What job are customers hiring your product for?

If you noticed I used the framework of Jobs T0 Be Done in my previous post when I tried to compare multiple email marketing solutions with each other. Asking “What job are you hiring this product for?” is an odd question and it took me some time to wrap my head around thinking about a product like it’s a person or service I can hire. This is an essence of Jobs To Be Done framework but when I talk to people not many know about it. So I researched multiple articles and listened to a couple of podcasts to learn more about it. Without further ado here is what I’ve learned:

What is Jobs To Be Done and where does it come from?

If you search Jobs-to-be-Done, you’ll find this video from Clay Christensen, a famous Harvard Business School professor who came up with the framework. (He’s also the guy who came up with the idea of Disruptive Innovation in his seminal book the The Innovator’s Dilemma). Anyway, Clay speaks about a product development issue in a fast food chain where they wanted to sell more milkshakes.

Their initial approach was to talk to buyers and make changes to milkshake based on this customer analysis. They asked buyers if they like their milkshakes be healthier or more sugary, thicker or thinner etc. This failed. They sold no extra milkshakes, as there was no meaningful insight to be found in analyzing the users themselves. So he suggested that they focus on the job that customers hire a milkshake to do.

It certainly sounds weird (no-one thinks of “hiring a milkshake”) but switching to that perspective offered new insights. After talking to buyers in this new format, it turns out more than half of the milkshakes are hired to do the job of providing sustenance and entertainment for a long commute. In this regard milkshakes were competing with bagels, bananas, and energy bars. Milkshakes had advantages over energy bars and bananas, as they’re tidier and easier to consume in a car. They beats bagels because bagels are too dry and leave you thirsty in your car. They beats coffee because they are more filling and less likely to don’t leave you desperate for a bathroom in the midst of a 40 minute drive. Once the chain realized this, they were able to make changes that made milkshakes the best tool for the job.

When using Personas are helpful

Similar to the restaurant chain example above product designer, product manager and UX/UI  team try to talk to users to understand what they’re looking to get out of  software. They come up with user personas and user roles.  Once personas are defined, then they try to design and define a system in a way to deliver users’ needs and wants as a series of user stories.

Personas work well when the user base is broken down into different types of users with different needs. For example, if trying to create a market place it is helpful to define distinctive types of personas based on buyers and sellers roles. These personas are definitely helpful to define what your system must fulfill for each of them.

When Personas are not useful, focus on the Job instead

However for many products (and I’m thinking many B2C type of software) the customers come in all shapes and sizes, from all countries, all backgrounds, all salaries, all levels of computer skills. In these circumstances defining persona is not as useful as there is no way to group your users into meaningful roles to define a system for.

Another time when focusing on the job is more helpful is when a situation dictates the solution as oppose to your user’s characteristics or attribute.

For example, after a long day of work and with an empty fridge, Alan who is single and in his early 30s is looking for a comfort food with minimal prep time and dish washing afterwards. That when he orders Pizza! However the same Alan on Friday night when he has a date  in order to impress his date, he’ll go to a fancy Italian restaurant.

In both cases the situation and the problem context dictated the solution as oppose to Allan’s attributes of being ‘single’ or ‘in his 30s’.

Jobs-To-Be-Done framework becomes very useful because the product is better defined by the job they do than the personas it serves. Now it’s best to get an intimate understanding of the job itself, what creates demand for it, and what ultimately what you’d hire to do the job.

Another cool example that I’m going to borrow from Intercom blog is when you hire a photo app:

When do you hire a web app?

There are a few different jobs you might like to do once you’ve taken a photograph. Here’s six:

  1. Capture this moment privately for me and her, so we can (hopefully) look back on it fondly in years to come
  2. Embarrass my friend in front of her friends, cause she’ll regret this in the morning.
  3. Get this file backed up online, so I can point others to it.
  4. Get a copy of this photo to my grandmother who doesn’t use computers.
  5. Make this look cool and interesting. Like me. And then share it.
  6. Get this edited and into my portfolio so that people consider hiring me for future engagements.

In this case the products you could hire are Facebook, Flickr, iPhoto, Instagram, maybe 500px. When you think about how many of these apps you use, you realize that the job is the distinction here, not you. You haven’t changed.

Jobs-To-Be-Done Interview and Job Stories

To understand “the job” you have to interview users to understand their struggles, alternative solutions to the job and finally what made them purchase your product to solve the job. (There is a Jobs-To-Be-Done interview course  teaching interview techniques). As a product manager you act as a detector! your mission is to find out:

  • what situation the users were in when they encountered the job?
  • what caused them to take the action ?
  • What steps they took to come to the conclusion to hire your products?
  • What are other solutions (software or not) that are competing with the solution you offer?

For the reasons outlined above, Alan Klement goes as far as suggestion to use Job Stories instead of User Stories.

There is so much for to learn about this framework and I find it fascinating. One final thing I learned is that there are no new jobs! Jobs don’t change but the solution that’s satisfy the job changes over time. What do you think?


Finally if you are interested to learn more about this let me know, I know a great knowledgeable person  in GTA and we have a meetup to chat JTBD if there is enough interests 🙂

2 thoughts on “What job are customers hiring your product for?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *