Competing Against Luck

A Step-By-Step Guide to Using Clay Christensen’s Competing Against Luck and Jobs Theory to Launch Great Products, Part 2: Answering The Right Question

unmet-needs-whiteboard

This is Part 2 of two-part series explaining thrv’s process for executing Jobs Theory. Part 1 is about customer research you can do to define the right question that will drive your product development. This part is about answering that question.

If you’ve read Part 1 of this series, you know about the first 5 steps to executing Jobs Theory:

  1. Define your customer’s jobs: functional, emotional, and consumption
  2. Identify all of the unmet needs in your customer’s jobs
  3. Find the unmet needs
  4. Segment your customers
  5. Identify competitor weaknesses

This work leads to defining your question:

What can you do to serve your customer’s unmet needs in the job better than the existing solutions?

The next step is to generate great product ideas that answer this question.

Step 6: Generate Ideas
You might have noticed something: in all the steps so far we haven’t had any ideas. The traditional innovation process usually starts with product or solution ideas. An ideas-first process is fundamentally flawed because the goal of innovation is not to generate more ideas, it is to satisfy customer needs better than the existing solutions. Jobs Theory enables you to build a needs-first innovation process.

When I was a product manager at Microsoft in the 1990s, we had a “brainstorming” room where our team would go to spitball new ideas. Anything went. As you probably know, the only rule in brainstorming is “there are no bad ideas.” This was (and is) absurd. There is a nearly infinite supply of bad ideas.

When executing Jobs Theory, you don’t need to “brainstorm” because you have clear criteria to judge product ideas: the unmet customer needs in the job.

When you get your team together to generate ideas, start by writing an unmet need on the whiteboard. Then, ask the room: “What can we do to serve this need?”

It’s still helpful for your team to think out of the box–perhaps your product is a website but a chatbot would serve the need much faster–but now, because you are answering a specific, measurable question, you know whether to keep the idea or move on.

If surgeons were your customers and you wanted to help them “restore artery blood flow,” you’d ask about the unmet need, “Does the idea help surgeons reduce the likelihood of restenosis?”

If drivers were your customer and you wanted to help them “get to a destination on time,” you’d ask “Does the idea help drivers reduce the time it takes to determine if an alternative route should be taken?”

If the ideas don’t satisfy the needs, quickly move onto the next idea. If they do meet the needs, keep them on the list.

Push the team to build on the ideas and achieve step function improvements over the existing solutions. Don’t let them be boxed in by the limitations of your existing product. The sky is the limit. Later, you can plan your roadmap to get there, step-by-step.

Now that you have a list of ideas that serve the unmet customer need, measure how well they do it–how much they improve the probability of achieving the goal as stated in the need.

Stack rank the ideas based on how much more reliably or faster they meet the needs than the existing solutions. If you see an idea that produces a step function improvement–reduces the time from days to hours, minutes to seconds, etc.–you may be sitting on a gold mine.

Jobs theory enables more efficient, precise, and relevant idea generation. Not only can you ensure all the ideas are relevant, but you can see if they are good enough.

Step 7: Price your product.
Pricing typically uses a combination of inputs, including the cost to make the product (or deliver the service), perceived value, and the price of substitute products in the market. Using this last input can be a fatal mistake for both pricing and market sizing.

To know why, you need to understand a pitfall of traditional market sizing: products and technologies come and go.

Traditional market sizing is based on variations of the following equation: the market = product price * the number of units sold. For example, in 2007 the iPod market was huge ($150 * 200 million iPods sold = $30 billion). Microsoft thought this was a big market and launched the Zune, an iPod competitor.

This is what the iPod market looked like at the end of 2011.

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The “market” (defined by a product) went away, which means that Microsoft was looking to take a share of virtually nothing. But, of course, the true market, the customer’s job-to-be-done, didn’t go away. The iPod may have gone away, but people didn’t stop executing the job.

Jobs Theory’s definition of a market explains what happened.

There is no such thing as the “iPod” market. Customers don’t want iPods anymore than they want records, cassettes, or CDs. What they want is to get a job done, i.e. create a mood with music.

“Price * units sold” is a flawed definition of a market because it can disappear from right under your feet. Defining the market based on the customer’s job-to-be-done is much more helpful because the job will exist forever and therefore, the market will too.

