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Evolution & future of our Customer-Focused Innovation methodology

Amongst Jobs-to-be-done practitioners and our clients, Customer-Focused Innovation (CFI) is known as a process to measure unmet customer needs and to focus growth. CFI increases confidence to bet on the right ideas, focuses the discussions on facts and enhances data-driven decision making in innovation. Growth missions in all 3 growth horizons will more likely succeed.

We like to share with you what we have learnt on our mission towards more actionability and impact, since we created CFI 15 years ago. And we vision what the future might hold.

The origins of CFI: Predict what customers want

Two complementary minds meet in 2003 in a restaurant at a boring train station: Roger Chevalier, the seasoned computer engineer, and Beat Walther, an FMCG marketing executive with some experience in strategic management consulting. Both have taken an entrepreneurial decision earlier by starting their own consulting & coaching companies.

Roger, having worked for famous computer companies of the times, wants to specialize in innovation, leaving his general consulting and coaching practices behind. «Why do so many new products fail? Corporations have processes with KPIs for everything except for product development and innovation?», he was saying.

Beat, having experienced at Procter & Gamble the power of the consumer need, has a different concern on his mind. «Why do companies often not address the real problems of their customers? So many new products and communication messages simply don't resonate with customers.» Before starting his own business, he was working for a while at McKinsey, which gave him a perspective on how poorly companies of different industries develop and market new products.

The time with Strategyn and Outcome-driven Innovation® (ODI)

The eureka moment was an HBR article from Tony Ulwick from Strategyn. Roger was already working with Tony at the time. In fact, he was serving Bosch as a client and included Tony for a project on their circular saw division. Together, they applied the Outcome-driven Innovation® (ODI) methodology which Tony has created (for more see here).

The title of this HBR article was Turn Customer Input into Innovation. The galvanizing paragraph for Beat was: «The traditional approach of asking customers for solutions tends to undermine the innovation process. That’s because most customers have a very limited frame of reference. Customers only know what they have experienced. They cannot imagine what they don’t know about emergent technologies, new materials, and the like».

This paragraph resonated. It seemed to give an answer why companies fail to address customer needs. Either companies don't explore at all what customers want. Or if they ask customers, they ask in the wrong way. He remembered that in Procter, the question to consumers was never “what do you want?”, but rather “What do you try to achieve?” or “what goes wrong when you try to achieve something?”. Tony referred to a logic that was only popularized a few years later by Clayton Christensen: The Jobs-to-be-done logic.

Roger and Beat decided to create a company with the goal to apply ODI in Europe and across the world. As an official licensee of Outcome-driven Innovation® (ODI) from 2005 - 2010, they conducted more than 30 projects for companies in different industries like Cochlear, Alstom, SwissLife or Hager.

Creation of CFI: The journey to actionability

The experience with ODI taught us a lot. We understood that one of the key bottlenecks in innovation was not really applying the right tools or methodology nor having enough ideas, but the lack of confidence and conviction about what to do. We wanted to give more comfort in decision making. To help companies to do the right things (versus doing the things right).

A triggering moment was a global project for Cochlear, the leading hearing implant company. After discussing the discovered unmet needs of patients, surgeons and audiologists in a 4-day workshop in Sydney with more than 50 people from R&D, global marketing and the regions, the CEO said: «Prior to this workshop, everybody was endlessly debating what customers want. Now, we have unbiased facts. This shifts our discussions to focussing on doing the right things». We understood how powerful the approach was: Understand and measure customer needs before jumping to ideas and solutions.

ODI was limiting us, because we were eager to innovate ourselves. We wanted to implement the many good ideas we developed as a team or heard directly from our clients at the time. The ODI framework was good, but we felt limited by it. As a result we departed from Tony on good terms and created CFI. The name - Customer-Focused Innovation - became our mantra.

While keeping the good things of ODI, like for example Jobs-to-be-done as underlying logic, thinking in concrete and precise outcomes statements (which we call by the way now Job Metrics) and quantifying needs and expectations by importance and fulfillment, a whole set of improvements were added to our approach. The goal was always to increase actionability and impact for our clients.

