How to build products people love using Jobs-to-be-Done

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As product people, we're used to being bombarded with feature requests from different stakeholders like the sales team, partners, other teams within the organisation, or even our customers and users.

Often, the request will be to add a feature similar to a competitor's or a new idea that designers and engineers can implement straight away. Other times, when there is a bit more thinking done beforehand, the requests can even have ‘personas’ that describe who the customer is.

These requests, however, often hide the underlying problem to be solved. By using the Jobs-to-be-Done framework we expose the problem that stands in the way of the outcome that customers want.

Enter Jobs to be Done

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Image via Samuel Hulick

Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) is a theory developed by Clayton Christensen, Bob Moesta and others that focuses on understanding why customers use products and/or services to change a particular life situation. This shifts the paradigm from attaching value to the products to placing it on what the product (or service) does for customers.

Hiring and firing

Jobs to be done introduces a concept called ‘Hiring and Firing’ customers make a deliberate choice of which product or service they want to use when they are faced with a particular job.

Suppose our job is ‘Do something fun with my friends this Friday night’ To solve this problem the first time we could go to the mini-golf. This is a solution, but it’s not a permanent one. The next time we find ourselves against the same job we may fire the mini-golf and hire a different solution, like going to the cinema. Every time we are faced with a job, we evaluate what’s the best solution and we may decide to fire a previous solution to hire a new one.

When we are developing a new product or service, thinking about what gets fired to make a customer hire your product can be really helpful in understanding your competition and framing expectations in context of the outcome customers want to achieve.

Job stories

One way of framing the outcome customers want to achieve in agile environments (particularly Scrum) is using ‘user stories’ Jobs-to-be-Done employs a similar structure. Still, instead of focusing on the user role and making assumptions narrowing the potential solutions, it helps us focus on the why and adds more context to the problem or need.

So instead of thinking: ‘As a [persona], I [want to], [so that].’ and locking ourselves to building for that particular persona’s functional requirement, we can broaden the context and write a job story in this way: ‘When ___ , help me to ___ , so I can ___.‘ This structure gives us more room to describe the situation in a few more words, ultimately helping make better decisions when designing solutions for our customers.

These are examples of a 'user story' compared to a 'job story' employing the previous structures:

As an app user, I want to find the closest bars and restaurants, so that I can book a table in one of them.

When looking for options to go out with my friends on a Friday night, help me find bars and restaurants nearby my house so I can quickly gather a list of options to decide where we can go.

Job stories don’t replace user stories. Writing user stories is still valuable when you are moving to the delivery/build phase of your solution.

Types of Jobs

There are different ways to frame a job story. The most basic is the ‘Functional job’, and it typically describes what the product or service does. There’s also an ‘Emotional job’, which describes how people feel when using a product or service. And there’s a ‘Social job’, which describes how using the product makes the customer be perceived by others in their social circles.

Functional stories are typically very straightforward to write, whereas emotional and social jobs are more nuanced and complex to think about. Going beyond the functional job story will help you and your team understand how to build a better and more successful product that’s loved by your customers and differentiates from your competitors.

Here’re some examples of different types of jobs:

Functional job

When I’m looking for options to go out with my friends on a Friday night, help me find bars and restaurants nearby my house so I can quickly gather a list of options to decide where we can go.

Emotional job

When I’m busy working in the middle of the day, help me feel more efficient when finding a place to go tonight so I can feel good about my social plans.

Social job

When I’m struggling with time, help me impress my friends with a list of options for our Friday night out so I can feel great about taking my friends out.

There’s more to it

Jobs-to-be-Done is just one of the different tools you can employ to be more customer-centric and discover how you can generate value for your customers and product. If you're struggling with your current discovery process I’d recommend you give it a try.

If you are interested in finding more about JTBD, here are some of my favourite places to dig in deeper:

Develop your product with Potato’s help

We take pride in building purposeful products alongside our partners and clients. We take a lean and validated approach to product development; this way, we can be sure that what we are creating is truly solving your customer needs and creating value for our client’s business at the same time.

Contact us if you are interested in hearing more about JTBD and our product development approach.