September 1, 2022
How would you beat your roadmapping culture using Jobs-to-be-Done? ft. David Subar
For this episode of the How Would You Beat podcast, we brought on board a guest speaker: David Subar, CEO of Interna, a firm that helps technology companies make better products faster. David has worked with organizations of various sizes, from small six-member startups to large companies such as Pluto, which was sold to Viacom, lynda.com, which was sold to LinkedIn, and the Walt Disney Company.
Your roadmapping culture, or what you might call your product philosophy, is significant because it determines how decisions on roadmaps are made, which features get prioritized, which strategies are pursued, etc. Every company has a roadmapping culture, even if it isn’t always explicit.
A faulty roadmapping culture grows into a profitability problem
David illustrates how roadmapping culture can cause cash flow and profitability problems with a story about a company he is consulting with that made a product roadmap mistake: “They built a product based on technology that they knew and ended up over-investing in it because they had not proven the market. The company head and a few top executives were excited about it so they hired about 90 people in their product engineering department and invested tremendously and then nobody wanted the product. The CEO says this was his mistake, “a knowable mistake that we got too excited about. It was hubris, we thought it would change the world and we didn’t ask anybody whether they wanted it.
So how do you avoid getting 90-engineers-deep in a roadmapping mistake?
- Notice that your product roadmapping culture needs help
How should you tell if you’re dealing with a broken roadmap and culture where the roadmap could be opinion-based and veering toward product roadmap mistakes?
According to David, “there are telltale signs that make an unhealthy roadmapping culture fairly apparent. He often asks companies that he is working with how they develop: Who is part of the process? How are ideas vetted? “When people tell me that they were told to do this and that, you know they are order-takers and not empowered to follow the data. Instead, if they say that they had some ideas, which they validated with data, threw some bits out, and changed a few things, then you know that they have a healthier roadmapping culture,” he says.
For a lot of companies, roadmapping is leader-driven and that’s their culture. In David’s experience, “This is especially evident in startups, where the founder has a vision and they come out with the first idea that experiences some success. The founder then puts down the next idea, and the next and the one after that, until that becomes the product roadmapping culture.” This pattern continues until the product roadmap mistakes cause pain, according to David, or in other words, until a product fails terribly, resulting in a cash-flow crisis.
This top-down method of product planning and product roadmapping might be especially common or noticeable among startups, but it is fairly well-rooted even in large, established corporations. It's about the HIPPO leading the pack or the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion having the most weight. Amazon, for example, is a corporation and at the end of the day, Jeff Bezos’ opinion would typically be valued more than everyone else’s, right? And while Amazon has seen its share of successful product roadmap examples, that’s exactly how they ended up with a huge product failure like the Fire Phone. We love this example because it paints a clear picture of what happens when the HIPPO - rather than market data - defines the product roadmap.
- Let JTBD help you course-correct
Fortunately, product roadmap mistakes can be fixed, especially if you course-correct early on. The best way to do it is to let customer data win arguments for you. But before you get to the stage of the data helping you vet your ideas, you need to put the customer at the center of how ideas emerge in the first place or what ideas will qualify as concepts that you want to build upon, get data for and iterate.
What’s a good starting point to develop customer focus right at the conceptualization stage or develop a more customer-centric product philosophy? You could take a page out of our book: At thrv, we usually start by asking if everyone at a company agrees that the goal of the company and the product team is to satisfy customer needs better than their competitors. Everyone is in agreement at this stage, but when we ask the next question, that is “what is a customer need” or even “who is your customer” everyone on the team often has different opinions. How do you create customer value if you are not clear on what your customers need? You need to understand customer needs so that you are able to satisfy needs better than the products already existing in the market.
The Jobs-to-be-Done theory defines your customer’s goal as a job-to-be-done. This approach, or product philosophy, works across consumer, B2B, and medical markets because your customer’s job-to-be-done can be anything: restore artery blood flow, get a baby to sleep at night, create a mood with music, get to a destination on time, optimize cash flow… all of these qualify as customer jobs-to-be-done.
For example, if you defined the iPod market in the traditional way, by looking at the product, it was once worth $30 billion. It is now worth zero. But the job-to-be-done which is “create a mood with music” did not go away; it simply transformed. Other companies are serving the job with different products and might be making money. That’s why you define your market using your customer’s job-to-be-done.
- Align your roadmapping culture should with your brand personality
David stresses that coherence between your internal culture and your external messaging is essential in developing an efficient product roadmapping culture or product philosophy. “It's really about the integrity of internal culture and what you actually do in the outside world. For example, Apple’s famous ‘Think Different’ was a great marketing campaign. It reflected their internal culture. And those were the same thing. An approach like that works much better than putting marketing fluff around products.”
- Weave risk assessment and management into the fabric of your roadmapping culture
So we need customer-centricity and R&D to get product philosophy right, but first, you need to figure out a budget. David has a story about how the product roadmapping mistakes can begin right here. He was talking to a CEO of a major internet infrastructure firm that the whole audience knows about (no names taken for obvious reasons), and the CEO said that their peers were spending about 18% on R&D, so should his company do the same? “I told him that was the wrong way of going about things - if you give people a top-down number for R&D, they will spend it, but nothing might come of it,” David says.
The Jobs-to-be-Done method helps you to decide allocation between true product development and researching unmet needs. These are unmet needs that you are not able to bring speed and accuracy to today but could potentially bring speed and accuracy to as technology evolves. It also helps you to be realistic. There needs to be a market for the amazing things you have on your roadmap, and if the goal of innovation is to meet an unmet need, you are hedging your risk effectively. If you look at AI today, they are doing some interesting things, but they haven’t defined a market for it - the issue with that is that it may or may not end up being a good investment because it is not linked to a customer is struggling with, or in other words, it can end up being a product roadmapping mistake.
Whatever method you use - Jobs-to-be-Done is one method - you need to have metrics to help make risk-adjusted short, medium, and long-term decisions. The short and medium-term are linked to technology that you know and can productize. The long-term R&D investment should be focused on solving customer needs faster and more accurately. Using JTBD, David’s CEO friend might end up spending less than his peers because his focus is so narrow; so fine-tuned.
Thrv can help improve your roadmapping culture
The thrv software puts your customers’ unmet needs into your roadmapping prioritization process. 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 can generate growth on three horizons:
- 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.
- Medium-term growth by aligning your product roadmap with the unmet needs of your customers and the leads in your pipeline
- 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.
If you want to learn more about Jobs-to-be-Done innovation methods, contact us today.
Posted by Jay Haynes View all Posts by Jay Haynes