24 Jan 2022

What Are Jobs To Be Done?

Product Management

Inês Liberato

Head of Product Innovation @ Tax Systems
2 Articles
Inês is a product manager with many years of experience which she has gathered from different businesses and different areas such as Affiliate Marketing and Ad-Tech (Skimlinks), Gambling (TAU), IoT (Hive) and, most recently Fintech (Arkk Solutions). Inês managed products at very different stages, with both in-house and offshore teams. Inês is the most comfortable with product discovery and growth.
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Jobs to be done is a methodology used to uncover why and how people decide to hire products and services.

These services will support them in accomplishing their objectives - their objective being the “job to be done”.Think about your day-to-day and the number of products and services you use as tools to get your jobs done. Then you can quickly realize what we mean here:

  • You don’t pay for the internet to claim “I have internet”. You pay for the internet to give you access to online commerce. Or chats with your family and friends because you can’t be with them in person.

  • You don’t get the bus because you love public transportation. You need to get somewhere, and parking the car in town is expensive and it “drives” you mad.

  • You probably get your shopping delivered because you want to save time and effort to do something else.

Things like going to the park or working for a bit longer.

The main difference with this approach to other product discovery techniques is that it shifts the focus away from the product and to the user.

The user being the human behind the screen hiring your products. You might be wondering now - “but how do I know what to work on, what to prioritize, if we’re not talking about the product??”.

That’s what we’ll cover in this article, so let’s see how it works.

How does the Jobs to be Done framework work?

I like thinking about Jobs to be done (JTBD) as a mindset.

A mindset that is easy to put into practice, and gain experience from, because it comes with a “clear set of instructions on the label”.In essence, you start with a question and you will be chatting with your target user to get an answer. The most important thing to retain is that this is a user-centred approach to problem-solving.

So think human, think individuals, and how you will want to learn more about them so you can really help them. (with your proposed solution). This framework should help with each step of the way, from preparing for the user interview to analyzing and presenting the data back, while making sure you got the most out of the experience. By the end of the process you will be able to identify:

  • The different steps of getting the job done - their sequence and hierarchy (some jobs will be small, like tasks, and some other jobs might be related to life goals)

  • The context (it’s important to understand if the job is an one-off thing, or if your “actor” on the move while they’re doing the job - details matter)

  • What are the emotions (the psychological factors have an impact on how the action unrolls)

  • Other participants and their roles in getting the job done (consider a couple who make decisions together, or in a context of B2B where there is a user of the product and a “buyer” of the product who might not be the same person).

Jobs to be done: Understanding the problem and what you want to learn

Whether you’re a small business looking for product-market fit, or a larger organization with a suite of products in an established market, you have a proposal of a product/service/functionality that you’re looking to learn more about.

For example, you may be working on a device which connects to AC units so that they can be controlled from a mobile device, or the web.

You believe that you have a great product, but you don’t have a lot of customers.

This is a problem, but it is a little too vague and this might be impacted by a lot of different factors: are you where your customers are when they need you? Does your product meet their expectations?

Are you solving a problem that is painful enough and that is worth the effort?

To narrow the problem down and facilitate conversations, you can look at the basic pirate funnel (AAARR):AAARRR funnel and example questions around each funnel step.

After confirming that the source of the problem stems from different sources, you’ll still have to decide which one is the most important one to learn more about.

To put it simply: if you can’t reach enough customers, you might have the best product in the world and no one will know about it. However, if people are not signing up when they find you, maybe your value proposition doesn’t reach the “aha!” moment fast enough.

These two scenarios are different problems that will need to be tackled separately.

Bear in mind that this is not a “one-off”. You should be talking with your target market quite often, so don’t worry if you can’t cover everything - you shouldn’t. This should be a continuous process, but we’ll get there. To the interview!

Jobs to be done: the user interview

Interviewing can be daunting.

Remember that even if you don’t have a lot of experience, you should be able to do a great job at surfacing the right information.

Looking at the hypothesis you already framed, you can list a set of questions that you want to ask.

Remember, this methodology is all about the user, so you’ll need to get really curious about yours.

Any little information might be useful.

Don’t worry about the amount of information, as there’s a process to group and assess information that we will tackle next.

Let’s say that you’re working on a product that connects homeowners and cleaners. You have a healthy customer base, but they’re not subscribing to your monthly plan.

1 - Start with some questions about the person you’re interviewing.

You want to break the ice, but you will have to keep it professional and within context.

  • Where do you live?

  • How many rooms does your home have?

  • How long do you normally spend at home?

2 - Bring the conversation to the situation you want to learn more about.

We don’t always have the benefit of meeting our users at the point when they’re using our products, so focus the conversation around the time they had to go through the experience you’re looking to learn more about.