To execute market sizing with Jobs Theory, you can look at the willingness to pay to get the job done. Willingness to pay can be measured by asking job executors (and if necessary purchase decision makers) how much it is worth to them to get the job done perfectly. The resulting data can be plotted (from high to low) on a line against the number of job executors. We call this a “need curve.”

The area under the curve is the total market size. It will also identify the prices that will place your product at the high end of the market, the low end, or somewhere in between.

In Competing Against Luck, Clay Christensen says, “The reason why we are willing to pay premium prices for a product that nails the job is because the full cost of a product that fails to do the job — wasted time, frustration, spending money on poor situations, and so on — is significant to us.”

By looking at the willingness to pay to get the job done, you can price your product to target the part of the market that will be the most profitable, and you can measure how lucrative that market will be over time, without the risk of it going away.

Step 8: Create messaging and positioning.
Positioning a product in a market and creating messaging that will resonate with customers is quicker and easier using the job-to-be-done and its customer needs.

When messaging misses the mark, it is usually because the message is focused on the product and its features. For example, Magellan messaged to potential customers that its RoadMate product has a “Wide-Angle Lens” and a “G-shock Sensor,” both sophisticated technologies.

But how does a Wide-Angle Lens or a G-shock Sensor help a driver get to a destination on time? What need is it satisfying? If messaging describes the product features or technology, the customer has to figure out on their own how (and if) the features help them get the job done better.

Messaging based on satisfying the job-to-be-done is easier for customers to understand. And because the needs in the job-to-be-done are prioritized based on importance and satisfaction, you can create messages based on the most underserved customer needs in your market.

Step 9: Plan your roadmap.

“Jobs Theory enables innovators to make the myriad, detailed tradeoffs in terms of which benefits are essential and which are extraneous to a new offering.”

–Clay Christensen, Competing Against Luck

The unmet needs in the job-to-be-done are your basis for making smart tradeoffs. Each job typically has about 100 customer needs. You can prioritize the needs by calculating the difference between the importance and satisfaction scores. The needs with higher importance and lower satisfaction are top priority. When you’re choosing which product features to build now and which to postpone–making tradeoffs–you choose the features that meet the top priority needs.

The same mindset can be used to plan your road map. A great road map will balance cost, today’s impact, and tomorrow’s promise. During your idea generation, you may have come up with some brilliant ideas that will take a long time to build or be very expensive to execute. This doesn’t mean you should ditch them. You just need to figure out how to increment your way to the brilliant idea while meeting customer needs better and better along the way.

This is step 1 of your road map planning: Determine the incremental improvements that will take you from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow, getting the whole job done faster and more reliably than the existing solutions. Step 2 is to determine which of those incremental improvements to tackle first. The criteria for this prioritization is the extent to which the improvements serve unmet needs. You prioritize the work that tackles the most important and least satisfied needs.

Without good customer metrics, such as needs in the job-to-be-done, companies often prioritize their roadmap based on a flimsy projection of business impact, the charisma of people lobbying for the features they like, and the “HiPPO” (the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). All of these methods are subjective and/or based on unreliable premises.

Your product roadmap (and your tradeoffs) should not be prioritized by your team. They should be prioritized by your customer’s unmet needs in the job.

Step 10: Mitigate your risk.
Understanding what causes a customer to purchase (“hire”) a product can help you mitigate product development risk.

Competing Against Luck points out, “In 2015… one thousand publicly held companies spent $680 billion on research and development alone.” And yet, “Most people would agree that the vast majority of innovations fall far short of ambitions, a fact that has remained unchanged for decades.”

Once a product enters development, companies spend an enormous amount of capital, time, and resources on building, marketing, and selling the product. Jobs theory can help you avoid product failure and ensure the roadmap will generate the revenue and profit growth needed to justify the investment.

Failure occurs when a product does not create customer value in a market. What is “customer value?”

Customer value is a measure of the difference of customer satisfaction with getting the job done between your solution and the existing solutions. Since the goal is to satisfy customer needs and needs are metrics related to speed and accuracy, you can compare the speed and accuracy of getting the job done with your solution vs. a competitive solution. That difference is the customer value you’ve created.

