Jobs To Be Done

An innovative framework for defining your customers' needs
While developing a new product, the team would always focus on a user. The method of Personas is a perfect option if you’re working with a familiar targeted audience. However, if you have to develop a new product and attract new users, there is a more efficient method.
Anna Buldakova, product manager at Intercom and the author of No Flame No Game Telegram channel, talks about a new approach to working with the targeted audience—the Jobs To Be Done method.
More than 11 thousand startups are launched in the world yearly —which sums up to more than 100 million per year. 90% of these companies fail. The question is, Why? According to Fortune, one of the major reasons is: "they make products no one wants".
With the Big Data era and the creation of modern tools, the use of analytics to identify targeted users becomes as simple as ABC. Although, the processes required might be different.

Over time, Nokia and Motorola have been working to satisfy the needs of their customers: to present them with an inexpensive cell phone with a high Internet connection and a physical keypad. These are not just random needs—they are based on the results generated from series of research. Do you use such a phone 15 years after the boom?
And here is a Facebook page from 10 years ago. This design looked more sophisticated at that time, but what will be your option if you were to open a similar page today?
It is practically impossible to make a product that will suit the future's focus and expectations on the demands of current users. Way back in 2007, people appreciated the Nokia device and the Facebook platform. The stats back then proved everything was good and that the audience and the sales were growing fast. However, this was only the tip of an iceberg.
What numbers did Apple take into account when they decided to remove keyboard buttons on their smartphones? What indicators gave Facebook the idea that it was time to add new functions?
Data-driven designs have more advantages in the short term. However, for a company to thrive in the long term, they have to choose a design-driven approach.

And one of the most efficient concepts within this context is Jobs To Be Done.
Data-driven design
Designing a product on the basis of data
Design-driven approach
Designing a product that will be valuable to the user
What is Jobs To Be Done
Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, gives the following definition of the concept of Jobs To Be Done:
"Most companies split their target audience into segments on the basis of user and product characteristics. However, users have a different view of the market. They just have a task (a job to be done) and they’re looking for the most appropriate product to help them solve it."
The product you develop solves a problem—"does the job." Users buy or "hire" your product to perform a task, and as a result, they make their lives easier.
Alice Green not only buys a subscription to a website builder but also buys the opportunity to develop her business and get a better life for her kids and herself. The fact is, users' needs do not change as quickly as technology would; this is why innovative companies are encouraged to focus more on the problem before working on profiling a solution to its users.

Aside from the philosophy (start with a problem instead of the solution), the concept of Jobs To Be Done is geared toward providing sets of principles and tools, which help you comprehend the motivations of users and the best way to get them engaged. Of course, the concept was not invented in a day; over the past 75 years, it has gradually evolved to produce remarkable results.
A brief history of JTBD approach taken from the book by Alan Klement "When Coffee and Kale Compete":
Joseph Schumpeter "Creative Destruction"
  • New solutions come to replace the existing ones
  • Customers use only one tool at a time to solve their tasks
  • Competition can come from anywhere
William Deming "System of Profound Knowledge"
  • Exploring relations and interactions
  • Understanding the motivation of a customer as a system
  • The process of innovation should never stop
  • "Outliers" and Normal Deviation
  • Correlation does not imply causation between the objects
George Loewenstein
Anxiety caused by the need for a choice or an action
Ann Graybiel
Customers are directed by their habits
Amos Tversky, Daniel Kahneman "Prospect Theory"
  • Preferences depend on the context
  • Customers overestimate losses and underestimate benefits
  • The number of values that a consumer can have is limited
Gary Klein "Naturalistic Decision Making"
Simulation of progress while using the product
John B. Palmer, Rick Pedi, Bob Moesta, and the JTBD community:
  • Customers have a "job" and they want to have it "done"
  • What customers need is not a product; they need help to make their lives better
  • Customers need progress
It all started with Joseph Schumpeter, an Austrian economist, and his theory of creative destruction. Schumpeter noticed that innovations steal customers from incumbent offerings and eventually replace them. Way back, horses were used as a primary means of transportation. Eventually, they got replaced with cars.

This idea was developed by William Deming, a statistician, and management consultant. He noticed that:
Companies try to improve their product, but that’s not enough. Sooner or later, someone will develop a new solution to the problem, and the users will simply switch to another product.
Also, the method Jobs To Be Done has its roots in the works by Gary Klein, Amos Tversky, and Daniel Kahneman, who studied the process of decision making, why customers don't always make rational decisions, not always act in their best interest and are sometimes inconsistent in their opinions.

The philosophy was brought to the limelight and acknowledged as a consistent methodology at the end of the 80s. This resulted from the efforts of a businessman named Bob Moesta and a professor at Harvard Business School, called Clayton Christensen.

