“Leaders must keep in mind that the customer is the superhero and your job is to tell them how your product will help them become a hero.” Donna Lichaw.
The history of product innovation has repeatedly shown that companies who ignore the user in favour of the technology fail. They fail because they fall victim to what is now known as the ‘ stack fallacy’.
The stack fallacy was first coined by Anshu Sharma, a product management veteran of Oracle and Salesforce. It describes the tendency to overstate the importance of a single layer of the technology stack. More importantly, it implies a tendency to overlook the importance of the layers higher up the stack, particularly the part that touches the user.
It was stack fallacy that caused telcos to dismiss WhatsApp as a simple app that sat above their layer of the stack. It was stack fallacy that allowed AWS to steal a march on VMWare despite their expertise in virtual machine technology.
Slack, Uber, Facebook, Google, even Microsoft have proved Sharma right. Success in any given market always comes down to the same fundamental question, “Who understands the user better?”
Product managers have traditionally discussed products in terms of solving problems. But in a hyper-competitive world it’s no longer enough to simply solve a functional problem. You need to understand your user’s story.
Which is why it’s gratifying to read Clay Christensen’s recent book ‘ Competing against Luck’ in which he revisits his theory of Jobs-to-be-Done(JTBD). Almost 20 years old, it’s the ‘newest old idea’ in product. Only now is it being fully appreciated by a new generation of digital product designers.
JTBD’s perennial relevance stems from its singular focus on the context, mindset and desired outcomes of the user, rather than the attributes of the product itself. It’s a form of storytelling, with the user at the centre of the narrative rather than a peripheral player. Product practitioners who embrace the method start by articulating a product’s ’ Job Story’ before considering design details.
Christensen points out that companies that view their business through the Job lens are much less likely to be disrupted by upstart challengers, in the way hotels have been by AirBnB or taxis have been by Uber. Teenagers have always wanted to communicate with each other in private. Once they passed notes to each other in class, now they send messages via Snapchat.
The user’s Job Story rarely changes. It’s the means of achieving it that is dependent on the technology available.
Christensen is adamant that Job Stories are ‘discovered’ (rather than written) and that they have both functional and emotional components.
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