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Market opportunities exist because a person is struggling to get the functional job done. Improving the speed and accuracy of getting the job done reduces struggle and anxiety, which increases customer satisfaction and the likelihood they will hire your product.

This means you can measure the value of an idea even before you build it. Consider how much faster and more accurately your idea will meet the needs in the job if your idea is executed perfectly. Compare that to the baseline–the current satisfaction levels with each need in the job. You now know if the idea adds value to the market, so you’ve mitigated the risk of your idea. You still have execution risk, but your situation is a lot better than the risk of executing perfectly on an idea that does not add value in your market.

Step 11: Accelerate your growth.
Steps 1 through 10 are all the preparation steps to launching your product and accelerating your revenue growth. Jobs theory gives you a different lens through which to view your market, your customer, and your competition. It gives you powerful, metric-driven, customer-centric techniques to identify unmet needs and competitor weaknesses. And it gives you the tools to generate great product ideas that customers will pay for and to create messages that will resonate with customers.

Jobs theory is not easy to practice, but it is extremely effective if you make the organizational changes required to execute it well. As Clay writes, “Organizations typically structure themselves around function or business unit or geography — but successful growth companies optimized around the job. Competitive advantage is conferred through an organization’s unique processes: the ways it integrates across functions to perform the customer’s job.”

If you are interested in learning more about jobs-to-be-done techniques that you can use at your company, feel free to contact me directly.

A Step-By-Step Guide to Using Clay Christensen’s Competing Against Luck and Jobs Theory to Launch Great Products, Part 1: How to Ask The Right Question

Concept business illustration.

This is a two part series explaining thrv’s process for executing Jobs Theory. Part 1: How to Ask The Right Question is about defining your customer’s job, identifying unmet needs, and analyzing competition. Part 2: Answering The Right Question is about how to build a high-growth roadmap using Jobs Theory.

Throughout my 25-year career as a Private Equity investor, as a CEO of two Silicon Valley startups backed by A-list VCs, and as a Product Manager at Microsoft, I consistently ran into the same mission critical problem: no one knew how to predict revenue growth.

It was easy to predict our costs because we controlled them. However, we struggled to predict our revenue growth because we didn’t know what caused people to buy our products. Without understanding purchasing causes, we couldn’t accurately predict how changes to our products would accelerate our revenue growth.

Ten years ago, I found the solution to my problem in Jobs-to-be-Done innovation theory (aka Jobs Theory), the subject of Clay Christensen’s new book, Competing Against Luck. The central idea behind Jobs Theory is, “your customers are not buying your products, they are hiring them to get a job done.”

If you understand what that job is, you can identify what causes customers to hire your products. As a result, you can make improvements to your products that will get the job done better. This is the key to mitigating investment risk and forecasting revenue accurately.

In the book, Clay states, “a job has an inherent complexity to it: it not only has functional dimensions, but it has social and emotional dimensions too.” This is why “in practice, seeing a job clearly and fully characterizing it can be tricky.”

After a decade of practicing Jobs Theory with companies ranging from $50 million to $50 billion in revenue, I couldn’t agree more with Clay. Identifying the job your customers are hiring your product to do is very difficult. Yet for the companies I’ve worked with, it has been the difference between declining or accelerating revenue growth.

Competing Against Luck is a deep exploration of Jobs Theory, but Clay is clear about “not attempting to be comprehensive or provide a step-by-step manual.”

In my time working with Jobs Theory, I learned that companies need a step-by-step process to turn the theory into high-growth products. That’s why I started thrv — to provide training, services, and software that enable executives and product teams to execute Jobs Theory successfully.

For those of you wondering how to use Jobs Theory to launch great products, here’s a step-by-step guide (in two parts) that maps a decade of practice to the theory in Competing Against Luck.

Step 1: Define your customer’s jobs.
In Competing Against Luck, Clay and his fellow authors suggest:

…define a job as the progress that a person is trying to make in a particular circumstance…a job has an inherent complexity to it: it not only has functional dimensions, but it has social and emotional dimensions too.

Rather than combine the functional, social, and emotional dimensions into one complex job statement, in practice I’ve found it easier to separate jobs into three different types:

  • Functional Jobs
  • Emotional Jobs
  • Consumption Jobs

Let’s look at each.

Functional Jobs
A functional job is the core task or goal that a customer is trying to accomplish.