In the article for Harvard Business Review and the book "The Innovator's Dilemma," Christensen states that the growing amount of data that reflects the performance of users does not help but mislead the company.

The data shows interconnections (68% of users like page A, more than page B), but they have no viable explanation why they prefer page B.
You should focus on what the user wants to achieve in a particular event. That’s what is called a Job To Be Done—"a Job That Has To Be Done."
Here is Peter. He's 32; he is married with two kids. Peter is hard-working, funny, and kind. At the weekend he goes to the swimming pool and once a month he meets his friends at a pub.

Five minutes ago, Peter bought a Dropbox subscription. Did any of the above-mentioned characteristics impact his purchasing decision? Absolutely No. Peter bought a Dropbox subscription not because he is 32 but because he has to share a document with his colleague. "Share a document" is the Job To Be Done in this case.

"Jobs" are always available: to kill time while waiting in the queue, to make a healthy breakfast, or share an impression after a trip. When a customer starts using a product, they "Hire" it to perform a particular "Job." The decision of whether to continue using the product depends on how useful the product was.
The product does not conform to a person’s particularities; it conforms to their problems.
The second component of JTBD is the context. Try to answer the following question: "Which of the platforms do you prefer—Instagram or YouTube?" there are chances that this question is not so simple for most of us.

A product has no value per se, but it becomes valuable when it is used to make progress in a particular situation. Let's reconstruct the question: "When would you prefer Instagram to YouTube—and vice versa?" Guess that sounds better, right? Instagram will be a better platform if you are on the subway or cafeteria waiting in a queue for an order. On the other hand, YouTube will be a better platform to share a popular video with your friends at a party. Remember, it is not the product that changes—it is the context.
Job To Be Done = Task + Context
  • Make an urgent payment (online banking)
  • Amuse your friends at the party (a YouTube video)
  • Spend time on the subway (Instagram)
Who will Find JTBD Useful
Jobs To Be Done has no limitations by the sphere of application or by a user’s role: it can be useful for a top manager in a development company, a mobile application designer, or a freelance photographer.
JTBD can even be used in life and career planning. It's essential not to follow the instructions blindly but carefully analyze the type of engagement tools that will be employed in your situation.
In 2002 Apple sold 376 thousand iPods. In 2008 the sales skyrocketed to 55 million, and iPod was recognized as one of the most successful and rapidly growing products in the world. Nevertheless, in 2004 Apple started developing another device that was supposed to "Slay" the iPod—the iPhone.

The question is, why did the company take such a move? In 2004, iPod sales were growing, and there were no clear reasons for a decline (this was proven over the past four years).
But the Apple team realized that the growth would not last forever. They had two choices; they could enjoy their leadership and wait until MP3 players were replaced with new technology and some other brand takes over the market. Or be proactive and take immediate control of the situation.

This pattern of thought is not common with most companies. Moreover, Apple had no experience with mobile phones, so they start the process from scratch. Instead of enjoying increasing revenues and adding new functions to the iPod, they thought, why not make something new and add the iPod to it? As we can see, they took the right decision.

If you're a product developer or if you want to start a business that will be successful for many years, you should adopt a similar pattern of thought.

Jobs To Be Done provides the tools to move in this direction:
Identify your competitors correctly.
Understand users' motivations.
Choose the direction for further development.
1. Identify your Competitors Correctly
When we look at the product from a user’s perspective, we open a brave new world of competitors we’ve never considered.
For example, you want to start an online service to deliver flower compositions in attractive packages. Should you be concern about some of the major online flower retailers within your community? Possibly, especially if the problem you solve is "to buy flowers quickly." On the flip side, if the Job To Be Done by a user is to "create a surprise package on his girlfriend's birthday," then your concern and prospective competitors should be a balloon shop or a service that organizes rooftop datings.

Another typical example is the case of a fast-food chain that intends to increase its sales by selling milkshakes. They made a detailed customer survey and changed the menu following their demographic and psychographic characteristics. However, they had no improvement in their sales.

Afterward, they reached out to Clayton Christensen for advice, and he suggested they find out what "Job" do customers "hired" milkshakes for (sounds strange indeed). However, it turned out that their aim was not to get hungry in traffic jams on their way to work. Milkshake is thick and nutritional, it's a durable and high-calorie option, and it gives much energy that allows users to get straight to work once they arrived at their office. The true competitors of milkshakes were bananas, coffee, and granola bars.

As soon as the company figured out the advantages milkshakes had over other products, the necessary changes were made, and their sales automatically inclined.

