In this latest episode of the How Would You Beat podcast, we looked at how companies and teams can beat their own product ideas. We explored questions like “How can you come up with even better product ideas that will create even more value for your customers?”, “Can you improve your team's product ideas in your roadmap?”, and “If we want all of our ideas to succeed, why would we want to beat our own ideas?”
Risk Mitigation in the Idea Backlog
Lots of product teams have huge backlogs of ideas. Everyone on the product team is constantly thinking about how to improve your products and your business and product ideas come from your customers, your stakeholders, all over. As a product manager, you encourage all of these ideas because one of them could be a golden nugget. So you start adding all of those ideas to your backlog thinking that someday you’ll get to them. You don’t want to kill any ideas, just prioritize the good ones. The issue is that if you pick the wrong ideas from that super long list, and you try to do too much, it could ruin your business. Product development investment is your biggest risk so beating your own ideas really boils down to risk mitigation.
Staying focused on unmet needs in a job-to-be-done for an underserved segment of customers, helps you identify new winning ideas rather than trying to ship everything in the backlog, no matter which problems it helps solve.
Hitting the Right Targets
But development is cheap now, isn't it? Why not just build everything, get it out in the market, fail fast, and learn from your mistakes?
Imagine someone gives you a bunch of darts. They tell you to hit a target, but then they blindfold you and spin you around. Sure, you can randomly throw darts into the air but you might hurt someone (i.e. your company, your prospects and your success). You also might randomly hit the target but that doesn't necessarily mean it’s a good method. If you're an entrepreneur, executive, product manager, or board member, you don't want to randomly throw darts into the air and hope one of them sticks.
The goal is to be more efficient at hitting the right target and that's the criteria by which you can judge your ideas. If you think your idea has a chance of hitting a target, make sure you can explain why. Avoid buying into the idea that your customers don’t even know that they need your product because they have “latent needs.” Would you rather go after a problem that people don't know they have or a problem for which they are desperately seeking a solution?
How can you apply that notion to your product roadmap and beating your own backlog of ideas? How do you actually pick the right ideas?
Picking the Right Ideas
The traditional way to generate ideas is to sit down and start brainstorming. (“There is no such thing as a bad idea!”) The better way to generate ideas is to focus on what your customers are struggling with – the job they need to get done. Each of these jobs can be broken down into a whole series of steps, which also act as the criteria by which you judge your ideas. Whether you’re trying to beat your own ideas or your competitors’ ideas, solving for your customers’ job should be the primary concern.
The secondary concern is making your idea faster and more accurate at satisfying needs than other solutions currently in the market. This happens to be one of the most difficult parts of adopting Jobs-to-be-Done. While we might like to build new features and add more options and settings to our product, the customers don’t want to deal with any of that. They want to click a button and get a job done. This means that the criteria you should be using to judge your ideas are speed and accuracy. Can you satisfy an unmet need faster and more accurately than the existing solutions available to your customers? If yes, then the question becomes how you can actually start making money from your idea.
How Will You Make Money?
In setting up your Jobs-to-be-Done product strategy, you want to get team alignment on which unmet needs and which customers you want to focus on. After identifying your customers, you figure out all the steps in that job and the process the customers need to go through to get that job done. Once you have your framework of a customer goal and all of the steps that need to be taken, decide if you need to target all consumers or if there is a smaller group of people who are struggling the most. That group of struggling people will become your early adopters, or what we call your target segment.
Who's going to pay for your idea? Is that group of people – your target segment – big enough for you to achieve your goals? Are they willing to pay enough for you to achieve your goals? If you try building for everybody, then it's hard to say which ideas are bad because it's rare that everybody has the same unmet needs. Even Facebook, which has a billion users today, started by choosing a very specific target segment of college students because they thought they had specific, unmet needs that other people didn't really have. They went specifically after that segment and grew over time. Zeroing in on a target segment that is just big enough (for now), and the needs they have, can help you say no to a lot of ideas.
