Idea Potential Evaluation

Using Hydra and Tricks to Boost Innovation, it is easy to generate large amounts of potential business ideas in a short timeframe. Once written down, a phase that requires even more discipline starts: To prioritize what ideas should be developed. I call this also the idea potential evaluation.

This evaluation is typically difficult because in it’s infant state it is hard to estimate the impact of an idea. The following describes a mechanism that works very well for me.

The core of a profitable business is scalability and value

The concept to perform an idea potential evaluation is actually very simple, but the variables in the formula need some explanation.

As you will see, the evaluation will be quick and give you a list of ranked business ideas. It is best to use an excel sheet for the evaluation with the following columns:

  • Domain
  • Idea Name
  • High-Level Concept (Lean Canvas)
  • Brief description (only cornerstones, not too much detail)
  • Pain Relief
  • Gain Creator
  • Number of users
  • Effort/Complexity
  • Ranking

Pain-Relief

Pain is a distressing feeling through negative experiences. These experiences cause negative emotions that the customer feels in the process of getting a job done.

Pain-Reliefs are features to improve unpleasant tasks a customer has to do in a user journey.

To get a clearly prioritized idea backlog, use Fibonacci numbers for the estimation similar to Story Points.

Limit yourself to 5-6 numbers such as 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13. The stronger the pain, the higher the number.

Gain-Creator

Gain refers to the benefits which the customer experiences, what would delight customers and the things which may increase the likelihood of adopting a value proposition.

Gain-Creators are features to make pleasant tasks a customer has to do in a user journey even better.

To get a clearly prioritized idea backlog, use Fibonacci numbers for the estimation similar to Story Points.

Limit yourself to 5-6 numbers such as 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13. The higher the gain, the higher the number.

Pain vs Gain

Typically, customers experience the removal of pain more intensively than adding gain.

If a customer, for example, bought a car with no wheels, the experienced pain when looking at the car and thinking about the money spent, while not being able to use it, is very high.

If compared with creating gain such as adding more speed, the pain (getting wheels) will most of the time dominate.

If a pain-relief, however, targets a pain caused by a product you sold yourself before, the customer will often require to get it for free.

Number of Users

Estimate the number of users experiencing the pain or gain. It is important to note that users are not necessarily persons you sell the product to!

This might need some more explanation: If your added value enables your customers to gain a competitive advantage using your product, the pain/gain of their customers becomes their perceived value.

To get more accurate results, use officially available data from, for example, government agencies or ask google questions like “how many pizza places are there in the US” (answer btw. is 61269).

If you are targeting multiple customer segments, add the individual numbers.

Effort / Complexity

Similar to product backlog prioritization, estimate every individual idea and take the following into account:

  • The amount of work
  • The complexity (technical and logistics)
  • Any risk or uncertainty

For this estimation, it is best to involve a small group of open-minded seniors (Software: Product Owner, Architect, Developer, Tester, Data Analyst).

Explain the idea, but do not get tempted to go too much into detail. 5min for every idea should be enough. Better do this upfront for all ideas.

To be honest, I believe if your High-Level Concept (Lean Canvas) is well formulated, there shouldn’t be any long talking required.

To get a clearly prioritized idea backlog, use Fibonacci numbers for the estimation similar to Story Points.

Limit yourself to 5-6 numbers such as 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13. The higher the effort/complexity, the higher the number.

The Formula – Putting it all together

Using the information determined above, the actual formula is simple but beautiful.

\text{Ranking} = \frac {\text{Pain or Gain * Number Users}}{\text{Complexety of Solution}} 

Idea potential evaluation with the concept described creates a ranked list of potential business ideas with the focus on scalability and value.

Idea Potential Evaluation – Conclusion

Increasing complexity and effort means higher resource usage or slower time to market with constant resources.

More gain or removed pain, on the other hand, increases the value of the solution.

As the concept focuses on customer value, combining it with Value-Based Pricing enables you to answer the question about an approximated market price, as well as the revenue potential, very early.

The idea with the highest-ranking shows the best value to effort ratio.

Digital Transformation is tricky

According to Samsung, the company implemented what they call a New Concept Development in 2013. At the time, this was the new product development strategy of Samsung. I’ll explain what this has to do with Digital Transformation in a minute.

As a part of Samsung’s overall innovation process, a Project Innovation Team (PIT) was born out of the need to have an incubator group to work with every business unit to provide more market insight.

Taking advantage of the Google Android operating system, the company is nowadays leading the global Smartphone market with 22% in Q2’19.

It is interesting to read Yoon’s comment on the core of the change.

The primary mission was to change our customer-facing product development process from engineer-driven to customer-driven

Yoon C. Lee

Samsung’s PIT is following a four-step process: Understand, Ideate, Concept Development, Concept Finalization.