The milkshake became thicker, and it was possible to order it as a take-out while on the street; this was convenient if the customer was in a car (previously, you had to get to the cafeteria to place an order). Furthermore, milkshakes performed another "job"—parents bought them for their children to give them a sense of care, but it would take time for the kids to finish the milkshake, and parents had to wait. The fast-food chain made thinner milkshakes for children; this renovation also had some positive impacts on their sales.
Three Types of Competition
There are three types of Competition that you must have in mind while developing a product or starting a business.

Direct Competition — products perform the same job in similar ways (McDonald's and BurgerKing).

Secondary Competition — products perform the same job in different ways. For example, Skype competes with business class flights as they do the same job—having a business meeting.

Indirect Competition — products perform different jobs with conflicting results. For example, Peter likes burgers, but at the same time, he wants to be fit. Having a burger from BurgerKing and a fitness bracelet FitBit may solve different problems but tend to fight for the same target audience.

To make progress, you can either take the "result" of other products less attractive to users or change the positioning of your product to avoid the conflicting "results."
2. Understand Users' Motivations
Most modern research is focused on the process of product consumption. The study of a job story (the reason why a product is hired) allows you to understand when a client thinks about buying a product for the first time (what happened BEFORE the actual use).
The research is based on the supposition that reflects that at the moment of purchase, four factors affect a consumer:
Frustration with the current situation — "You cannot have A/B tests in this newsletter service."
Attractiveness of a new solution — "Another service provides this function."
Anxiety that something can go wrong — "What if my newsletter will go to the spam with the new service?"
Affection for what you have — "I've been using the service for a long time and I know the ins and outs."
To figure out these factors, it's necessary to interview the users of a service. It's also important to take both rational and emotional aspects of decision making into account ("Did it rain when you were making a purchase?"):
  • What was the previous newsletter service you used? How did you know about it?
  • Give a detailed description of what was happening as you logged in to your account.
  • Why were you dissatisfied with the previous service?
  • When did you make your mind to get a new service?
  • How did you know about the new service? Were you choosing from several variants?
  • How long did it take you to decide on changing the service?
  • What was preventing you from the purchase before?

Don't forget to address the customer—a person who decides against a purchase and is not necessarily the final user. For example, if it's a service for an analytic, the company director makes the purchase, which means you should address the director.

Human nature is inert. In most cases, people would use familiar solutions instead of looking for something new—because they feel more comfortable. Something extraordinary should happen to make you switch to Dropbox if you've always been using Google Drive.
One more thing to remember—people don’t purchase your product; rather, they switch to yours from a previous product.
Before the new mailing service, people used mass texting and cold calls (an example of an indirect Competition we mentioned previously).
The price of switching to another product = (habit + level of satisfaction) * fear of change.
It’s important that a company understands this moment of internal struggle and nudge users in the right direction.
3. Choose the Direction for Further Development: from User story to Job story
It’s important to take the target audience into account while developing a new product. Two approaches are possible here—apart from Jobs To Be Done, there is the application of "user story."
User Story — a brief description of your product’s function from a user’s perspective.
You should organize qualitative studies, analyze information, and create several personas—collective images of your customers—from the key segments of your target audience.
The formula to create a user story:
The formula:

How (user type)
I want to (action/goal)
In order to (result)

As a fashionista Helen (user image)
I want to buy a new dress with a single click (action)
To spend more time on actual shopping, not on order finalization (result).
A persona consists of multiple components: a name, a job place, position, demographic characteristics, goals, technical background, the statement, and photos/pictures of the persona.

The persona aims to bring empathy to the team members, especially those who don't share direct contact with their users. A user story aims to remind you of your final user and help you make productive decisions centered on customers' engagement.

The tool is extremely useful if you:

  • Develop a website for a law firm
  • Create a landing page of an event for Cosmopolitan magazine readers
  • Make a newsletter for inactive users of a startup.
In all the cases above, your target audiences are clearly defined, and you don’t have to engage new users.
Though, this wouldn't work when used in different situations :

  • What if your audience is too big and segmented? And they consist of people with different aims, occupations, and various backgrounds? The situation becomes more interesting when the audience is more or less homogeneous by personal, social, and demographic characteristics. That's when the attempts of making a collective image of some "Helen, a lawyer" or a "Simon, a student" are made—which means you start making offers.
  • What if you want to attract new users? After all, personas are based on the data of your current (and not potential) users.

If we look at the example of an Uber, it might seem there are two explicit personas: a driver and a passenger. But in reality, this parameter is only a part of the context: depending on the situation, a driver can become a passenger and vice versa. We don't pay attention to what makes our users different but what unites them. Therefore, we get broader coverage from the things we make.

