innovation #productdevelopment #productmarketfit

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🧐 "What problem does your product solve?" That was the first question I was asked at an incubator. Little did I know about the limitations of the Problem/Solution framework...

When starting with a new product, especially in complex environments, we will face many situations where this same question is asked ad nauseam.

I remember one day I got tired of trying to explain what my device did and changed the pitch to: "I'm curing cancer." Okay, it was definitely a stretch on my side, but I honestly didn't have a clue on how to make it better. More importantly, I didn't have a proper mental framework to understand what I was trying to achieve and what my customers needed.

One of the problems with my lack of framework to understand how to position my product is that I was missing out on opportunities and developing the wrong features.

When you build analytical tools (like in my case), you normally do something better than others—slightly better resolution, a broader range of parameters.

But that, in itself, is hardly enough to build a business case. "The Problem" is usually defined as "people want to measure more accurately and they can't". You can keep asking "why" to dive a bit deeper, and find the "real underlying problem". However, this is all from the perspective of having to identify a problem worth solving.

Let me ask you something: What problem do you think Netflix solves? Were people spending too much time commuting back and forth from Blockbuster?

Another framework that I found incredibly valuable is called "Jobs to be done," based on applying Jobs Theory to the process of innovation.

Anyone who works in a lab, for example, is always trying to achieve many things at the same time. Instruments are part of a toolchain. They want data, but they also want to have data no one else has. There is prestige in being good with an instrument no one else knows how to use. But a professor would see things very differently: they need to apply for a grant to hire the next PhD who will run the instrument. And the institute has yet another job at hand: disposing the instrument once the professor retires?

The JBTD framework is incredibly powerful for identifying features that are underserved and valuable for the customer.

A measurement with "better resolution" is what investors want to hear; what customers want to understand is how your device fits into their lives. How do you help them accomplish all those tasks they have been struggling with?

It's a multi-dimensional problem, and startups will have a hard time reaching out to enough customers to completely map it out. But it is incredibly useful during initial customer interviews.

It also allows mapping out competition and identifying areas of opportunity.

However, nothing can be done from a chair.

The only way JTBD is going to help is by talking to people and following them while they work. A clear example of something that never occurred to me while designing my first product was that people were spending time finding space for placing samples and pipettes. We could have implemented a solution, it's a small design decision that simply lowers the barrier for adoption.

The last super-power of the framework is that it allows tuning the value proposition according to the recipient. Once you know the job that each person is trying to do, you can offer them solutions. "So, your job is writing grants? I can lend you the device for 1 month so you generate preliminary data."

There's a lot to learn about frameworks for innovation. If you are curious, I strongly suggest checking the website of Strategyn, the original developers of JTBD.


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Aquiles Carattino
Aquiles Carattino
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