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    January 17, 2019

    How to Avoid Endless Idea Generation for Your Next Product Feature


    The Issue: Endless Roadmap Meetings and Too Many Product Ideas

    Brainstorming can feel like the wild wild west of product planning. The unpredictability of idea generation sessions can derail productivity and leave your team more at odds than before. Despite its unruly nature, product teams still use open-ended brainstorming to identify new product ideas.

    In this post, we will teach you how to generate winning product ideas for new features using unmet customer needs in a Job-to-be-Done. We include an example of how to beat Google Maps and Apple Maps using this technique.

    The Traditional Way: Generating Ideas with No Objective Criteria

    Let’s go back and look at the most popular method to generate ideas for new features in a product, that is, brainstorming. To facilitate the generation of new ideas, there is often only one rule in brainstorming - there are no bad ideas. In other words, your team is not supposed to use any criteria to judge new ideas on the assumption that this will enhance creativity.

    But perhaps this is exactly why brainstorming has proven to be ineffective at generating valuable product ideas. The innovation pitfalls that arise out of brainstorming come from the fact that it doesn’t include any criteria your team can use to quickly and efficiently judge whether the product feature ideas are actually good ideas. But, in effect, the criteria already exist out there: Those criteria are the unmet customer needs in the job.

    Even the world’s biggest brands make mistakes when they follow through with product feature ideas that don’t clearly satisfy unmet needs better than competitors. Do you remember the Amazon Fire Phone? A lot of people on the Amazon team themselves did not know why they were building it, one team member actually called it “Jeff’s baby”. The fire phone may have had a laundry list of features, some of which existed in other smartphones and some new features. However, did those features satisfy unmet needs? In other words, did they solve problems for customers that were worth solving? Based on the market reaction, we’d have to say, “no,” because Amazon wrote off $170 million as losses from the product. When companies try to take share of a product market without having a clear view of the needs they are trying to satisfy or without knowing for sure if those needs are unmet in the market, they are at risk of building me-too products and playing feature catch-up.

    A great example of falling into the me-too trap is the Microsoft Zune. Clearly, Microsoft looked at the market (that was essentially the market for “creating a mood with music”) and thought of it as a market for iPods or mp3 players. They went into catch-up mode and invested heavily in developing the Zune which had the same features as Apple’s iPod and even a few more. It should have worked, but instead, Zune contributed to Microsoft's $289 million loss in the last quarter of 2006. What happened here? Well, one of the main reasons for Zune’s failure is the fact that Apple dominated the mp3 market and while Microsoft tried to break into this market, Apple launched the iPhone, and the market for mp3 players disappeared completely. This is an example of the risk that you take when your ideas for new features are based solely on keeping up with the competition. Things might have panned out differently if Microsoft had not been restricted by a product and had instead focussed on the Job-to-be-Done, which was “creating a mood with music.”

    The JTBD Way: Clear Criteria Focused on Customer’s Struggle

    Because Jobs-to-be-Done identifies unambiguous and quantifiable customer unmet needs in your customer’s JTBD, your team can use these unmet needs as the criteria to judge your product feature ideas. This eliminates any opinion-driven decisions and instead frames all ideas in the context of whether or not they will help your customer overcome the struggle to get their job done.

    Let's look at our example of Apple and Google Maps. What product feature idea will help us beat Apple Maps and Google Maps?

    How to use JTBD to Uncover Unmet Needs

    We know that customers aren’t waking up in the morning saying, “I want to use a navigation app today!” Of course, not. Instead, they’re ultimately asking for something to help them get to a destination on time. This is the job-to-be-done that consumers are “hiring” navigation apps to do. Consumers getting to a destination on time is the underlying market for navigation apps.

    thrv jtbd job steps


    Above are the 16 steps in the JTBD of getting to a destination on time. Job steps are all the things a customer has to do to complete a job. Once we know the job steps, we identify the needs in each step to determine how customers struggle to get the job done. For example, customers need to determine the optimal sequence to make planned stops on a busy day.


    Use unmet needs in the job as the criteria

    to generate and judge new product ideas.


    To determine if this is a struggle, you can ask consumers in a survey how difficult it is for them to “determine the optimal sequence to make planned stops.” The results will give you a customer effort score for the need, and the percentage of respondents who say the need is difficult. You can use customer effort scores to identify an underserved segment of customers who all struggle to get the job done in the same way.

    We conducted this research at thrv and found that 86% of customers in the segment said it is difficult to determine the optimal sequence to make their planned stops. 

