By Kevin Meyer
As regular readers know, I'm usually not a big fan of the Harvard Business Review, but recently there have been a couple of intriguing articles. Most recently a piece by Anthony Tjan titled The Three Minute Rule. Not that's not yet another thin slice of the leadership spectrum that purports to look at things differently – well, actually it is. But it does create an interesting tool to look at value streams.
While there are obvious ways to gain significant customer understanding,
such as surveys and focus groups, some of the most interesting insights
come from less direct analyses. Take our three-minute rule as an
example. You can learn a great deal about customers by studying the
broader context in which they use your product or service. To do this,
ask what your customer is doing three minutes immediately before and
three minutes after he uses your product or service.
At Thomson, one of our products provided investment analysts with
financial earnings data. What we hadn't fully appreciated — until we
applied the three-minute rule — was that immediately after getting our
data, a large number of analysts were painstakingly importing it into
Excel and reformatting it. This observation led us to prioritize
developing a more seamless Excel plug-in feature with enhanced
formatting capability over other product development initiatives. The
result was an almost immediate and very significant uplift in sales.
So what's missing?
These situations illustrate the narrow-mindedness to which it is easy to
fall prey. In the Thomson example, we were thinking of ourselves as a
data provider, though we were really part of a broader workflow
solution. We failed to realize the importance of customer context over
our own product capability. The three-minute rule is a forcing
mechanism to see the bigger picture and adjacent opportunities.
I would go a bit further than the sales process. Not only are you finding adjacent opportunities, you are seeing how your product or service fits into the customer's value or knowledge stream. What are they doing right before or after receiving your product or service? Waiting? Trying to figure out how to use it? Scratching their heads? Reinspecting? Or is it seamlessly integrated?