Practical guide to Jobs-to-be-done

Learn how to put JTBD into practice to identify your customers' needs and build or improve your product.

Matteo Montolli

Partner, Design Director

Ever since we started designing digital products, we have always wondered how to build the right product that can meet people’s real needs. After many attempts we came into contact with Jobs-to-be-done (JTBD), a User Research technique that helps companies focus on customer problems and optimize their products or design new ones.

Among the many articles, books, and videos available on the subject, however, we have always noticed the absence of a manual, a practical guide to the Jobs-to-be-done method. Up to a certain point, even for us this approach was only something theoretical. Then something changed: we were fortunate enough to attend a workshop given by Jillian Wells, Product Researcher at Intercom (one of the companies pioneering the application of JTBD in digital product development). Since then we have studied, experimented and learned a lot.

Now we have decided to write that handbook that we would have been so helpful to have from the beginning: a practical guide to Jobs-to-be-done.

With this short guide you will be able to:

  • Learn to understand what drives a user to choose a product, reconstructing his choice process, including the solutions he considered and excluded.
  • Learn how to process the information obtained, so as to guide the development of products or services that truly meet users’ needs.

What is Jobs-to-be-done?

The originator of JTBD is Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, according to whom every purchase is driven by the desire to succeed at a task (or “job”) in the best way and at the lowest cost.

Traditional marketing leads one to look at the decision-making process of buying a product primarily through the perspective of targets, that is, by segmenting the user base based on socio-demographic profiles; Christensen argues instead that to understand the real motivations that drive a purchase, it is necessary to focus on “all the things that people are trying to do in their lives in terms of the tasks (jobs, ed.) they are trying to do or complete, the problems they are trying to solve, or the needs they are trying to satisfy.”

Imagine that you have to choose a restaurant. You will make different choices depending on whether it is a romantic date, a business meeting or a family lunch: you are still the same person and yet you have different needs and expectations, so you choose (or “hire”) the product or service that best helps you accomplish that specific task (your job-to-be-done).

But what factors influence this choice process? As human beings, our choices cannot be explained only from a functional point of view; in fact, we also make choices based on emotional and social factors that change according to circumstances.

Therefore, in a given situation, four dimensions can be distinguished that determine a consumer’s choice.

Primary purpose
This purpose represents the client’s primary need and may vary depending on the circumstances.
You want to win the girl of your dreams by taking her out to dinner.

Functional aspects
They are the practical and objective requirements of a choice.
You are not a great cook, but you are hungry and want to eat food prepared by others outside the home.

Emotional aspects
These aspects represent how the customer feels using the product.
You feel comfortable that the quality of the food and service will live up to your expectations.

Social aspects
These are the aspects related to how the customer believes he or she is perceived by others while using the product.
You want to make a good impression on your girlfriend and hope to impress her.

Investigating these aspects can help us identify the reasons why people choose one solution over another, thus shedding light on the decision-making elements behind a particular choice.

People are not buying a product, but a better version of themselves.

From theory to practice

Even before it is a process, Jobs-to-be-done is a cultural shift that should apply across the entire structure of a company that chooses to adopt it. For such a high-level mindset shift there is no single recipe that can be implemented in a few simple steps.

As mentioned above, at Moze we were fortunate enough to be able to learn Jobs-to-be-done from one of the first teams to adopt the technique and begin talking about its benefits: the team at Intercom. In 2017 we flew to Brighton for a workshop led by Jillian Wells, who was then doing User Research in Intercom (she now works at Stripe). Jillian told us how JTBD had been applied within her company and with what results. Soon after, we began successfully proposing to our clients to leverage JTBD in their projects.

Una foto con Jillian Wells

The discipline around JTBD is vast, but we believe that it is possible to begin studying and learning the technique by breaking down the process into three basic steps:

  1. Timeline
  2. Four Forces
  3. Job Story

1. Timeline

To begin with, it seeks to reconstruct the steps and time sequence that lead a customer to choose a certain product to meet a certain need.

