Clayton Christensen, Milkshakes and the Work To Improve Your Product

How To Improve Your Product

The research that Clay Christensen did, the milkshake work that lead to the “Jobs to Be Done” framework is pretty famous by now. But when you want to improve your product, it's worth looking at it again.

Most of us know why we're doing what we're doing, right?

So this Harvard Business School article can seem like common sense that no one needs to hear. But what Clay Christensen is saying goes deeper than just knowing why we do what we do.

I remember talking with him a couple years ago about this research and the most interesting aspect of the research was the ability to change the shake to make it do an even better job than it had been doing.

Let's back up. Let's review the article's essence.

The Jobs To Be Done Approach

A company wants to improve sales of milkshakes. They do what we all do—they ask customers about the aspects of the milkshake.

  • Should it be sweeter?
  • Should it come in more flavors?
  • Do you want it in larger sizes?

Only after noticing that 40% of the milkshake orders are taken out of the restaurant do new questions appear—why? who is doing this? to what end?

That's when they find out the “job” that the shake is doing.

It's breakfast for commuters that have long drives, already are dressed for work, can't get crumbs on their clothes, and need the sugar pickup (plus something to do on the drive).

So Christensen asks, “What job is your product doing?”  

It's the question we need to be asking ourselves all the time.

How Will You Improve Your Product

But more importantly, it's what they do after they get the answer that is most impressive in this story.

By discovering the job the shake is doing, they are able to make the shake even better – and drive even more sales.

If the shake needs to last a long commute, why not make it thicker?

It's a perfect idea but one that would never come from asking customers if the shake is sweet enough or what new flavors they wanted.

If you want to improve your product, it's not enough to know what job your customer is hiring it to do. What's more important is to figure that out, and then work to make your product even better at doing that job.

What Questions Are You Asking?

At the start of the week I told you I was changing jobs and taking the lead at LearnDash. I then met with some of folks to reassure them that I didn't want to mess up what was already going so well.

Then I introduced them to several frameworks I use to help me think more strategically about products. In the end, it comes down to several questions – all of which spring from the work Clayton did. Because I not only want to know what job my product is doing, but I want to make it better at doing that job.

  • Who are we serving? How are we defining these segments and micro-segments?
  • What pains are we already solving for them? And which ones aren't we yet solving?
  • If we look at the larger context around where those pains exist, is there more we can do to help deliver value and delight?
  • If we do this right, can we expand who we serve by pushing into adjacent micro-segments?

You may have your own questions. But my challenge to you is to keep challenging yourself to improve your product, iteratively and endlessly.

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