PropertyLab - How a single question could unlock vast change for landlords

By Jared - April 20, 2020

'Jobs To Be Done' is a framework that eschews traditional methods of market research. Here's why it's so important to the PropertyLab process.

I’m very proud to say that we recently launched PropertyLab: an innovation programme that tackles some of the biggest issues landlords face in keeping their properties safe.

The first programme in the series focuses on simplifying the key aspects of the regulatory compliance process in the residential sector, specifically on fire and gas safety. Backed by key partners AO Proptech, The Disruptive Innovators Network (DIN) and a cohort featuring some of the most innovative and progressive landlords in the UK - with a combined portfolio of almost 400,000 properties - we’re working with experts who understand how important it is to get right.

There are a great deal of obstacles standing in the way of a corporate innovator from process to systems, culture to risk appetite. But challengers could be setting themselves up for failure before event beginning. Studies show that the root cause of many failed projects lies in the problem-solution fit as much as the challenges in delivering it. 

Picking the right problems. 

At Plentific, we’re developing a constantly-evolving product to address our customers' problems better than any other offer. We move fast. We experiment. But it’s not as shoot-from-the-hip as it might sound. 

Finding a product-market-fit that delights customers isn’t magic. Or luck. It’s a science. And it starts with great research.

Over the next two months, the PropertyLab cohort will work with us to research, identify, prioritise and develop new, disruptive solutions to issues that have plagued property compliance for decades.

Here’s one way it’s different.

“...customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.”

You’ve probably heard that adage from Steve Jobs. Like Henry Ford before him, the oft used (and frequently abused) phrase is a go-to for startups trying to justify their decision to ignore market research and plow straight into development. 

I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s not what either Steve or Henry really meant

It’s almost impossible for a visionary to market disruptive ideas without knowing their market.

“‘What are you currently using to solve X and how would you improve it?”

Companies often ask questions in market research that justify their product or solution. They’ve already decided on the problem they’re solving, and how they’re going to do it. The results are rarely news to the team.

And so the research rarely produces remarkable results. At best, it might deliver incremental changes to a product or industry, because it operates within predefined parameters of a product or service. But it misses the bigger picture. The ‘Why’. This is the market research that Jobs hated and what leads to creating a “faster horse”.

At PropertyLab, we start with the ‘Why’.

“Which do you prefer - solution A or B?”

And finally - a word on stats. Many larger companies find comfort in statistics. A bigger data set means less risk. It absolves the marketing team from blame when a product fails to hit the spot with customers. But being able to prove a correlation or that OUR solution is better than theirs isn’t enough. It doesn’t tell you why. We ask better questions.

A better question. 

In 2005, Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School articulated a different way to think about product development. Not by asking whether customers might buy or improve a product, but by studying their motivations.

He published his theory - coined 'Jobs To Be Done' in  a paper for the Harvard Business Review titled The Cause and the Cure of Marketing Malpractice.

The Jobs To Be Done framework eschews traditional methods of market research that focus on gathering lots of data and creating correlations from this data. 

Instead, it starts with human understanding. Context.  Simply, it tries to understand what a customer is trying to achieve in their current circumstances. This line of thinking opens up possibilities. 

In our work with the PropertyLab cohort, we’ve uncovered some fascinating insights through our interviews when utilising this approach. We’re talking to a number of stakeholders managing and remedying compliance issues for some of the largest and most progressive landlords in the UK. 

These are big companies. They employ many people. Complex systems. They have a legacy. 

So when you’re approaching a problem as complex as creating a step change in compliance, you have to ask - 

“What are you trying to get done?”

The PropertyLab Cohort consists of 10 of the biggest and most progressive landlords in the UK, including Notting Hill Genesis, ForViva and Hull City Council. Through the programme, we interview at least 5 stakeholders at every level of the organisation to understand their motivations, challenges and frustrations. 

Time and time again, we talk to users struggling to get key jobs done because of manual processes. 

So often organisations have complex, disconnected systems that can become a nightmare to integrate. 

Often, they stick with them because of this. 

Sometimes they don’t bother at all for the same reasons. 

Frequently, the ‘system’ behind something as repetitive (but crucial) as checking a gas certificate (known in the business as a “LGSC”) is a human, sitting at a desk, reading them. 

But why is this so complex? 

Ask a compliance officer ‘how would you improve the process?' and you’ll have a discussion about improving the accuracy of OCR technology that reads the certificate (because 95% isn’t good enough for life-threatening issues). Or what happens once the certification has been verified (often, it will be put into a spreadsheet). 

But ask what is the job they’re trying to do and what’s in the way, and you get different answers. 

Completing a gas certification or a remedial job to solve a fire risk issue shouldn’t be hard. 

Many of these issues are repetitive. 

Our cohort produces and verifies hundreds of thousands of gas certificates each year. 

Replaces tens of thousands boilers.

Many of these tasks are formalised with certificates.

But behind the scenes are specific issues that make it difficult to get the job done. 

Free text fields where a drop down could standardise inputs. 

Apps that only work online, when many properties are outside of mobile signal.

Paper certificates. 

Starting at the start.

We believe that starting at the start can help us to build something new. That the PropertyLab cohort has an opportunity to identify issues that have been holding back progress - and with it the levels of safety that tenants deserve - then tackle them through little changes that create a big difference. 

It's why we're so keen to speak to as many stakeholders as possible, and why we don't show them a product, but ask them what they're trying to achieve in their role (and what stands in the way of it). 


If you found these insights useful and want to learn more about the exciting innovation coming out of PropertyLab, join our mailing list at propertylab@plentific.com.


 

Get an introduction to PropertyLab.

labs-1-1

PropertyLab is a free but selective programme. You can register your interest using the link below - and get some details on our first sprint.

If you feel that now is the time to bring about a step change in compliance for the industry, we would love to hear from you.