Transformation In Progress

Around 2006, the time the team has been established, a lot of organizations made the step to customer-centric development. In retrospect, I’m asking myself why it has ever been done differently, to be honest.

Considering the sizes of enterprises such as Samsung, Microsoft (which also performed a remarkable transformation), GE, ABB, etc. it is no wonder that some large companies are still in the process of implementing the new concepts.

Thinking of the Past

In most cases, the companies had a more or less working product management which was shielding the customers from development team questions such as “what do you want to achieve”.

The development teams were embedded in V and waterfall models, which work very well for products where components need to be put together.

Software development, however, is a creative process which can better be compared to painting a picture. Even a doctor’s visit to check the reason for certain symptoms comes closer than assembling a motor.

At the same time the handover date, scope of work and resources/price needs to be communicated upfront. A timeline is set to, for example, ramp up the complex marketing machine.

This is also btw, why I think it is not good to speak about projects in product development:

A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources.
And a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal. So a project team often includes people who don’t usually work together – sometimes from different organizations and across multiple geographies.

PMI

A product team is quite the opposite. It is an in many regards well-balanced, empowered team that stays together and continuously explores opportunities as long as the product is alive. The goals are defined per iteration and base on moving targets, such as KPIs.

Why the Digital Transformation is so hard

Until today, applying the project way of thinking, which is dominant in industrial environments, to product teams causes friction in organizations. This might also be related to the fact that development works best with budgets than cost/effort estimations.

Effort estimations and Statement Of Work-based pricing almost always lead to a lock-in of too many variables (quality, resources, time, money, scope) which lead to missing the agreed goals.

So why is it so hard in large enterprises to think of development like going to a doctor?

Digital Transformation isn’t about digital products

It’s about an organization’s mindset

Everybody accepts that doctors can’t tell upfront how long it will take to heal, so why do we expect the development team to be able to do this?

It is convenient and gives a feeling of control.

But it is a lie.

Consider the pain involved in accepting this. Whole sales organizations are incentivized to sell equipment which gives a commission. If such organizations are asked to sell digital subscriptions, you are set up for failure.

When given the choice, a salesperson would always choose the one with the high commission over the low. To be honest, who wouldn’t?

On the other side, for example for co-development, it is better to use incremental delivery contracts. This enables the customer to exercise influence and get what is required with a lot less emotional pain. On top of this, it enables a faster go to market for the customer himself.

Embrace Change and move on

The sooner an organization moves on and deals with this, the sooner products can be created that really provide customer value. After adapting the required mindset, introducing digital products is easy.

Where value flow is, there can be cash flowing as well

Conclusion

So what’s important for a successful Digital Transformation is:

  1. Separate disruptors / the Product Innovation Team (PIT) from the rest of the organization, while they are in their ideation to allow them to be creative without the judgment
  2. Get the PIT regularly grounded by involving operational entities
  3. Give the PIT market access
  4. Understand that PITs have another working mode (explorative, hypothesis-driven vs assertive)
  5. Incentivize everybody on the goals of the transformation
  6. Have goals that make sense for each organizational level
  7. Manage goals and expectations (a mindset doesn’t change overnight)
  8. Embrace failure, but require to document what has been learned
  9. Give everybody in the organization a voice (not via townhalls, but via collaboration platforms)
  10. Record every meeting and hold people accountable
  11. Reduce meetings to 6 participants and have a timebox
  12. Note the money spent for a meeting
  13. Trust the teams to make autonomous decisions
  14. Digitalize internally first, then externally
  15. Change the mindset to “You rent a team and don’t buy the outcome”

By now it should be clear, why I picked Samsung in the beginning. I think they are doing a lot right, which is why I’d like to cite Yoon again:

Without a replicable process, it is very difficult to make innovation stick within a large organization. But there is a secret sauce to it. Make the process extremely simple.

Yoon C. Lee

Print your guiding principles on the back of every business card. Why should you hide them from your customers anyways? You might, after all, have the same gole but didn’t know yet 🙂

Value-Based Pricing

Determining the price for a product the market hasn’t seen can be tricky. Set the price too low and the profit is not maximized. Set it too high and no one will buy the product and all invested marketing will be for nothing. A good way to find the right pricepoint is value-based pricing.

The too-high price hereby is even worse than too low because it takes significantly more effort to persuade a potential customer after adjusting the price to try the product again.

Using a Too Low Price as Advantage

“Why’s a too low price better?” you may ask and “am I not losing money with a too low price?”

Yes, you do. And I’d recommend changing this situation as soon as possible. But until then, use it to your advantage.

If a customer is using the product, it is easier to forward additional cost, for example of development, by increasing the perceived value with extensions via in-app purchases. In this case, the product is a channel to the most important person out there, your customer. There is not even a real marketing campaign required to reach an existing customer.

An active customer gives you valuable insights into usage patterns. These patterns can be utilized to further improve the product and discover additional marketable features.

