In 1990, after years of work as a senior product planner at IBM, Tony Ulwick had a breakthrough. He realized that product planning practices could be vastly improved through the use of Six Sigma principles if researchers were to deconstruct and study the underlying process that people were trying to execute while using a product or service, rather than studying the product itself. He envisioned that this approach would enable researchers to uncover the metrics that customers use to measure success and value as they go about executing these processes, and that these metrics could be used to identify opportunities for improvement and to evaluate the potential of new product concepts. This insight led to the creation of a new and promising innovation process.
Tony’s first major success applying his methodology came in 1992 when he helped Cordis Corporation reinvent its line of angioplasty balloon products.
By studying the process that interventional cardiologists were trying to execute (restore blood flow in an artery), he discovered a number of hidden growth opportunities and conducted a series of strategy sessions to help Cordis create a new product line. In less than 18 months, the company launched 19 new products, all of which became number 1 or 2 in the market. Cordis’ market share increased from 1 percent to more than 20 percent, and its stock price more than quadrupled. This success and the process Tony used to achieve it was showcased in the 2002 Harvard Business Review article Turn Customer Input into Innovation.
In the years following his first success, Ulwick led dozens of innovation initiatives achieving similar results with companies that included Motorola, Pratt & Whitney, Medtronic, AIG, Telectronics, and Allied Signal. He refined and improved his methodology as it was used successfully across a broad range of applications.
In 1999 Ulwick officially named his innovation process Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI).
In 1999 Ulwick had the pleasure of introducing ODI to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen who also saw the value of making the “underlying process the customer was trying to execute”, not the customer or the product, the unit of analysis. Clayton went on to introduce what he called “jobs-to-be-done” theory in his book The Innovator’s Solution citing Strategyn’s work in job and outcome-based thinking, market segmentation and the ODI process. Ulwick explained his ODI process in detail in a book released in 2005 called What Customers Want. Today, Jobs-to-be-Done Theory and the idea that people buy products to get a job done has gone mainstream.
Since Ulwick’s initial success, he and Strategyn have made 20-plus years of improvements to the ODI process while applying it in hundreds of innovation initiatives. It is the most comprehensive and effective approach for transforming Jobs-to-be-Done Theory into an effective innovation practice.