I do product management for Spigit. I’ve done product management for other companies as well. And let me tell you, the easiest thing in the world is to fall into the trap of focusing on how customers are using your product. Product forms your relationship with customers. It’s how you know them. They will tell you about your product, and the features they want improved. You can’t not listen to that. Of course, you’re going to improve your product.
But don’t confuse that with understanding what your customers need.
Just because you’re on top of what you’re customers need from your current product, doesn’t mean you’re on top of market changes. Two titans of the television industry remind us of that. They have, in recent weeks, been dismissive of a rumored Apple HDTV:
Sharp isn’t paying much heed to rumors that Apple is developing an HDTV. Nor does it have much reason to, says Kozo Takahashi, head of the company’s operations in North and South America. All Things D
“TVs are ultimately about picture quality. Ultimately. How smart they are…great, but let’s face it that’s a secondary consideration.” – Samsung AV product manager TechCrunch
And there you have it. Apple HDTV? Whatever.
Of course, one might be reminded of the comment by Palm’s CEO before the Apple iPhone was introduced: “PC guys are not going to just figure [phones] out. They’re not going to just walk in.” Ouch! What we’re seeing is incumbents falling back on the thing that got them to their position: features. This is feature-led innovation. It’s got its place in the market, but relying only on it puts companies at risk for missing either (i) critical market shifts; or (ii) emerging needs that will drive organic growth.
Divergence between Product Features and Jobs-to-Be-Done
In the graphic below, a typical scenario for feature-led innovation is depicted. What happens is that over time, companies lose touch with where the market moves, with customers’ changing jobs-to-be-done.
When a company “makes it” in the market, it has the features that meet what customers are trying to get done. On the graph above, that’s set as “Time 0”, where features match Job 1. Given this is the ticket to success, a company will of course continue to develop these features. And the people who were looking for Job 1 fulfilled will follow along as the new features are rolled out.
Somewhere along the line, a new job-to-be-done emerges. Call it Job 2. New jobs enter the market all the time, via what Re-Wired Group’s Bob Moesta calls the “push” force. After Job 2, Job 3 emerges. And on and on.
But many companies are never aware of this. There are too many customers. Product is selling. You know your company’s product, and you’ve gotten lots of feedback for improvements. Systems are in place to reward and nudge you further along the path that fulfills Job 1. When they do solicit feedback from customers, it’s all Net Promoter Scores, focus groups for new features, surveys, customer service ticket analysis. Believe me, I really can appreciate how companies get lulled into this cycle of feature-led innovation. Professor Freek Vermeulen of the London Business School calls this the innovation “success trap”.
Meanwhile, customers cast about for ways of fulfilling their new jobs-to-be-done. They improvise. They settle. They experiment. They’re open to new entrants that meet their emerging jobs. And this is how it happens to companies. Let’s look back at what the Samsung product manager said: “TVs are ultimately about picture quality. Ultimately. How smart they are…great, but let’s face it that’s a secondary consideration.”
Here are three jobs I’d personally like fulfilled that aren’t about picture quality:
|Situation||Job to Be Done||Success Metric|
|When I turn on my TV||I want a set of recommendations based on my viewing habits||Increased awareness of shows that interest me|
|When I want to share a moment||I want a link to post to Facebook or Twitter||Decrease steps it takes to share on social networks|
|When I’m watching a sports event||I want to order food for delivery||Decrease time it takes to find food and place order|
The first two of those jobs have emerged based on new technologies in other arenas (recommendation engines, social networks). The third is a tried-and-true job that’s been around forever. Might there be a play to improve that via my TV? All three of those jobs-to-be-done are divergent from the ongoing focus on picture quality espoused by the incumbent TV leaders.
Parable of Digital Cameras
The feature race of the HDTV manufacturers has a parallel in the digital camera industry. A key feature of digital cameras has been the megapixels. The higher the megapixels, the better the image quality. It has been escalating so much in recent years, Consumer Reports ran a piece wondering when the megapixel arms race would cease.
But in another case of new jobs emerging, lower end digital cameras are seeing their sales decline. Why? As the L.A. times noted in December 2011:
According to a survey by NPD Group, 27% of photos and videos taken this year were shot with smartphones — up from 17% last year.
Nothing actually. There’s always been the job-to-be-done of capturing moments. It’s just that lugging around a separate camera everywhere you go is a pain. But people want to be connected – talk, messaging, email, surfing – and will gladly carry their phone with them. Which is quite sufficient to fulfill the job of capturing moments. Megapixels be damned. Of course, the megapixels are getting better on smart phones too. Clayton Christensen must be amused by the ongoing disruptive innovation.
Sharp, Samsung…heck, all companies…are you listening? How well do you know the emerging jobs-to-be-done by your customers?
Hutch Carpenter is the Vice President of Product at Spigit. Spigit integrates social collaboration tools into a SaaS enterprise idea management platform used by global Fortune 2000 firms to drive innovation.