The process is based on conducting individual interviews, called Switch Interviews, to investigate a user’s experience in choosing a product.

The interview can be done with customers who have chosen your product or that of a competitor, and it highlights the intrinsic (E.g., motivation) and extrinsic (E.g., solutions identified and evaluated) factors that influenced the final choice. Typically, it takes about 8-10 interviews to start obtaining truly relevant information, but in some cases we have gotten away with even less.

At the beginning of the interview, investigate the moment when the client thought he had found a solution to his problem (in Jobs-to-be-done, this moment is called The First Thought). It then examines the steps he took to address this need, trying to shed light on the strengths and weaknesses that led him to make his choice.

Below you can download a useful template for setting up your interview:

Practical advice

Just before you begin the interview, we recommend that you draw a line on a sheet of paper-you will use it as a timeline. As the interviewee talks, you can add significant new events on the sheet, in the order in which they happened. This is useful since the interviewee’s narrative will rarely have a linear progression chronologically. Also note down any questions you may want to ask later, so as not to constantly interrupt the interviewee.

During the interview ask questions such as:

  • What were the emotions that made you choose this product?
  • What other solutions did you compare the product with?
  • Why did you believe this product was the best?
  • How do you feel about the change you made by adopting the product?

Try to focus as much as possible on the emotion and mental state of the person in front of you: most decisions are dictated by emotional rather than logical aspects.

2. Four Forces

Having reconstructed the path that led a person from a certain solution to another, you can later work out the Four Forces Diagram.

The forces of progress are the emotional forces that generate and shape customer demand for a product.

Two groups of forces can be identified, working against each other. The first group is formed by the forces that promote change (Push and Pull), the second by those that hinder it (Inertia and Anxiety):

➡️ Push: the set of problems that push toward the new solution.
➡️ Pull: the potential benefits that pull toward the new solution.
⬅️ Inertia: the habits that hinder change.
⬅️ Anxiety: the set of worries and fears related to change.

Your customers experience a combination of these forces before they buy a product, at the selection stage, and during its use.

Practical advice

In our experience, we have noticed that many innovators focus mainly on the two positive forces: they want to know what their customers want and how demand is generated. Instead, try to focus on all the forces at play, placing great emphasis on the forces that stand in the way of change: those are often the ones you need to work on to push the customer toward your product.

3. Job Story

After processing the collected material and highlighting recurring patterns, you can create “stories” (short textual descriptions, which in Jobs-to-be-done are called Job Stories) that summarize the individual needs (jobs) of users, focusing on the starting situation, motivation (the superficial need), and the end goal (the deeper need).

Here is an example of a Job Story in the context of a digital product in finance:

When I am evaluating a new savings solution promoted by an innovative startup
I want to be sure that my money will not be lost if the company fails
so that I can be assured that it is safe.

As highlighted earlier, each story can define a primary, functional, emotional, or social need.

Practical advice

As Bob Moesta, one of the most active disseminators on JTBD, suggests, in certain contexts this tool can also be made simpler by using a more direct and concise format:

Resuming the above example:

Help me keep my savings safe.

What about after the Job Stories?

Mapping Job Stories allows you to build a backlog of potential initiatives of various kinds: new features to be developed to extend the existing product, new products to be made to better meet specific needs, better ways to communicate with your users, and so on.

Being able to concisely and directly visualize customer needs and have at hand a list of possible actions to take to improve the product and the business will be very helpful for all members of your team to focus their efforts in the right direction.

In our experience as designers, working with Jobs-to-be-done allows us to use the “users’ words” as much as possible, actively serving all those factors that led them to choose a particular product. Thanks to JTBD we spend less energy making assumptions and conjectures, precisely because we base our work from the outset on real, concrete factors that represent the very voice of customers. Thus the design of web and mobile applications, e-commerce sites, and product landing pages becomes more effective and often faster.

Download the template we made here so you too can use JTBD for your products:

Bibliography and insights

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