps to 76% if we include important. But we're going to stick with the top-two-box results just as we do in the deeper type of studies of market opportunity.
You've probably already skipped ahead and noticed the red dotted box. What this tells us is that while 56% of the market says listening to music is very or extremely important, only 4% are unsatisfied with their ability to do so. That's a tough nut to crack, and very little reward. Keep in mind, this data does not depict iPod users, it represents all music enthusiasts regardless of solution. It looks at real markets.
If the Zune team only relied on how exciting this market looked and didn't really gauge satisfaction, they would be lured into a false sense of opportunity...and they were.
Having said all of this, we all know now that there was still opportunity in this market, right? Simply rating the job is misleading in that it doesn't go down deep enough to understand what that market really needs to accomplish before and after the listening part in order to be even more successful. Clearly, iPod tapped into some of that (it got more of the job done), but did they really know what that was?
Probably not, but Pandora did. Or maybe they got lucky too.
While this simple research could have given the Zune team pause before they built anything, that pause could have lead to a deeper exploration of the job to see if there was more opportunity left to exploit. They should've done this before diving in and creating a product that got the job done exactly the same way the iPod did - and with more features! Instead, a disruptive product that got the job done differently and with fewer features beat them all. That could've been the Zune team, but it wasn't.
Do you wonder how the Pandora team did that? I don't. I'm sure they guessed, and I haven't seen much innovation from them since. At least the iPod team disrupted themselves with the iPhone, which got a lot more jobs done than just listening to music. That was probably the better play anyway. We can talk about that some other time
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