Drowning in too much knowledge

When we start an innovation project in a large organization we start with what they already know. We gather existing reports and data on the customer within the organization that relates to the innovation project and put it all in one place. Quite often the result is overwhelming: There are surprisingliy many reports, market research papers, qualitative studies and other data that already exists. The problem of many companies today is not a lack of data – on the contrary: comapnies are drowning in knowledge.

The problem is not the amount, but the lack of a shared perspective

However, it is not so much the amount of data and reports that is a problem per se. All of these reports and research documentations are certainly useful and contain knowledge that was, is and will be valuable to the company. The solution, therefore, is by no means “less data”.

What makes the amount overwhelming is often the disparatiy of the reports. They all differ in their purpose. They have a different understanding of the target group. They focused on one aspect only. In short: they take various perspectives that are not easily compatible. So it is not the amount of data that is a problem – more data generally is better – but the lack of a shared perspective to combine the knowledge organizations are producing every day.

Jobs-to-be-done as a knowledge unifier

To use existing reports and data for the purpose of innovation a unifying perspective is needed. That unifying perspective is the customer’s perspective. Why? Because there are many products, departments, etc. on the company side but only one Job the customer is trying to get done when she uses your products or services. The Job is the causal reason why customers use a product: They don’t want a drill, they want to hang up a picture. It’s not true that customers have an innate desire to posses drills. They (maybe) want the drill only as a function of the Job they want to get done. This way of thinking about products and  customers hold in any industry. Customers don’t want the product, they want what it can do for them.

Taking the Jobs-to-be-done perspective cuts through the diversity of the many different reports. It provides a unifying perspective because a Jobs-to-be-done perspective is independent of products and independent of customer segments. Why? It is true: there are different segments or personas of customers. However, the fact that they are all your customers requires something that unifies them in their diversity: That is the Job. They differ in the way they prefer to get the Job done, but the have the same Job in common.

This should not lead you to think that all that’s valuable in reports is what can be seen from a Jobs-to-be-done perspective. That is certainly wrong and there is a lot of valuable information in those reports that Jobs-to-be-done misses. But if you are working on a growth initiative that aims at fulfilling the needs of your customers better the Jobs-to-be-done perspective let’s you differentiate the noise from the signal – for that purpose.

How to harvest reports from the customers perspective

The starting point is building a Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy. It is absolutely fine to build an inside-out hypothesis. Think about how to frame the Focus Job your customer is trying to get done and put that at the center. Next, ask yourself what steps it takes customers to achieve that Focus Job – that’s the lower How. Ultimatley garnish your Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy with steps that might come before and after the Focus Job as well as a set of Bigger Why Jobs.  Bigger Why’s generally tend to get more abstract and deal with aspirations or self-realization Jobs.

It’s less important to be perfectly right. It is much more important to take the customers perspective and have a stable Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy worked out. Because that is now the basic structure to buil a unified database of your existing knowledge. You can go through each of the reports and place what you know in the corresponding Job field (In one of the lower Hows, the down- or upstream Jobs or the Bigger Why). The Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy will stay stable throughout the reports, however much different they are.

The Jobs-to-be-done perspective immediately let’s you distinguish between what’s a signal and what is not. You cannot place a finding or a number (say market size) into one of the Job fields? Not relevant for taking the customers perspective.

Taking it one step further

While it is perfectly possible to stay on the level of granularity discussed by now, you can take it one step further as we would adivse you to do, if you have the resources.

Taking it one step further is this: Don’t just go through the report and copy&paste findings into the Job field, but look for Value Metrics behind the surface. Value Metrics are metrics customers apply to judge the value of a solution to help them get their Job done. Let’s make an example:

Let’s assume the Job is “To unify what we already know for a growth initiative”. That is what in this article we assume you want to get done. We claim that the Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy is a good solution to achieve that Job and that you should hire it to do so. Why? Because one of the criteria (or metrics) you might apply to judge whether the Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy is more valubable for that Job than another solution is this:

That it takes me as little time as possible to decide if a piece of information in a report is useful for my purpose or not

That is a Value Metric. From experience we know that there are roughly 200 such Value Metrics associated to any given Job. Value Metrics have a clear syntax that involves a unit (as little time as possible) an expected outcome (to decide if a piece of information in a report is useful) and if necessary a clarifying context (for my purpose or not). Customer apply such Value Metrics intuitively to judge the value of solutions and one of the goals of Jobs-to-be-done interviews is to uncover them.

It takes some training but you can take the concpet of Value Metrics and try to formulate them based on what it says in your reports. It’s possible, we’ve done it several times.

Going down to that level of granularity has two main benefits:

  1. It makes the findings concrete and actionable
  2. It shortens the time spent on each report

Value Metrics are precise and concrete. This will help you stay in the realm of customers – which is always concrete. And it shortens the time spent on the next report because you will start to see the same Value Metric appear in different reports and different ways. Once you have it written down it will quickly become clear that in another report the very same Value Metric is hidden behind different clothing.

The customers perspective as a unifier beyond reports

With the Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy and the concept of Value Metrics you have all the tools you need to start unifying your existing and diverse reporst from the customers perspective. On top of that each new report can be integrated into the framework with ease and in no time. Your ability and your speed to digest reports will increase significantly.

Beyond that we’ve experiences a further benefit of using the Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy to unify existing reporst and data. It aligns different teams from different departments and different backgrounds. While reports are often diverse and owned by a particular team or department the Jobs-to-be-done perspective – the customers perspective – is relevant to all and belongs to all. Everyone will be able to contribute to at least one of the Job fields. The Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy can figure as a shared tool of orientation and alignment that in complex environments can be an extremely valubale tool to manage your existing knowledge.