    Once you know a customer need is high effort for an attractive segment, you can use the need to assess competitive solutions. The speed and accuracy with which the existing solutions satisfy the need become the benchmark you need to beat with your new idea. In this case, we analyzed how to use Google Maps to determine the optimal sequence of planned stops.

    We found that if a user wanted to determine the optimal sequence of stops using Apple or Google Maps, it would take several steps. For example, a user would enter destination A, enter destination B, calculate the route and time, repeat the process for destination A to C, re-plan if going from A to C first was faster and less variable, and repeat this process for all possible combinations of stops. This manual process is very slow, and the accuracy is low if the user could even successfully determine the optimal sequence at all.  In other words, satisfying this need takes five minutes or more and is only 20% accurate. 

    With our quantitative data and analysis, we discovered that it takes too much effort for customers to satisfy this need with our competition’s solutions - Apple Maps and Google Maps. Effort, speed and accuracy scores become the baseline for your team’s idea generation. In other words, the unmet needs in the job are the criteria that are used to generate and judge new product feature ideas. Because new features are developed as a response to the customer’s struggle in their job-to-be-done, the features are able to avoid typical innovation pitfalls such as lacking demand or differentiation. 

    How to Generate and Identify the Best Product Ideas - An Example Product Idea

    So how do you use unmet needs to judge new product ideas or new product feature ideas? For example, how would we choose between two competing ideas to help customers determine the optimal sequence of their planned stops?

    Idea 1: Assistant Service 

    In our first idea, a customer could call a remote assistant who would have access to their calendar and assess their stops, routes, and likely arrival times. And then make recommendations to re-order their stops. We can score this idea using the speed and accuracy of satisfying the unmet needs with our Assistant Service features. And we can assess the likely resulting customer effort.

    Idea 2: Sync & Optimize

    We’ll sync a user's calendar with our app to determine the stops in their day. We’ll then create an optimization algorithm that will factor in which stops can be moved, what the likely local traffic conditions will be at the time, and any atypical travel conditions like traffic or weather that may occur as the departure time approaches. All the user has to do is tap “Optimize,” and the Sync & Optimize feature automatically and instantly provides the optimal sequence of their planned stops.

    Which idea should you prioritize in your roadmap? Should you have an endless Socratic debate in your next roadmap meeting? If you use speed and accuracy as your criteria for judging ideas, there should be no debate here. Idea 2 clearly satisfies the need faster and more accurately because it is automatic and instantaneous and if the algorithm is good enough it will be accurate.

    Want to see how these two product ideas compare? Learn more in our online course.

    The Benefit: Ditch the Debates and Align Your Team with Less Risk

    Jobs to be Done provides you with clear, objective criteria to generate and identify the best product ideas so you can end debates, avoid innovation pitfalls and build features your customers actually need and want. JTBD helps align your team with your customers and helps you get faster executive approval on your product roadmap.

    Of course, for any of this to work, you are going to need data. Moreover, that data needs to be reliable and up to date if you want to avoid a debate over the efficacy of the data. For data that checks those boxes, you need to maintain a pulse on customer needs as they evolve. But people evolve constantly, and there are new solutions available to them every day; customer needs are dynamic. Keeping track of all those moving parts might sound challenging, but what if you had a survey mechanism and automated insights at your fingertips?

    The thrv software puts key calculations like your customer’s willingness to pay (that emerges from how big an unmet need is) into your very product roadmapping framework. The app automates the process of breaking down a customer’s job steps and customer needs, and there is a survey tool to identify which needs are unmet and each segment’s willingness to pay to get the job done. Product, marketing, and sales teams that use thrv not only align better but also find themselves more capable of generating growth on three horizons:

    1. Short-term growth by creating marketing and sales messaging that connects your solution to the unmet needs of your customers and the leads in your pipeline.
    2. Medium-term growth by aligning your product roadmap with the unmet needs of your customers and the leads in your pipeline
    3. Long-term growth by aligning your product innovation with the unmet needs of new customers in the market 

    You can use the thrv software on your own or engage thrv to join your team and partner with you to execute the work and accelerate your growth.

    Quick Review: To identify the best product feature ideas, determine the JTBD and the steps, quantify the unmet needs in JTBD and segment customers, and finally analyze and calculate the competitive speed and accuracy baseline for each of the unmet needs. Then you are ready to use the unmet needs to quickly generate and judge the best product feature ideas. 

    To find out how to customer needs at the centre of your product planning and therefore launch more successful products and features, contact thrv today

    Posted by Breena Fain

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