The key is to define the task or goal independently from any product, service or technology.

As Clay says, “we don’t ‘create’ jobs, we discover them.”

“Creating a playlist on Spotify” is not a job because it includes a product (Spotify) and a solution (creating a playlist).

The question is: why do people create a playlist on Spotify? One answer is to “create a mood with music.” This is a more useful articulation of the functional job.

All products evolve and fade away over time. In order to execute the job of creating a mood with music, consumers have “hired” a huge range of products: piano rolls, Victrolas, LPs, eight-track tapes, reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes, CDs, MP3 players, and streaming apps. If you define the job with reference to the technologies consumers have used, you will be trying to hit a moving target. But, the job of creating a mood with music has never changed and will never change. This gives you a stable target for your business. Jobs Theory holds true in B2B and medical markets as we will demonstrate below.


Photo by Gillo Pontebraga – CC BY

According to Clay, “the circumstance is fundamental to defining the job (and finding a solution for it), because the nature of the progress desired will always be strongly influenced by the circumstance.”

At thrv, we state this a little differently, but the concept is the same: who is the job executor?

For example, is the job executor a consumer, a driver, a traveler, a parent, a surgeon, a nurse, a patient, a salesperson, a small business owner, a CIO, a technical architect, a database administrator, an engineer?

A single person can, of course, be multiple job executors (i.e. a driver, a parent, a patient, and an engineer) all in the same day. In Clay’s words, a person can find themselves in different “circumstances.”

The job executor is your core customer. The market exists because they are trying to execute a job-to-be-done.

While the job executor does not always make the purchase decision (e.g. a procurement officer or a hospital administrator can influence a purchase), your market exists because someone is trying to execute the core functional job. There would be no reason to purchase a solution if no one were trying to execute the functional job.

At the end of Competing Against Luck, Clay writes, “Defining the job at the right level of abstraction is critical to ensuring that the theory is useful.” This is a key step in the process.

We use three techniques to get to the “right level of abstraction.”

Focus on why in customer interviews. Ask your customers why they use a certain product. Why does a salesperson use CRM software? Why does a patient use a step-tracking app? CRM software and health apps are solutions and thus not jobs. Asking why will remove the product (which is ever-changing) from the equation and uncover the job (which is stable).

Use the Wake Up in the Morning Test. When your job executor wakes up in the morning, do they think, “I have to get this job done today”? Do salespeople wake up wondering how they will acquire customers? Do parents wake up wondering how to instill a behavior in a child? If yes, ask a helpful follow-up, “Did people waking up 100 years ago also need to do get this job done?” If not, you likely have included a solution in your job statement and you do not have a stable target for a long-lasting business.

Use Active, Goal-Driven Job Verbs. Clay writes, “a well-defined job-to-be-done is expressed in verbs and nouns.” But, what kind of verbs? Certain verbs, like “manage,” are not helpful in defining a job. For example, “manage lead data” is not a job for a salesperson because it is not the goal (i.e. it is at the wrong level of abstraction). Why does a salesperson want to manage lead data? To acquire customers. Acquire customers is the goal and thus a more useful level of abstraction. Good job verbs are active and goal-driven, such as: determine, understand, learn, acquire, enable, ensure, optimize, create, teach, instill, develop, buy, sell, obtain, identify, detect, mitigate, diagnose, treat, cure, prevent.

Emotional Jobs
We look at emotional jobs separate from the core functional job. This makes it easier to identify the emotions a job executor is experiencing when doing the job and ensures that we don’t neglect the functional job. Emotional jobs are important, but if you don’t get the functional job done, eventually your customer’s negative feelings will take over and they will fire your product.

Emotional jobs come in two flavors: personal and social.

A personal-emotional job is how you want to feel and avoid feeling when executing a job. For example, when getting to a destination on time, drivers want to feel calm and confident that they will arrive on time. They want to avoid feeling anxious about being late.

A social-emotional job is how the job executor wants to be perceived (and avoid being perceived) by others. For example, an IT professional wants to be perceived as valuable to the organization when optimizing a network. A surgeon wants to avoid being perceived as unsympathetic by patients when restoring artery blood flow.

