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Identify Unmet Needs | By Aaron Swick

When looking for opportunities to deliver new value, expand into new markets, or even refresh an existing product line, we like to use a structured approach to identifying unmet needs as a foundation for achieving these goals. It may seem obvious, everyone knows what an “unmet need” is right?

In our experience teams generally know what it means to identify a need, but the way needs are synthesized, captured and communicated varies widely from person to person and team to team. We find that this variability results in communication challenges. Without alignment on what it is that a team is looking for, or how to articulate problems in a similar manner, it becomes difficult to have conversations about research findings and compare one opportunity to another. To ensure that the output of front-end research efforts are actionable, each recognized unmet need is defined with the same type, and level of information. 

We accomplish this by writing “Need Statements” which capture three key pieces of information gathered during our research efforts.

  1. The problem that end users or customers experience
  2. The population that is affected by the problem
  3. The desired outcome customers would expect if the problem was addressed



These statements look like this:



Here is an example of how something heard while in the field can be translated into a statement capturing an unmet need.


An example Need Statement:


Writing these statements provides the following benefits:

  1. Focuses your Effort on Understanding Desired Outcomes
  2. Foreshadows a Target Customer Segment
  3. Creates a "Testable" Asset for Customer Research
  4. Initiates a Portfolio Approach to Opportunity Identification

Focus on Desired Outcomes

Writing statements in this way forces you to think critically about each of these three components early on in your process. Although it is common for many front-end processes to focus on problem definition, we find that the other two steps in defining an unmet need  (understanding the affected population and what they desire out of future outcomes) are often overlooked, or left too high-level early on. We like to challenge the scope of how the target stakeholder populations are defined by asking ourselves - “Are all of these people really affected by this problem, or should we narrow, or broaden that population based on what I’ve learned.” For example - we may ask ourselves: “Do all diabetics struggle with this problem, or are only a subset of all diabetics impacted?” By doing so we may realize that a more accurate description may be that only type II diabetics who have previously been on specific types of medications experience the issues that we have recognized. Attempting to scope the impact of the identified problem early-on initiates your market segmentation efforts and gets the ball rolling on initial sizing estimates as well. 


Foreshadow your Target Segment

Defining the affected population in relation to their problems and desired outcomes, not demographics or psychographics like traditional segmentation, is a powerful way to ensure that you stay focused on what people desire out of your future offerings. In addition to becoming really specific on the target segment, capturing the desired outcomes, as heard in “the field”, brings clarity to how potential solutions will be measured for success in the future. The defined outcomes become core metrics associated with validation of a concept - does it deliver the desired benefits and change these outcomes? If not, maybe our concepts have missed the mark. In addition to guiding ideation efforts, defining desired outcomes in the language of your customers is a great way to initiate your efforts towards delivering meaningful value, and crafting messaging with language that resonates with your customers. 


Create a “Testable” Asset

Another meaningful use of the structured approach to writing need statements is that they become an initial asset used to quickly “test” your learnings with customers or end users. Sharing statements with stakeholders iteratively during ongoing research efforts allows you to home in on your understanding of the problem, explore specific language as input into future messaging, and test initial thoughts on future value propositions, all while providing a means of posing critical questions regarding the importance of the problem and level of satisfaction with current solutions. A simple statement facilitates these conversations, allowing the team to gather feedback from end users and target stakeholders, which is a critical input to the process that we use to filter and prioritize unmet needs. Through this process we focus our work on a smaller set of problems that are most meaningful.


Initiates a Portfolio Approach

Finally, in addition to using them to validate your understanding of needs as a milestone in identifying the most meaningful opportunities to focus on, the structured information contained within need statements becomes an initial framework for taking a portfolio approach to the front-end innovation. Consistent structure in needs definition allows you to start to compare them against one another, across these three important factors - the type of problem, the population and outcomes. Doing so allows you to think strategically about decisions regarding focusing on a given stakeholder, or a type of desired outcome. Let’s say that you have knowledge that a stakeholder is more influential in the decision making process, or a desired outcome is of more interest than another, you can then put more effort towards addressing those needs over others.  

Due to all of their uses, we recommend utilizing a standardized approach to synthesizing your research findings into statements of unmet needs. You will find that they facilitate conversation and decision making early on in your innovation efforts.

Ready to write a structured need statement?

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By Aaron Swick - November 26, 2019

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