How to think rigorously about innovation
Innovation is tricky. Failure rates are high, often in the order of 90%. We have already learned a lot about the most effective approaches from Amazon’s PR / FAQs and Curt Carlson’s NABC developed by SRI International.
Another interesting contribution comes from the book 2016, Work to be done: from theory to practice by Anthony Ulwick. I hadn’t paid too much attention to writing the “homework” after reading Christensen’s book, The innovator’s dilemma (2003), which became lyrical on the work to be done by a McDonald’s milkshake. To me, as a term, “Job-To-Be-Done” is clunky and lacks the thrill of making real innovation a reality. But on second thought, I can now see that Ulwick’s book is interesting, especially if you translate “work to be done” to “function” and start to think systematically about the components of innovation.
Ulwick rigorously divides the potential “need” of the client into (a) function (s), that is, the job to be done, and (b) the desired results in relation to those functions.
The functions can be:
The main function
Emotional and social functions
Functions related to the purchasing and consumption chain
From there, we can measure the results perceived by users and buyers related to these different functions.
“A job to do,” explains Ulwick, “describes the overall job the client is trying to perform; an outcome is a metric that the customer uses to measure success and value when performing a job. For each functional and consumption chain task, there is a set of 50 or more desired outcome statements. For complex environments, such as in healthcare, there can be hundreds of different possible outcomes, with different segments of clients and users having different views on importance and success.
Ulwick’s book offers a “framework of the needs of the work to be done” which reveals the complexity of understanding all the needs of a market.
By rigorously distinguishing between functions and results, it becomes possible to question customers both on the results they perceive of a product and on the importance of each result. Surveys generally show considerable variation between clients. Some needs are underserved while others are over-served, that is, they are not important to these customers. Yet there are also surprising overlaps: Some large companies have the same priority over a particular outcome as a small company.
Ulwick also notes that the production company staff often have an incomplete understanding of how their customers value the various outcomes of the products and services offered by their company. Only by systematically interviewing customers can businesses find out what’s really going on. This in itself is a vital idea.
Ulwick also makes some interesting remarks about functions and results when defined this way.
· First, a function, or Job-To-Be-Done, is stable; “It doesn’t change over time. It’s the delivery vehicle or the technology that changes. Take the music industry, for example. Over the years, people have used many products to help them “listen to music”. (the work to be done). This basic function does not change.
· Second, “a professional function has no geographic boundaries”. Listening to music is the same job at Stanford as in Uzbekistan. It can be evaluated differently but the function is the same.
· Third, “a job to do is independent of the solution. Job-to-be-Done doesn’t care whether your business provides product, software, or service offerings. The work itself has no limits of solution.
Ulwick offers compelling examples, especially for products that already exist. Where products don’t exist yet, it’s obviously less easy to survey (potential) customers, as they may not even know what you’re talking about or how the end product will feel in real life. Ulwick gives an example (Bosch) where the company used the methodology to enter a market where the company was not already active.
But even in new areas, it seems possible that a more rigorous distinction between functions and outcomes, and the two in detail, could help solve the perennial problem of clarifying the distinction between what customers say they want and what they don’t. customers actually need it.
Ulwick’s approach also offers the possibility of quantifying needs and wants in a rigorous way. To innovate without data, he says, is to “fly blind”. He claims an 86% success rate for his approach. It seems to be related to innovation with existing products, not with completely new products.
Ulwick’s work on innovation scores highly on Results-driven innovation on Wikipedia. There are also two interesting conversations between Ulwick and Columbia, professor and innovation guru Rita Gunther McGrath, here and here. Worth the detour.
And read also:
How Amazon became agile
Curt Carlson’s NABC: Innovation for Impact