Defining Your Strategy
When defining your strategy, ask yourself a few questions:
- Is now the right time to go to market?
- What are my growth goals?
- How much revenue do I have to generate?
- Can I generate that amount of revenue with your existing target segment, or do I have to go downstream to expand your market?
Salesforce is a great B2B case study. When they started, they had to convince people to put their customer data in the cloud, even though people didn't even know what the cloud was. They had to define the industry. To do that, they found those customers who were willing to take some risk and they convinced them that the cloud was safe and the benefit of having their data reside in the cloud for the whole team far outweighed the risks. They also realized that their target segment was people who were wanting to switch to an online SaaS because they were so fed up with trying to use software that was expensive and took forever to install. Now, everything's moving to the cloud.
This Salesforce example is straight out the disruption playbook. After pursuing a low-cost customer segment, you create a product that's good enough for them and takes less time to start using than the incumbent solution. Over time, you add the features and functionality that a more robust customer would need and you overtake the incumbent.
What disruption theory shows us is that you can pick a segment that has a lot of difficulty with getting a particular job done – they might not be the large enterprise customers who are gonna pay a ton of money, but there's still a large market – and you can use Jobs-to-be-Done to help them get those job steps done better, even if the product isn’t as good as the incumbent. In fact, one of the core ideas of disruption is that the new product comes along and is actually worse than the leading solution, but it does compete on the dimensions that the customers find most valuable. It gets less of the job done but it gets the needs in the job done that the incumbent may not.
Google Sheets is another great example. When it entered the market, it did a great job of satisfying collaboration and project management needs but it was far less effective at statistical and financial analysis jobs than Excel was. It got fewer jobs done on the platform but the needs it did satisfy were satisfied light years faster and more accurately.
The key to disruption is knowing which dimensions you're going to improve your product on. What criteria are you using to decide if your new idea is going to beat your existing idea, or your competitor’s idea? You should be repeating that question for everything in your roadmap. At the end of the day, product teams are responsible for revenue because your product is what your company is selling. When your product finally goes to market, you want your product team to have empathized so much with your customer that the sales team really doesn't have to do much to sell the product. There's so much demand for it because it's overcoming a difficulty and it’s a different way of getting the job done that people are happy with. You’re moving them from anxiety to confidence so that, eventually, they can't let go of your product because it helps them in a situation where it’s important for them to be able to get the job done easily and effectively. This leads to our final point…
Delivering Customer Value
It’s worth repeating that the criteria by which you judge your product ideas also happen to be the job steps you're going to target with your strategy. You can then use that criteria as a filter for everything in your backlog to identify those ideas that will really make a difference both for your business and your customers. With the filter in place and the key ideas identified, now you need to figure out how they’re going to deliver value against those job steps and how they compare to the existing solution. Are they faster and more accurate than what customers are using today to solve the problems in those job steps and overcome the obstacles to getting their job done? You may find that there are infrastructure problems you need to solve, or bugs you have to fix, but those are just dependencies in satisfying the core unmet customer needs and improving your product for your target segment.
Being customer focused really just means including your customer in your product conversations. At the end of the day, the amount of customer value determines if a company succeeds or fails. Clay Christensen, one of the biggest proponents of Jobs-to-be-Done, recognized the foundational idea that your customers are not actually buying your products, they're hiring your products to get a job done. But there is a flip side to that: people will also fire your product. No one rides a horse and buggy anymore. No one uses paper maps to get to a destination on time. No one takes photos of their family with film. You may think your ideas are great but are they actually helping your customers get their jobs done?
So how do you beat your own ideas? You define a strategy and focus on your customers. Identify your target segment, know what their unmet needs are, what the job is that they're trying to get done, and what their obstacles are. Then, make sure your entire backlog is centered around them.
We hope you enjoyed this latest How Would You Beat episode. If you want to learn more about thrv and our Jobs-to-be-Done approach, be sure to sign up for our free course.