Beat Walther and Yann Wermuth contributed their knowledge and experience about successful innovations to the latest “The Innovator’s Handbook 2022”.

Read their article “From today’s pain points to tomorrow’s successful innovations” and download your own copy of “The Innovator’s Handbook 2022” below.

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Innovators are under pressure

More than ever, innovators are under pressure to deliver success in innovation. The stakes and expectations are higher than ever before. Yet innovation efforts repeatedly fail, derail and do not survive in the market. 

This is not for lack of trying. Quite the opposite: Usually there are simply too many ideas and trials. The question rather is how to prioritize them. Naturally, innovators tend to develop solutions. Technology and prototypes dominate our thinking in innovation. 

But innovators forget who they are innovating for: the customer. Why is it okay to work months on defining technical specifications, but not applying the same rigor to understanding the customers?

We believe that the focus on ideas is one of the reasons why innovation does not bring the value it should. Customer need understanding is often too generic and superficial while most of the focus is spent on technology and solutions.

How to understand your customers’ needs

The idea that customer needs should play a role in innovation is not new and is almost universally accepted. But how to do that? Often this question is not even asked. Companies assume to know the needs of their customers. This leads to bias and a generic understanding of customers from inside-out. An example: the corporate push for “digitalization”. From a customer’s perspective there is no need for digitalization, an abstract concept, but a need to solve problem. Maybe digital solutions can solve it. But what are those customer problems? What are the customer’s pain points that could be addressed via digitalization?

This is where Jobs-to-be-done comes in. Jobs-to-be-done is to date the most powerful way of adopting the customer perspective. It leads to a systematic need discovery process with repeatable results, so that anyone can do it. The mere slogan of thinking like the customer is not helpful if it is unclear how that is done. Jobs-to-be-done is a logic to achieve this: Look at your company and innovation efforts from the customer’s perspective. 

How can Jobs-to-be-done help understand customers?

The core idea of Jobs-to-be-done is encapsulated in Levitt’s seminal quote “Customers don’t want a drill, they want a hole in the wall”. Of course, the hole in the wall is not what customers want either. If you’re asking yourself this question, you’ve already understood what Jobs-to-be-done is about: Shift the focus away from the solutions to the job customers want to achieve. It is thanks to the work of Clayton Christensen and many others that the term Jobs-to-be-done has become even more popular in the field of innovation. He made Jobs-to-be-done famous by using they hire/fire metaphor: What job do customers hire your product for and why do they fire it for another solution? 

A deeper understanding of the job helps to create solutions that customers truly want. Instead of developing solutions that innovators like, we start thinking about how to help customers to do their job better. Only when innovators know this, they can critically think about solutions and ideas. Jobs remain stable over time, while solutions change faster and faster. 

For more than 20 years Vendbridge has applied Jobs-to-be-done in over 100 successful innovation projects in various industries. Our systematic Customer-Focused Innovation (CFI) approach to applying Jobs-to-be-done follows 4 steps: Frame, Discover, Spin and Develop.

Customer-Focused Innovation – STEP 1:
Frame with the Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy

Think of Levitt’s example: For centuries people have been trying to beautify and improve their home. One way to do this is to put object to the walls. So what is the drill about? Beautifying? Fixing things to the wall? Answer: It’s about all of the above. It’s a common illusion that a product can only do one job. However, as innovators, we have to make a decision on which job we want to focus our innovation efforts.

To establish an initial hypothesis of the different Jobs-to-be-done, we at Vendbridge developed a framework called the Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy. It structures the Jobs in a hierarchical pyramid very much like it is done in behavioral science by psychologists. 

Assume the focus is on “fixing something to the wall“ – as the job we want to innovate for. In this case “beautifying my home“ is at a higher job level, a “Bigger Why“ as we call it. Because upwards you can always ask: Why? Why do you want to fix something to the wall? Theoretically there is no end to this ladder upwards. To get down in the ladder, you ask: How? One of the answers is: By fixing things (like pictures) to the wall. Still further down you come to the “Lower How”, i.e. the steps customers go through to achieve the focus job.

Customer-Focused Innovation – STEP 2:
Discover the job qualitatively and quantitatively

To test the hierarchy hypothesis you need to talk to the people who want to get that job done. This can be achieved through qualitative Jobs-to-be-done interviews. These interviews have two main focuses: Validating the hierarchy and uncovering all the needs that customers have along the job. We call these needs Job Metrics. Job Metrics follow syntactic rules and are strictly solution-free. They are needs, and not solutions as you can see in the following example:

To make as little noise as possible when hanging something on the wall, e.g., a picture, a shelf, etc.

Often, our clients are surprised when we tell them that we typically find more than 100 such Job Metrics for a given Job. But look at it this way: It would not surprise anyone if a technical specification for the requirements of an AI-supported robot or software contained this amount of  technical requirements. Why do we think that customers – also quite complex machines – are simpler?

Job Metrics can be quantitatively tested through a survey in order to identify the pain points out of all metrics. We define a pain point as a Job Metric (a need) that is  rated as important by a majority of people in the market, but fulfilled only for a minority. To analyze and visualize the data, we use different tools such as the Job Journey Navigator, to show pain areas along the customer journey or the Customer Value Map, to take a thematic perspective. 

Customer-Focused Innovation – STEP 3:
Spin ideas to address pain points

Only now that the pain points are known granularly and fact-based, we turn back to the solutions. Because with the comprehensive and in-depth knowledge of our customers, we are now able to identify winning ideas more reliably – those that directly address the pain points. 

Proven tools  developed together with our clients, such as our Pain Matching System or our Idea Evaluation Tool support us in this. We are also able to find the blind spots from the customer’s perspective: Pain points that no idea or project in the roadmap has received priority so far.

This phase is called the “spin” phase, expressing that we spin existing ideas towards customers’ pain points. Not in the sense that we twist them, but give them the spin they need to become successful. Because ideas that hit a customer pain point are much more likely to be successful than the others.

Customer-Focused Innovation – STEP 4:
Compelling value propositions

The insights gained through the Jobs-to-be-done approach are an excellent basis for defining a customer-focused strategy for growth initiatives such as new products, market entry or innovative business models.  We believe at the heart of a convincing strategy should be a value proposition that is compelling for the customers.  

Most value propositions we see, however, are not compelling. That’s why we developed an approach to sharpen value propositions through the eyes of Job-to-be-done and the customers’ pain points. At the heart of this approach is the promise, as a pledge innovators make to customers. This promise needs to be relevant by addressing pain points and superior by demonstrating more value than alternative solutions. Furthermore, each promise needs a good reason to believe, supported by proof points such as new features of a solution. 

From today’s pain points to tomorrow’s successful innovations

The four steps of the Customer-Focused Innovation (CFI) approach are based on Jobs-to-be-done and systematically uncover where customer pain points are. This focuses innovation teams on what matters most at the outset: the customers and their unmet needs. Spin workshops and value propositions keep innovation efforts on the customer track. This shows that innovation can be a systematic process to turn today’s pain points into tomorrow’s successful innovations.

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