Most importantly, a customer using your product already pays with data. This data enables you to extend your offering with more advanced features (machine learning for example).

If you read the previous paragraphs carefully, you might get to the conclusion that the more functionality you release in one block the bigger the risk of failing to meet the customers’ expectations. In addition, it is more likely to miss the right price. You are right.

This leads to two important constraints:

  • Release small increments
  • Know the customer values before pricing

There are at least two ways of pricing. Cost-based and value-based pricing, which I’d like to explain separately below.

Cost-Based Pricing

Using cost as a basis for pricing is a way to price a product or service by analyzing its cost structure and then applying a markup. Calculating cost includes amongst others development, operations, marketing, project management, sales, maintenance, infrastructure and overhead. The method works very well in environments with traditional project planning and component-oriented products.

During the price calculation, an estimated guess of the total customer base is used to spread the one time cost, for example development, across all customers. Coming up with the right amount of users can often be tricky.

In digital environments where a product is created once and sold to millions of users however, the cost of creating the product is typically low compared to the customer base. Customer acquisition cost (CAC) however get even more important.

Whether your price is covering the cost to provide the service should still be calculated when you do value-based pricing.

What is Customer Value?

Customer value is satisfaction, experienced by taking a given action relative to the cost of that action. Typically this action is taken to fulfill specific goals.

The action is usually the purchase, a sign-up or something similar. Cost refers to any type of payment/transfer in order to receive a benefit. This can, for example, be money, but also data, time or knowledge.

Knowing your customers’ goals and to address them in marketing with an appropriate ratio between satisfaction to cost increases your chance for a win-win.

Customer Goals

The primary goal of (almost) every company is:

To make money

Especially in large enterprises, this is often not clear throughout the organization due to the specialization of individuals/departments. Breaking down the goals into sub-goals such as to improve quality, reduce downtime, increase throughput, improve OEE, etc. replaces the main goal of the overall company (make money) during day-to-day operations.

While all of these sub-goals might make sense locally, it is often preventing to fully achieve the primary goal on an enterprise level.

The sum of local optima is not the global optima

As an example, you might want to think about corporate incentive systems that are typically set up around profit & loss. Two peers are for example indirectly incentivized to prevent collaboration, even though it would increase the profits for the company as a whole. Instead of collaborating, peers try to maximize individual profit (local optima).

The knowledge about the goals, corporate culture, strategies and internal politics of a customer helps to determine the appropriate price. Every pitch, flyer, link, poster, and whitepaper must address these goals.

Please note that value is perceived and therefore differs from customer to customer. Customers sharing the same values can be grouped into customer segments.

Because value-based pricing can be applied to whole segments and focuses on the customer (value), compared to on yourself (cost), the concept gets very powerful.

Product Pricing basing on Customer Value

An optimal deal always creates a win win

Determine which goal the customer is trying to achieve. For example, the goal is to minimize the time a maintenance manager of a plant needs to spend checking the oil level of a machine at a remote location.

The primary objective is to save costs (Pain). Depending on the customer’s operation, faster response times might offer additional, previously untapped opportunities (Gain). If the remote reading was digital, the maintenance manager could do something else during this time.

It’s important to note that there should be something else to do for him though. If there is nothing else to do, the employee would not be required. There might still be a way to sell, but definitely not to the maintenance manager.

It is better, to create inclusive products, which require training, not to replace people. Besides providing a more human solution, this creates a positive image of the company as well as the product and helps sales. If you can provide the training, you even earn double.

Best is if a product creates multiple wins not just win win

For the example above this means there are many winners, the customer (less cost, faster response time, safer operation), the maintenance manager (higher qualification, less repetition), society (less unemployment, less pollution, fewer cars on the road), government (sales tax, qualified workforce) and you (profit, access to data).

Example Calculation for Value-Based Pricing

The goal above was to minimize the time a maintenance manager of a plant needs to spend checking the oil level of a machine at a remote location.

By determining the average distance for one trip (100km) and the number of times to drive the tour (10 times per month) the total distance for the activity per month is 1000km.

The pickup truck to drive the distance has a consumption of 15l/100km. This means the total amount of fuel per month is 150l. Assuming gasoline and one liter is 1.22 Euros, all trips per month cost 183 Euros.

Depending on the customer segment, the willingness to share needs to be determined for example in customer interviews. Let’s assume a willingness to share the savings of 183 Euros is 30%. This means the customer is likely to accept a subscription price of 55 Euros per month.

To ensure profitability, the determined price still needs to be compared with the occurring cost to provide the service.

Conclusion

For digital products with many customers, value-based pricing allows to price according to the perceived customer value. This leads to increased profit and customer satisfaction.

You can find my favorite book regarding product development here.

Please let me know what you think, either by sharing or leaving a comment below.