Creating Great Products at College Summit
For as long as I have been at College Summit, we have sought to evaluate the effectiveness of our products. This makes sense. We want to help more students go to college and we hope that the products and services we offer help accomplish this goal. When evaluating, we have traditionally relied on educational evaluation methods. We measure educational outcomes such as evidence of change in students’ lives, whether lesson objectives were met, and the like. While this approach allows us to say whether we believe a product is effective or not, the information does not provide actionable insight into what opportunities exist for product creation or improvement.
What are we missing?
After some research, I believe we are lacking a market-driven approach to product innovation. This is critical because even if we develop an outstanding educational tool that achieves results every time, if a school doesn’t see its value, it won’t sell and therefore it won’t matter how effective it is. We need effective products, but equally important is to know what the market is hungering for.
While “the market” doesn’t lay out what “it” wants, some very smart people have thought about how to understand this. One of them is Anthony Ulwick who wrote about an intriguing approach in his book What Customers Want: Using Outcome-Driven Innovation to Create Breakthrough Products.
Ulwick’s approach focuses initially on the jobs customers are trying to get done and the desired outcomes they wish to achieve when doing those jobs. “Job” can be translated into task, and desired outcome into measure of success. A good (and marketable) product then, allows customers to successfully complete tasks.
In the education world, we can take resume writing as an example. The job to be done is for students to complete a resume. One of many desired outcomes associated with resume writing would be for students to minimize spelling and grammatical errors in the process. This makes it plain that educators would desire a curriculum lesson that provides effective coaching on spelling and grammar. Here we have the solution to a real problem.
The brilliance of Ulwick’s approach is not in this observation, however. Understanding all the jobs and desired outcomes would still leave us unsure where to focus limited resources in making product improvements. Ulwick then recommends that companies ask customers to rate the importance of each job and desired outcome, and how satisfied they are with products that help accomplish those tasks. An outcome that is highly important and also poorly supported by existing products presents a market opportunity. With the 12th Grade Navigator textbook, for instance, we could find that resume writing tops the list of “jobs to be done” senior year but that the book does a terrible job explaining how to do this. This would give us valuable information on where to focus resources in improving the curriculum.
Over the next few months, we’ll be attempting outcome-driven innovation at College Summit. Check back to see how it’s going.