Emotional jobs matter because if two products get the functional job done equally well, customers will choose the one that makes them feel better. For instance, if two different 401k services produce the same rate of return, they get the functional job done equally well. But, if one service hides the day-to-day data, it will make me anxious. I will choose the one that makes the health of my fund more transparent, relieving my anxiety. As Clay writes, “Overcoming customer anxieties is a very big deal.”

Consumption Jobs
Consumption jobs are the tasks required to use a solution. Purchase, install, learn to use, interface, maintain, repair, and dispose are all consumption jobs that relate to using a solution.

In the book, Clay doesn’t use the same language to discuss Consumption Jobs, but when he talks about “experiences,” he often includes Consumption Jobs.

One example from the book is how American Girl dolls were never sold in traditional toy stores but only in catalogues and then in American Girl stores. The stores in particular turned purchasing a doll (a consumption job) into a special event between a parent and their child. By tightly controlling their sales channels, American Girl improved on the purchase job. It’s a great example of how improving consumption jobs can contribute to the whole experience of getting the job done with a product.

Step 2: Identify all the needs in your customer’s job.
Knowing the customers functional, emotional and consumption jobs is just the start to practicing jobs theory. As Clay states, a product “designed without a clear job spec, even the most advanced products are likely to fail.” But, what is a “job spec”?

In our view, a job spec should include all the criteria a customer uses to judge if she can execute the job successfully. We call these criteria the customer needs, and they are metrics. As Clay writes, “A powerful lever to drive job-centric process development and integration is to measure and manage to new metrics aligned with nailing the customer’s job.”

So how do we identify all the needs (the “new metrics”) in your customer’s job? First, let’s define a customer need in more detail.

We know that all job executors want to execute the job “perfectly,” in Clay’s words. In our view, this means they want to execute it as fast as possible without any errors and without it going off track–quickly and accurately.

The good news is that speed and accuracy in a functional job can be measured, so we use “time” and “likelihood” as the main metrics to define customer needs in a job.

When drivers are trying to get to a destination on time, they need to reduce the time it takes to determine if an alternative route should be taken due to traffic. When surgeons are restoring artery blood flow, they need to reduce the likelihood of restenosis. When CIOs are enabling secure data use, they need to reduce the time it takes to determine the referential integrity of the data. When consumers are trying to create a mood with music, they need to reduce the likelihood that a song disturbs the mood.

We always structure customer needs the same way. They have a direction (reduce), a metric (time or likelihood), and a goal (e.g. an alternative route, restenosis). This structure makes needs measurable and consistent so you can align your team around objective goals.

Competing Against Luck uses the example of Southern New Hampshire University, who focused on the job of “providing [adult learners] with credentials that would improve their professional prospects as quickly and efficiently as possible.” Re-focusing on this job generated explosive growth for SNHU.

One way SNHU improved their performance on this job was by responding to financial aid inquiries within 10 minutes instead of 24 hours.

This demonstrates how you can define the needs in the job as metrics customers use to judge how quickly and accurately they can get the job done. We would define the job of SNHU’s customers as adult learners (the job executors) obtaining credentials to improve their professional prospects (the job-to-be-done).

Instead of framing the problem generically as adult learners who want to execute this job “as quickly and efficiently as possible,” we would identify all the needs in the job and structure them with a direction (reduce), a metric (time or likelihood), and a goal (e.g. obtain financial aid).

This gives us more detail about what “quickly and efficiently” actually means to the job executors.

Responding to financial aid inquiries within 10 minutes reduces the time it takes to determine if you can obtain financial aid. This is just one need in the job, but every job-to-be-done has about 100 customer needs (metrics). Your job spec should include all of these needs to get a full picture of the job.

This need structure is useful throughout the process. It helps you identify unmet needs, find competitor weaknesses, generate the best product ideas, and mitigate risk in your product road map.

Step 3: Find the unmet needs in your customer’s job.
“The Theory of Jobs to Be Done…focuses on deeply understanding your customers’ struggle for progress and then creating the right solution…”

Finding unmet needs is how you precisely articulate and quantify your customers’ struggles. A need is unmet if it has high importance but low customer satisfaction. It indicates that the job executor wants something to happen quickly or accurately but is not able to make it happen with their current solution. They are primed to switch to a new solution that meets the need.

We uncover the unmet needs with a survey that asks job executors to rate each need in the job for importance and satisfaction.

Identifying unmet needs also helps you empathize with your customers.

