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A great idea or a solution looking for a problem?

In the ideal world (a.k.a. the theoretical world) we would start our innovation process off by starting with a clear definition of the “job-to-be-done” by first applying all the innovation discovery tools available to us to understand what customers really want before we start applying resources in designing a product.

To the extent we can do that more power to us – however – in the real world it usually doesn’t happen this way. What more often than not happens is an idea emerges from an inside out perspective, perhaps sparked by a technology idea, or just asking simple questions like “what if …”.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach to ideation and lots of great innovations start from this inside out perspective by playing around with ideas and prototypes and musing over possible applications and potential products. The problem with this approach though is not doing the necessary up-front work to validate and understand if there are truly customers out there who could potentially benefit by the invention and if they could, how ready the market really is to adopt the innovation.

No matter how good a potential invention appears on paper and in the R&D lab, if it doesn’t fundamentally address a specific outcome or overcome a specific constraint  a customer is trying to accomplish by getting his or her job done, then chances are the product concept will fail in the market.

A lot of my clients do a fantastic job of coming up with technologies and ideas on how they can use the technology to create cool products. Where they get stuck though is defining a product and business model that has market appeal because they don’t have a good innovation framework to validate the concept and define real user requirements that customers will value and want.

So they march forward in the development process only to discover that they have created a product that is a solution looking for an problem to solve.  And/or a product that potential customers simple don’t understand (muddled value proposition).  The product doesn’t quite fit anyone’s pain and they are having a difficult time in describing what the product does for the customer – remember the acronym WIFM?  (What’s in it for me – a.k.a. the customer).

Before marching down the development process I suggest using the Jobs-to-be-done marketing lens in reverse order to define potential and real jobs that people are trying to get done where your solution becomes an obvious choice for hire.

Starting with the “solution” that you and your development team dreamt up but remains fuzzy in terms of commercial potential start asking the following questions to form a core business hypothesis and preliminary customer value proposition that you can test, verify and refine.

  • What are the solution’s/technology’s capabilities?
  • What barriers does it overcome?
  • What objectives/desired outcomes can it address?
  • In what circumstance will it be most effective?
  • What constraints does it overcome?
  • For what jobs is the solution applicable?
  • Who would hire this solution for this job?

You should be able to come up with several potential user persona’s and circumstances where your solution has potential appeal. The next step in the innovation process is to tighten up the potential range of target customers by doing some quick and dirty market research, mostly secondary research to see what’s out there and what products and services customers’ are currently hiring to get their jobs done while getting a general sense of the scope of the business opportunity.

If you aren’t finding a lot of information on what jobs people are trying to get done and their current “how they get it done” you may very well find that either your solution doesn’t match a real problem or the problem is still too early in the adoption cycle to be commercially viable at this time.

Most likely though you will find a lot of secondary data to suggest that there is a lot of interest – at least from your potential competitors and industry evangelist, if it’s a promising new technology in the early stages of market adoption, to provide enough evidence that there is something out there – and there are potential applications that people would hire for specific jobs and circumstances – if the right solution was presented to them.

At this stage of the process, you should be able to create a solid business hypothesis and preliminary customer value proposition that can be tested to validate, refine and/or steer you to a more compelling problem your technology and solution set solves (i.e. Plan B).  “How-to” test and refine the business hypothesis is the subject of upcoming blogs.

Keep on innovating,

 

Kevin

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The Innovator’s Playbook

Discovering and Transforming Great Ideas Into Breakthrough New Products

The Innovator's Playbook

The Innovator’s Playbook provides an innovation framework based on the "jobs-to-be-done" innovation theory pioneered by Clayton Christensen and others. This proven methodology frames innovation opportunities from the customer's perspective to create products and services that match the needs of the people who use it.
 

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