Paul Adams
Paul Adams, VP of Product at Intercom
Aims are rarely mentioned in the description of personas — as a rule, the focus is on the attributes. However, personas with the aims are splitting and limiting your audience in an unnatural way.

During my work at Google, I created thousands of personas. They helped bring empathy to employees that didn't directly communicate with the users, but almost never resulted in breakthrough ideas or offered a new perspective on the problem.

When I started working at Facebook, one of the things that impressed me most was how similar the behavior of different users was. Personas gave me an impression that people are extremely different, but in fact, they have more things in common than differences. A mother of three from America posts pictures on her Facebook for the same reasons as a Korean teenager. The goals and the attributes are different, but the motivation is the same. Personas can help discover the users and what they do. But it's more important to know why they do it.
Intercom was the one to develop the job stories method was developed and used instead of user stories.
In Job Story, the focus is moved from personal characteristics to the context.
The formula of Job Story:

When (description of the situation),
I want (motivation),
In order to (result).

When I only have a couple of minutes to take a bite between the meetings (description of the situation),
I want to have something simple and quick that would raise my blood sugar levels (motivation),
To tide me over until lunch and keep in a good mood at work (result).
Personas help you get a detailed overview of your users but do not explain why they keep using your product and why it can attract new customers.
It's important to have an image of your current audience — based on the results of regular studies and interviews. But right before developing a new service and a product strategy, you need a Job story.

Here is an example from Intercom Company that develops solutions for business—user interactions. Several years ago, they introduced a new functionality—a map showing users where their customers were concentrated. The feature became extremely popular, and most managers were thinking about improving the accuracy of geographic location and making it more interactive.

Intercom organized research to define the "Job" of the map and found out that it was mostly used at exhibitions, presentations, and social networks—to make an impression on users or investors. That is why the company decided to focus on the visual appearance of the map (which made it less accurate) and easy to share on social networks. Making the map "worse" helped improve users' experience.
Where the Product "Job" Begins and Ends
The problems that are solved by-product are not isolated-they come in different actions and circumstances.
If your product is not very functional, it's not worth installing (or paying for) in the opinion of users. On the flip side, if a product is too functional, it will conflict with the existing services that a user is already satisfied with.

Let's consider a simple example. Suppose you are creating an app for an alarm clock; the succession of user’s actions will be as follows:
A user scrolls their Instagram in the evening
Understands that it's time to go to bed
Sets the alarm clock at 7:00
Wakes up, goes to the kitchen to have some water
The alarm goes off at 7:00; the user resets it for 7:30
The alarm goes off at 7:30, the user wakes up
Turns the radio on
Does morning exercises

The "Job" of your product begins when you can add some user value to it.
In the example above, that is Step 3. It is possible to make it at an earlier stage: for example, if a user usually wakes up at 7:00 and now it's noon, but the phone is still on, the app will send a notification "Would you like to set the alarm and go to bed?"

You can go even further: offer a user to monitor their pulse and physical activity, and, based on this information, suggest the best time to go to bed (and then wake them up at the most convenient time). Do they need it? Is the "Pain" from the user proportional to the scale of studies and development? This is what the product team should understand and settle.

When The "Job" of the Product Finishes:
  • At the next phase in the succession of actions, there are clear market leaders that you won’t want to compete with.
  • The next step in the context of your product (remember the example of the app built for an alarm clock) can be settled in a million ways and with a million users.
  • During the next step, your audience changes dramatically.
  • No extra value is added to your product at the next step.
How to Set Priorities in JTBD
Suppose you defined the principle "Jobs" of your users. How do you know which of them should be tackled first?
Several factors are to be considered when setting priorities:

  • How important the "job" itself is (rate this on a scale from 1 to 10).
  • To what extent the users are satisfied with the existing solution (rate this on a scale from 1 to 10).
  • What is the potential for developing a better solution?
"Underserved" JTBD — a perfect field for an innovative strategy for growth (improve the existing solutions). "Overserved" JTBD are the opportunities for innovation (recreate the solution and attract a new audience).
Good companies think of their users. Great companies think of the problems and needs of their users. Innovative companies think of the problems and needs of their users and people who don’t use their products yet.
Regardless of what you choose, Jobs To Be Done is a useful framework that allows you to find your way around the data and understand the real needs of people.

As Peter Drucker wrote: "The customer rarely buys what the business thinks it sells."

Stop focusing on your product or solution—focus on your "Jobs" (user problems) and help the users change their status from "to be done" to "done," thus making their lives more comfortable and easy.

Text: Anna Buldakova, product manager at Intercom and the author of No Flame No Game channel
Illustrations and design: Julia Zass
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