For example, Apple and Google Map did not help drivers “reduce the time it takes to determine an alternate route.”

You can picture this.

Imagine you are driving to a job interview and traffic on the highway comes to a complete stop. It’s not rush hour so this is a total surprise. What do you do? Do you get off and try to go a different way? How long is the traffic jam? Maybe a traffic report will come on the radio soon, but your anxiety increases with every passing minute.

Before Waze, you had no way to quickly determine if you should take an alternate route.

Waze built a business that Google bought for $1.3 billion by serving this unmet need in the job of getting to a destination on time. Waze’s app did this better than Google Maps, Apple Maps, and the radio. As a result users switched, and Waze experienced exponential growth.

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Step 4: Segment your customers.
Marketing 101 teaches us to identify a target customer. With Jobs-to-be-Done, our target is the job executors with the most unmet needs. They are the most underserved customers and therefore the segment who is most likely to buy (“hire”) your product to get the job done.

How is this different from traditional segmentation?

Clay writes, “Here I am, Clayton Christensen. I’m sixty-four years old. I’m six feet eight inches tall. My shoe size is sixteen. My wife and I have sent all our children off to college. I live in a suburb of Boston and drive a Honda minivan to work. I have a lot of other characteristics and attributes. But these characteristics have not yet caused me to go out and buy the New York Times today.”

Clay captures the essential flaw in traditional segmentation: demographics and psychographics do not cause purchases.

Age, shoe size, zip code, purchase history, etc. are all examples of characteristics that companies traditionally use to segment customers. This is also true in B2B markets, where companies segment customers by industry classification, number of employees, revenue, etc.

Here is a thought experiment to prove the point that demographics are not the most useful means of segmentation. Could an elderly rural woman who drives an economy car and an urban young man who drives a luxury sports car both struggle to get to a destination on time in the same way? In other words, could they have the same unmet needs in the job?

The answer, of course, is yes. But these two people (or “personas”) would never be grouped together in traditional segmentation and so a large portion of the market would be missed.

To execute Jobs Theory, we find customers who rate the same needs as important and unsatisfied and group them together. These are the people most likely to buy your product if it gets the job done better, regardless of their personas. They have the highest levels of frustration and anxiety when executing the job and are likely looking for a new solution.

Step 5: Identify your competitors’ weaknesses.
Once you have identified the job, found the unmet needs in the job, and segmented your customers, it’s time to identify your competitor’s weaknesses.

In every market there are multiple competitors, but they might not be who you expect. As Clay writes, “the competitive field is likely completely different from what you might have imagined.”

Did you ever think that Facebook is competing with cigarettes?

A smoker taking a break is not just seeking nicotine. Nicotine is a solution to a job. The underlying job is to relax.

As Clay writes, “From this perspective, people hire Facebook for many of the same reasons. They log into Facebook during the middle of the workday to take a break from work, relax for a few minutes while thinking about other things, and convene around a virtual water cooler with far-flung friends.”

The first part of identifying your competitors’ weaknesses is to identify the solutions people use to get the job done.

Airlines are not just competing with other airlines to help salespeople acquire customers. They are competing against web conferencing and CRM software. Angioplasty balloon makers are not just competing against other medical devices to help patients with blocked arteries improve their health. They are competing against diet programs, exercise routines, and fitness devices.

Once you see your entire competitive landscape, you can find and measure your competitors’ weaknesses by using the unmet needs in your customer’s job.

The structure of a customer need (direction, metric, goal) makes this possible. Your team can measure competitive weakness down to the second and the percentage. If the competition attempts to meet a need with a solution that is slow, manual, unreliable, or inaccurate, you have found a competitive weakness.

The competitive weakness sets the bar for how well your solution should meet the needs. To get customers to switch, you should target significant improvements over the speed and accuracy of your competition’s weak solution.


Now that you’ve defined your customer’s functional, emotional, and consumption jobs, identified the unmet needs, segmented your market, and analyzed how the competition serves these needs for the segment, you have the right question:

What can we do to serve our segment’s unmet needs in the job better than the existing solutions?

In Part 2, we’ll show you the process for answering this question.

Be sure not to miss Part 2 by signing up for our Jobs Theory newsletter. If you want to learn more about thrv right away, sign up for a demo.