Some examples: We simplified the way we presented CFI to a 4-step process: Frame - Discover - Spin - Implement. Each step has easy to apply tools that allow client teams to contribute, which greatly enhances buy-in and ensures implementation. Another example is the way we write Job Metrics (what ODI calls outcomes): We use more natural language without compromising on the precision. This increases acceptance of both client teams and improves survey quality with customers. A third example is how we frame the Job. We created the Jobs-to-be-done Hierarchy, our proprietary tool to put structure into the complexity of human needs and frame a business intention from the Jobs-to-be-done angle.

In 2015, with new partner Alice Sachova, a great networker, we connected with the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI) and the d-school to combine Jobs-to-be-done and Design Thinking together. We felt it was complementary, not competing. CFI was moving out of a niche application and became more universal. We generated and measured customer pain points (see what we mean by pain point here) and handed them over to product design, marketing or even strategy departments.

CFI reloaded: SPIN

50 projects later, and as a result of all our inspirational exchanges with the innovation ecosystem and with our clients, we made a next step. We observed that the process to bring insights gained from customer discovery to solution was broken. Despite generating a fact-based, precise understanding of customer pain points, strategy design, new product development and marketing continue to derail. New products more often than not were failing to solve customer problems.

Hence, we took a major step towards more actionability and impact with SPIN. The idea of SPIN was triggered by Yann Wermuth, new partner at Vendbridge. A great lateral thinker with a background in philosophy, but deeply rooted in pragmatism, he brought a fresh perspective.

In essence, SPIN does three things:

First, it organizes and measures the customer insights along a Customer Journey for different Personas. A new tool - the Job Journey Navigator - makes customer journey thinking truly actionable, because it shows measured pain points along the purchase or usage journey. The Navigator is much closer to the way companies and innovation teams think.

Second, SPIN creates a compelling sales-oriented value proposition, like a sales story , that resonates with future customers and serves as North Star for product development. This value proposition is directly derived from the Jobs-to-be-done and measured Pain Points. It allows to give a customer-relevant spin to design and development work. It even serves as a first prototype for solution-oriented user testing to evaluate how strong the growth idea is. If you want to find out more about our sales-oriented value proposition, read here.

Thirdly, SPIN helps to prioritize the different elements of a growth initiative, like strategies, actions, features or functionalities from the customer perspective. The benefits of e.g. a new product feature is matched against the customer pain points. The so-called Pain Matching is in high demand as most companies have too many ideas, and not too little. Selecting the right ideas is the bottleneck, not generating more ideas. Matching pains to solution ideas brings necessary focus and confidence to bet on the right horse.

SPIN gave CFI a new layer. We moved from customer discovery into strategy design. SPIN is highly actionable because it involves teams in an agile way and it boosts impact, because customer understanding is more likely integrated into solution development.

The future of CFI: where will we go from here?

CFI has matured with the help of more than 50 clients and more than 120 projects. But we still feel it is a raw diamond. That’s why we continue to innovate, in our journey towards more actionability and impact for our clients.

We have defined three levels of future innovations:

Level 1 will be to make our interview process even more efficient, using semantic concepts and AI. Instead of conducting 15-20 in-depth interviews to generate a complete and comprehensive customer metric system with 50-100 metrics, we want to harvest our own knowledge base of thousands of in-depth exploration interviews. This will speed up the process for our clients, overcome the hurdle of recruiting users, and thus be more compatible with today’s business practices. First experiments are promising.

Level 2 will be to make quantitative survey work automatic. Over the past 15 years, CFI has validated more than 10’000 Job Metrics for a wide range of target groups. AI algorithms will support us finding those metrics which are important and not fulfilled. Again, this will speed up the process and make it more instant for our clients.

Level 3 will be automated customer-focused idea evaluation and generation. Our vision is to have a structured approach with predictable outcomes. A lot of human knowledge, intuition and creative thinking is still needed. But who knows? Maybe, we are overrating the human factor and one day a machine might be better at this.

Imagine a world where companies only develop and introduce innovations that customers really want. How much waste would be eliminated? How much time gained? How much resources are saved?

Join us on this journey and stay tuned what the future holds. And read first hand from our Growth Architects and find out how some of our clients have experienced this journey.

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