Unearth the Jobs-To-Be-Done (JTBD) of a Product by Interviewing Customers
Make Jobs-To-Be-Done Shine by Doing JTBD Interviewing
When I talk to Product Managers and Product Owners familiar with JTBD, I hear them say things like:
“Jobs-To-Be-Done is awesome. Every Product Manager should know about it!”
“You should try out Jobs-To-Be-Done because it can help give answers to those questions you’re asking.”
“You should use Job Stories because they are rooted in the JTBD of your product and help you deliver more customer value.”
They become excited and start talking faster when discussing JTBD. When I ask how many customers they interviewed to arrive at the Jobs-To-Be-Done of their product, then they suddenly stare at me like a deer in headlights.
I believe this should change. As cool as the concept of JTBD is, it’s nothing without talking to customers.
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In this article, I will try to show:
How Jobs-To-Be-Done helps understanding your customers and making a better product.
Why it’s crucial to talk to customers to unearth the real JTBDs of your product.
Summarize and discuss a real-world JTBD interview where they talked to a customer who purchased a mattress. I will use the JTBD framework to interpret and capture the results of the interview.
Let's start by talking what JTBD is and why it is important.
In my experience, at most companies, we often spend a lot of time talking about our product and the features it needs to succeed. We focus on what the product should be capable of doing. But how do we know what’s the right thing to add or change in our product?
Enter the realm of Jobs-To-Be-Done (JTBD). Clayton Christensen popularized Jobs-To-Be-Done in his book Competing Against Luck. He tells the story of a big fast-food company that performed research to discover how to increase milkshake sales. Their research focused on demographics and the different characteristics of customers. Many experiments were performed based on customer attributes to improve sales, and all failed.
Researchers then shifted their attention from the customer attributes to what the customer was trying to accomplish by asking the following question:
“What job you hire a milkshake for?”
This question shifts the perspective from what the product should do to what the customer wants to achieve. How does the product help customers to level up in some aspect of their lives?
The researchers discovered that around half of all milkshakes were bought early in the morning by commuters who traveled by car. Why did they hire a milkshake for the job instead of bananas, bagels, or Snickers?
A banana is easy to eat in a car but does not stave off hunger till 10 AM in the morning. A bagel with cream cheese would keep you full long enough. But bagels are dry, and it is difficult (and dangerous!) to add cream cheese while driving. A Snickers bar seems the perfect alternative but does not last long enough to keep you occupied in the car.
By doing JTBD interviewing, researchers discovered the following job the milkshake was hired to do:
“A milkshake keeps you full till 10 o’clock while being easy to consume in a car and keeping you occupied during the commute.”
By understanding the JTBD of the milkshake, the company decided to make it thicker so it could keep commuters occupied for even longer. The milkshake sales increased dramatically. If they had kept focusing on customer attributes, they would have never figured out this job of a milkshake for the customer.
JTBD Is About Progress For Your Customers
Customers care about your product to the extent it grants progress in their lives. They are looking for something that helps to improve their current situation. This quote from Kathy Sierra perfectly illustrates JTBD thinking:
“Upgrade your user, not your product. Don’t build better cameras — build better photographers.”
— Kathy Sierra
I regularly run workshops where I ask participants to answer the question ‘What is value?’ and divide them up into pairs. One person talks and tells a story of the last big purchase they made that they’re happy with. The other person listens and asks questions to discover what made this product valuable to them. And then, the roles of talking and listening reserve, and we ultimately reflect on what value means as a group.
Usually, two things stand out from this exercise:
There is very little discussion about money. People talk about all the cool things they’re now capable of doing they weren’t able to do before.
Features are rarely discussed in a vacuum. When people talk about features, they usually connect them to how these features made their lives better.
I then make the group reflect on how much time the company spends talking about features and money vs. talking about how the product helps the customer to level up and the progress it will grant them in their lives. The results are then reversed compared to what the customers talk about because companies often spend most of their time discussing features and how much money it’s expected to bring in.
How can Jobs-To-Be-Done help with the discovery of the progress that your customer is looking for in their lives?
According to JTBD, the customer faces an internal dialogue: do I keep the current solution or choose to adopt a new one? In JTBD, four different forces together determine whether a customer chooses to keep the current solution or adopt a new one.
There are two Progress-Making Forces at play that increase the chances someone adopts a new solution that grants progress in their lives:
Pull. How attractive does the future solution seem?
Push. How inconvenient is the current situation?
There are two Progress-Blocking Forces at play that decrease the chances someone adopts a new solution that grants progress in their lives:
Habit. How attached are we to the current solution?
Anxiety. What uncertainties and fears influence making a new choice.
The thrust and the tug of the Progress-Making and Progress-Blocking forces determine whether someone ultimately gravitates toward adopting a new solution or sticks with the status quo.
How do you discover the JTBD of your customers and the different forces that are at play in their decision-making to adopt a new solution or preserve the status quo? Enter the field of JTBD interviewing.
Do JTBD Interviewing Instead Of Reverse Engineering the JTBD From Your Product’s Features
One thing that bothers me is that many Product Managers glorify JTBD but rarely discuss the hard work of doing JTBD interviewing. In most articles you read about JTBD, all that happens is that the JTBD theory is used as a framework to structure and map the existing biases, assumptions, hunches, and suspicions they have about their product.
