Where is my Innovation Button?

 In Business Model Management, Industry News

Outcome-Driven Innovation is a strategy and process that was designed from the ground up to create products and services that will get the job done significantly better that any competing solution.

Innovation, as a trade, is coming of age. Consider the number of major professional symposiums/congresses, such as Front-End Innovation (@fei_innovation) or FT Innovate (organized by Financial Times), to mention a few. Judging by the level of attendees – Global Fortune 500 or equivalent CxOs (BBC, eBay, 3M), Politicians (Rt Hon Francis Maude MP), thought leaders & academics (Alexander Osterwalder), this is an area in which we should be taking note. The number of CIOs has also increased in the past few years. No, these are not your IT chiefs, these are Chief Innovation Officers.

However, with innovation, comes the task of finding your way through the innovation tools “soup”.

It’s certainly tricky to find out the jobs to be done by potential customers. And yes, asking them what they want doesn’t help.

Tony Ulwick (@Ulwick) has developed a methodology called Outcome-Driven Innovation, or ODI (and has co-founded a consulting company that practices it) that aims to address this challenge. These ideas have won him several patents. The Harvard Business Review has published his articles.

The idea behind the ODI is to identify the specific tasks performed by potential customers that are both important for jobs-to-be-done as well as  non-satisfactory.

ODI seeks to identify the “outcomes” (rather than loosely defined “needs”) that specific steps in any job-to-do would profit from. These outcomes have to be measurable. That gets you closer to the notion of the value for the customer – remember, these are the items that are both Important and currently Non-Satisfactory for the customer and we know how to measure them.

ODI develops a very precise language to discover these outcomes. The typical sentence, describing the-job-to-done, may take the form of:

<Improvement direction> <Unit of measure> <Object of Control> <Context Clarifier> <Example of Object Control>

It may look like “minimize the amount of paint when it is poured from one container to another, e.g. roller pans, smaller cans, and sprayers”. Or, “increase the number of cuts that may be done with a single blade.”

What Customers Want
ODI uses pretty advanced methods to filter the information collected to select the jobs-to-be-done that are worth pursuing.

Tony Ulwick wrote a book called “What Customers Want” that describes ODI in detail. You can also visit his company website – www.strategyn.com.

Like with many other tools, reading the book will get you only so far. You probably need training and practice before you can call yourself an ODI expert.

From my own experience, I can judge that while ODI is not very simple to master, it does provide great insight into unmet customer needs.

I have used ODI in a project with an ISV of a software system for the aviation industry as well as a team of business school students with an Innovation Management major. We discovered a completely new way to provide an existing service to customers that help reduce their anxiety about missing the plane in the airport.

While the Value Proposition Canvas (Business model Generation, which includes the Blue Ocean Strategy (BOS) tools) offers a useful way to graphically match the needs/jobs-to-be-done, I find that the BOS Canvas is very practical for visual comparison between competing solutions. Where BOS Canvas could use some improvement is a more practical way to identify the criteria by which these solutions are measured, something that ODI addresses.

As one CEO of a medium-size software company explained: “They’ve installed this Innovation Button in my office, but when I hit it, nothing happens..!”

At the end, we must understand that all these tools are extremely powerful, but none of them are magical and all require serious work, in the trenches, to gain the intimate knowledge of our potential customers.

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