“What’s the biggest new product development mistake you see companies make?” a client recently asked me.
I immediately said, “Creating something that does not solve an urgent and expensive customer problem.”
It’s true. Sometimes it happens when we fall in love with a new technology, jump to developing a product that leverages the technology and then end up creating a “solution in search of a problem.”
Other times, we might develop a new product to copy a competitor without pausing to ask if the competitor is successfully meeting an urgent and expensive customer problem.
Or, maybe, our product team thinks they have identified an urgent and expensive customer problem. But it’s really only a frequently cited problem. Or it is a symptom, not the root cause, of the problem.
In all of these cases, we waste money developing and launching new products that customers won't buy.
Here are a few tips for avoiding this mistake.
1. Appreciate the difference between frequently cited problems and expensive and urgent problems.
Clayton Christensen’s advice to design products that solve customers’ “jobs-to-be-done” is frequently cited among product innovation professionals. He suggests looking for “…poorly performed ‘jobs’ in customers’ lives-and then design[ing] products, experiences, and processes around those jobs.”
However, we think finding a “job-to-be-done” is not enough. We encourage our clients to find an urgent and expensive job-to-be-done to solve. We need to understand the difference between a minor annoyance or a real pain point. The difference between something that will "improve people's moods but not their lives.”
For example, we recently conducted Voice of the Customer interviews for a client. Many of the customers we spoke with cited feeling lonely while on out-of-town work assignments as a problem they faced. However, as we dug deeper, we realized that this problem was not as painful as other problems, such as job assignment uncertainty or better temporary housing options. We recommended focusing innovation efforts on solving those problems first and think about addressing loneliness later.
Cindy Alvarez, author of Lean Customer Development, has some great tips for asking the right questions in customer interviews that can help us understand how urgent and expensive a customer problem is. Here is some of her advice that I love:
Keep in mind that urgent and expensive problems are frustrating enough that people do more than complain about them. They are prepared to do something about the issue, such as paying for a service or switching providers.
2. Don’t confuse the current solution with the problem.
Consider this oft-cited example from Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt: A potential customer needs a hole in their wall to hang a painting. The current solution to that problem is a drill. We might be tempted to create a better drill. But, if we take a step back to reconsider the problem, which is: “I need a hole in my wall,” we could design an entirely new way to create better holes in walls. As Levitt said, put it, "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!"
Mobility, getting from point A to point B, is similar. When cars were invented, people stopped buying horses and buggies. It no longer mattered how fast the horse or how good the buggy, people wanted cars instead. The customer problem was mobility, not slow horses. Car companies are facing a similar market distribution felt by the horse and buggy companies. The urgent and expensive problem that cars solve is getting from point A to point B. Enter Uber and Lyft, who innovatively solve that problem.
One way to do this is to understand the root cause of the problem. To uncover the root cause, we like the five whys method. It was developed by Japanese inventor and industrialist, Sakichi Toyoda, to provide a better understanding of any problem and uncover its solution. It’s a simple process that involves asking the question “why” enough times that you get past symptoms of a problem to the root cause.
The point is not to stay anchored to a particular solution or ‘surface-level’ problem. When we identify the underlying customer problem, it opens the door for game-changing innovation.
3. Design real-life tests for your hypotheses, don't just ask questions.
Once we’ve found a problem that seems worth solving, we need to be sure. That means developing a hypothesis and testing it. A testable hypothesis should state the problem and what we expect our solution will do. For example:
To test the hypotheses thoroughly, we need to go beyond just asking customers and run live tests. This is important because:
There are a range of techniques for market testing that are fast and thorough, such as selling a product before it exists (think: Kickstarter), or building and launching your MVP (a.k.a. send a product with as few features as possible to market). Each of these approaches allows us to see whether customers will buy your product and test different feature sets of the product that entice them to or deter them from buying.
At Vecteris, we specialize in helping B2B companies successfully design and manage innovations. Our Innovations Insights service ensures your new products address urgent and expensive customer problems. Using techniques adapted from the Design Sprint process, our service includes:
Please contact me to walk you through our different Innovation Insights offerings!
I am sure you would agree, technology has changed drastically since most of us were in school, probably, even, since most of us took the jobs we are in today. Yet, despite how true this may be, the data says we aren't doing enough to help ourselves, our employees, and our organizations adapt to these changes.
According to a recent survey by Gartner, 70% of employees report that they don’t have mastery of the skills needed to do their jobs. And 52% believe they need upskilling as a result of digitalization.
We can’t afford to let our knowledge and skills stagnate. Top performing companies know this. A survey by IBM found that 84% of employees in the best performing organizations receive the training they need, compared to just 16% in the worst-performing organizations.
Classroom-based, instructor-led training, while still valuable, cannot keep pace with today’s technology-driven training needs. Science has deepened our understanding of how people learn—and we how can leverage technology to do it.
Learning Product Services
Vecteris has launched our Learning Product Services to help our clients in the learning & development space develop the products they first came to us to create the product strategy for. Here’s a brief overview of the kind of learning product services we are recommending to our clients today.
Mobile & Social eLearning
We are tethered to our smartphones for socialization, business, and entertainment. Why not use it for education? Mobile learning solutions put learning into the hands of learners, allowing them to access the content at any time and in any place. It fulfills our expectations for on-demand services. Learning providers can offer their users “just-in-time and just-for-me” training. Think LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, or Smartly (the mobile MBA), who all provide off-the-shelf eLearning courses. Similarly, our mobile and social eLearning solutions give you the power to customize content and curriculum to meet the unmet needs of your learners.
Microlearning is also an eLearning solution, but it’s taken in tiny chunks (typically, less than 5 minutes long). If you come from a more traditional learning background that required 15-week long semesters and $400 in textbooks, you might be inclined to dismiss microlearning as the lazy way out or consider it sub-par in some way. But, a 2015 study out of Germany shows that learners who received smaller bits of content took less time to answer test questions while still performing better. Bottom line: microlearning is less time-consuming and less expensive than regular eLearning. It is also more engaging and results in higher information retention.
Instructor/Virtual Instructor-led Training
As much as eLearning has to offer, some things are better learned with a guide. That’s why we also help organizations create rich, customized content that reflects their brand within a structured curriculum. Content can be delivered in person or virtually.
Virtual instructor-led training can involve scheduled courses on video conference platforms like Zoom, or through online classrooms with pre-recorded content and discussion board. This type of training allows the instructor and learner to engage from anywhere in the world.
We are excited about this work. We’ve bought on a team of seasoned instructional design and learning product development experts who have opened up a whole world of learning opportunities.
Professional training no longer requires taking people away from work thanks to an innovative new approach — workflow-enabled learning. At the most basic level, workflow-enabled learning is a training strategy that empowers your team by incorporating “learning” into their daily “workflow” with convenient and intuitive online tools that help them address job challenges in real-time. The result is greatly expedited task completion. Tracy Cyr VP of Learning at Ariel and our CEO Eisha Tierney Armstrong's were recently featured in Training Industry Magazine. Learn about how their experience with workflow-enabled learning empowering teams to increase productivity. http://bit.ly/37g26Ds
So, how’s your organization meeting the training needs of your employees or customer-base? To help our client’s kick-off 2020 strong, we are offering a limited number of “Learn to Learn” Coaching Sessions. If you are interested in talking to one of our experts on how you can use learning to support your product development send me a quick note.