Book Review – “What Customers Want” by Anthony Ulwick

what customers want - book coverAt Brainmates we take a “market driven” approach to Product Management. This means that we work with our clients to:

  • Identify a target market,
  • Research the target market by speaking with and observing the tasks and outcomes of a specific activity,
  • Articulate the unmet needs or market problems that are revealed during this process

This is recognised by Product Management and Innovation experts globally as best practice for creating breakthrough products.
However, one of the challenges of this approach is a lack of repeatable structure around how these customer problems are stated and subsequently tested. This can lead to ambiguous market requirements that can reduce the chances of product success in the market place.

“What Customers Want”

I have been impressed with the process described by Anthony Ulwick, in his book “What Customers Want” that very effectively addresses this problem using what he calls an “Outcome Driven Innovation” methodology.
There are 3 key components that make up this methodology:
1) Customers buy products and services to help them get jobs done
2) Customers use a set of metrics to judge how well a job is getting done and how a product performs
3) The customer metrics make possible the systematic and predictable creation of breakthrough products and services.

Customer Jobs

Anthony Ulwick’s book describes the “Jobs” that customers are trying to perform as an activity that has a desirable outcome for the customer. A market opportunity may exist if we can deliver a product that facilitates a faster, better or less expensive outcome then any existing options.

Describing a Customer Need

Another definition that the book formalises is the “Customer Need”. It provides a very clear and measurable format for describing a customer need that I find extremely helpful.
For example
Minimise the time it takes to write a market requirements document.
This breaks down into the following sections

  • Direction: Minimise or increase. These are the only two measures that should be used.
  • Unit of measure: What is being increased or minimised? Eg a number of events, duration, frequency, likelihood, cost.
  • Outcome desired: state what the end point is that is desired by the customer.

Apply a Metric to the Customer Needs

Once you have a list of customer needs, validate these needs to determine the Importance of these needs to the market place and how Satisfied the market is with existing solutions. Using the results of these measures a particular need will be scored and can be ranked.
A customer need that is considered very important but has a low satisfaction score will represent a valuable market opportunity worth solving.

Additional Applications of the Customer Need Score

The book goes on to describe a number of other applications of the customer need score, including prioritisation, market positioning, outcome driven market segmentation and more.


I found this one of the most useful and practical books on identifying and articulating customer needs and I highly recommend it to anyone who is trying to deliver breakthrough innovation in these challenging economic times.

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