For some time now I’ve been meaning to get a deeper understanding of the “jobs-to-be-done” framework. I was familiar with Clay Christensen’s famous milkshake example and the general idea that “if you understand the job that the customer has hired your product to do, then how to improve your product becomes obvious”. But I was still left wondering, is it a research technique I can apply easily? How important is it to me as a Product Manager? Or is it just the latest buzzword for something I’m already doing during product development?
Then I stumbled onto this Full Stack Radio podcast featuring Ryan Singer of Basecamp which acted as the catalyst for exploring the next level of understanding about the meaning and application of JTBD.
I definitely recommend listening to the podcast to get the full flavor of it, but here are some of the major nuggets that I took away from it:
JTBD gives you a rich understanding of customer demand
It is a technique that provides a new point of view for talking to customers that elicits insights about what they are trying to do. It helps determine causality, uncovering events and triggers that led the customer to your product over alternatives. Ultimately it reduces any mismatch between what you think you are selling and what the customer is trying to buy.
JTBD helps you shift gears from "space thinking” to “time thinking”
General understanding of the importance of usability and UX has come a long way in the last 10 years, but it tends to focus on how things are arranged on a static page. JTBD shifts the focus to thinking in terms of a timeline, and considering where your product fits into the customer’s journey. Where has the user come from? Where are they going next? How can you help the get from A to B? Once you understand the flow, you can go back to layout and you’ll have a more holistic context in which to make design and prioritisation decisions.
JTBD helps you avoid obsessing about product features and 'affordances'
It is easy to get sucked into paying too much attention to artificial constructs like your supposed product category and benchmarking product specs and features against competitors. But these things can take you out of alignment with your customer as they don’t reflect how a customer approaches their need and i.e. your product. Ryan used the example of a conference call product, where the company was worried about bandwidth and other technical features, but what customers actually cared about was what they were going to have to do to get adoption from staff and if installation is required. Similarly it’s easy to spend too much time obsessing about the styling and the minutiae of the user interface. You can have a great design and even a great UX, but that doesn’t help if its not geared to achieving the right outcomes for the customer. JTBD brings you back to the customer’s burning itch so that you invest effort appropriately on activities that will actually drive results.
The concepts of customer 'progress' and 'forces' in the JTBD context
It is important to understand how the customer defines progress towards getting the job done. Viewing things as a timeline helps unpack the various points the customer was struggling to make progress, which combined with identifying the forces acting on the customer at these moments can unearth significant product development insights. Or as beautifully put by #JTBD radio folks "any struggling moment is the seed for innovation". This concept even goes beyond the moment of purchase. With gym memberships for example, most likely the job the customer hired the gym membership for isn’t done when a customer signs up. Most likely the customer had loftier goals to do with fitness, health or social needs that the gym’s product must deliver on over time. Forces that lead to a customer changing behaviour and towards a new gym product could be the push from concerns over weight or health, or the pull of an attractive new gym. Forces that work against a customer from making progress could be anxieties stopping them from going to the gym, such as unfamiliar classes or body issues, or old habits like walking up at a particular time.
JTBD over Personas
A lot of research tools are used to convince others in the organisation that it is safe to proceed, rather than actually revealing new insights about customers to help you do your job. Personas can often fall into that category, or at least be less useful for the purposes of understanding where to focus design and development resources to meet customer needs.