  • Thinking about the last time you thought you could use some help with cleaning your home - could you tell me about that moment and what happened?

3 - Ask about details of the situation.

You will need to identify the process they go through to get the job done: the steps involved, what are smaller jobs (or tasks) that need to get done in order to do the job, what is the context of this process, and what is their emotional state.

  • Did we meet your expectations last time?

  • When the cleaner left the house, what did you do?

  • Would keeping a record of how you like things to be done be helpful for the next visit?

4 - More importantly, listen.

This is not about solutions, or about proving you’re right. Your main goal is to listen to learn.

Some extra tips, because you’re cool 😎:

  • Don’t trap yourself in “yes/no” answers. Make sure your questions are open ended and focus on the “why”, “what”, “how”, “who” and “when”.

  • If you’re in a B2B space, you will potentially have to do a few rounds with different people. Different stakeholders will have different jobs and so you will have to consider; understand how they might clash and how they interact with each other, etc.

  • Knowing about how the process steps link to each other is important too. Is it a “bitty” task, or something they can do all in one go? Are the things they need all in one place, or do they need to get a lot of different things from different places? The preparation time, etc.

  • Even if you’re recording the session, see if you can get an interview buddy. Having an extra person listening to the conversation, or writing it down, is always beneficial. It’s also helpful to get some feedback on how you guided the conversation. Aside from having an extra pair of ears listening in and making sure that all the insights are captured.

Jobs to be done: The analysis

Look at you with all that information! Lucky duck!

The best way to get through this amount of information is to deal with it as soon as it’s done.

Thinking about the jobs to be done structure, there are key things you’ll want to identify:

  • The steps of the user journey (their order and how big or small they are)

  • The tasks needed to get done and why (this is normally, the end of the journey, when the actor achieves their goal)

  • What was the context

  • The blockers

  • How were they feeling (was it easy, was it hard, did it take too long, is it a stressful situation?

You might have to make some interpretations and assumptions, that’s okay, but make sure you mark them as such in your assessment phase.

Creating a table (or a Trello board) is an easy method to start bucketing this data.

You will also want to see this in the form of a journey, on “a white board”.

It will be much easier to discuss and visualize the different steps, the cycles, the people involved, if they’re happy or frustrated during that step.

While also spotting any missing gaps or the need to go back and ask a few more questions.

What do I do with all this information now?

Like in most things software development, there are many ways to achieve the same outcome.

From a practical perspective, I tend to use jobs to be done because it links nicely to how I coach teams in doing product discovery.

It also makes it quite simple to present and collaborate on the results.

Then, from a “principles” point of view, it provides the most logical path for innovation, in the sense that it blasts open the opportunity space for your business.

After you go through the process, you'll be left with a lot of “clues” about your actors and their needs. This information will be invaluable across all levels of the organization.

Strategy

At a strategy level, you might’ve uncovered new market opportunities.

Or you might be at the steps of the perfect product iteration when you look at the information you gathered around the “needs” and the “context”.

Visualization of how different reasons to use a product / service can open up different strategy opportunities.

The image above represents three new potential markets. These are uncovered according to how people use your product and the use they make of it. This is a good example of what happens when certain businesses start with offering services and then they move to a data analytics-based product, as they find out that the data they capture from the service is more relevant than the service itself.

The plan should be to start testing which opportunities to chase, based on how big, or profitable, they are.

Product development

At a product development level, you’ll be able to set out some new requirements within your user journey.

For example - you found out your users are always on the go. So you could make sure to prioritise your application developments over a desktop experience. Also, at a more detailed level, you might have to consider how a poor network connection may affect your product and, as a consequence, the person who’s trying to use it.

Marketing and sales

At a marketing and sales level you most definitely be able to tailor the perfect value proposition, assess the different touchpoints and tweak an incredible marketing plan on how you can increase the ROI on your campaigns and sales.

Following up

It is highly unlikely that you close the loop with a single round of JTBD process. If you’re successful in your interviewing and analyzing steps, you have definitely uncovered more areas that you need to learn more about - and that’s a great thing.

It might take a while until you feel super comfortable with using this method, especially if you’re not used to it. But I hope that we managed to show the benefits of the JTBD approach and we’ve equipped you with the confidence you need to practice. Just keep your mind (and ears) open to learn more, to talk more, to identify more opportunities, to discover more about your users and their problems.

Anything else?

This is a lot to take in and more than what could be covered in a single post.

This approach requires practice at every step of the way and there are more details within each of the steps and frameworks laid here for you.

The framework goes into more details around hierarchy within the jobs to be done framework.

One of the most complete references I’ve seen is The Jobs to Be Done Playbook, by Jim Kalbach.

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