JTBD is used to reverse engineer what problems they believe their product currently helps solve and map what they already know in a fancy framework. The JTBD framework then serves the purpose of granting an unwarranted sense of legitimacy to your product-based findings.
By approaching JTBD this way, you’re already starting off on the wrong foot. The JTBD is not something that belongs to your product. It’s something that belongs to your customer.
The quality of your JTBD depends on the quality of the evidence used in its creation. And after reading many articles that reference JTBD, I can conclude many Product Managers are not doing the interviewing legwork to understand the JTBD of their customers.
I want to change that, and the best way to do that is to have you experience the power of doing JTBD interviewing.
JTBD Interviewing: Buying a Mattress
If you want to experience the power of JTBD interviewing, you should listen to JTBD experts Bob Moesta and Chris Spiek from Re-Wired Group, interviewing a man through the Jobs-To-Be-Done lens who recently purchased a mattress.
The mattress interview is fascinating because it can provide insights that can help answer the following question:
“How does a person end up doing an impulse buy of a mattress at Costco after sleeping terribly for 1.5 years without even trying out the mattress before buying?”
In what world does it make sense to splurge 800 dollars on a mattress inside a retail store you didn’t even lay on?
At first glance, it doesn’t seem to make any sense. Until you talk to the person making the purchase and enter their world. Then, it becomes possible to connect all the dots, and you better understand why they acted the way they did.
Once you understand the full story behind their sudden purchase at Costco, you’ll realize it wasn’t an impulse buy at all. Over a period of 1.5 years, many hidden forces were at play that you can unearth with JTBD interviewing. When you understand those forces at play, the impulse buy suddenly appears as perfectly reasonable given your understanding of the situation.
Dreaming up the JTBD of your customer doesn’t work as well as unearthing the real thing by doing JTBD interviews.
Please listen to the interview or read the transcript if you didn’t already. I’ve listened to the episode, and I will map the most important things we’ve learned from the interview to the JTBD framework. Hopefully, it will convince you to listen to the full interview.
Summarizing the JTBD Mattress Interview
The first question the interviewers ask is when the interviewee bought the mattress. An interesting observation is that they start with really broad questions to get a picture of the situation. Then they start asking a crazy amount of detail to try and bring them back to the moment and extract as much information as possible.
Chris Spiek explains it as follows:
“The whole thing is getting him back to the moment. We’re asking ridiculous amounts of detail, like what did he buy. What you’ll find is the brain actually has a lot of this stuff stored in it, and the fact is when we interview Jason on something, it was like Jason, ‘I can’t remember,’ and then two seconds later, ‘Yeah, I did this and this and this.’
When you listen to the interview, it meanders, and they talk about silly things which don’t seem related to the topic of interest. But it all helps to bring back memories and help piece together the timeline of what actually happened that ultimately led to the purchase of a mattress.
Most of the interview focuses on understanding their current situation, existing habits, what attracts them to the new solution, and what causes anxiety in their choice for the new solution.
Little time is spent talking about the mattress or the experience of buying the mattress. The Jobs-To-Be-Done of the person they are interviewing is only discovered by the end of the interview.
The trigger for considering buying a new mattress was experiencing back pain every morning after waking up. But that wasn’t the job they were looking to hire a mattress for. The JTBD is only unearthed by the end of the interview when they can consider the full picture. First, let’s map the different forces at play after listening to the interview.
The Progress-Blocking Forces I’ve identified:
Focused on starting a new company
Stress from the new company
Sleeping on my old mattress on the floor because the new one sucks
Often sleeping in hotel beds when traveling for new business.
Scared of making a wrong decision - again
Buying online without feeling the mattress
How good is the return policy?
Do I trust the store to handle a potential return smoothly?
Does my wife like the new mattress?
Now let’s take a look at the Progress-Making Forces I spotted:
Terrible sleep for 1.5 years
Lying awake at night
Feeling good after waking up
Be more present as a dad
Be more productive for my new business
It’s interesting to note that all these forces discovered during the interview are deeply personal. You will get different answers when you talk to another person. And this is exactly why you should be talking to more people.
Let’s get back to the initial question I asked: why was the impulse buy of the mattress at Costco actually not an impulse buy?
The interviewee had been sleeping terribly for 1.5 years. He was away often, sleeping in hotels and experiencing stress from starting a new business. Buying a new mattress wasn’t a priority for him. But the biggest thing holding him back was the anxiety of making a wrong choice.
That’s why he decided to pull the trigger when he was at Costco with his wife. He could feel if the mattress was good, and his wife could feel it and give her blessing on the spot. He trusted Costco to handle a potential return smoothly in case it wouldn’t solve their sleeping problems.
Costco removed the biggest obstacle in his mind to purchasing a new mattress: the anxieties he was experiencing. When those were removed, making the purchase became easy, and it seemed like an impulse buy, but it absolutely wasn’t.
By talking to different people, you can begin to identify common patterns and cluster customers based on the progress they are looking for in their lives. And then, you can use this to make your product stronger in helping your customers level up in these areas.
What Was the JTBD of the Interviewee?
By now, you’re probably wondering, what’s the actual JTBD of the interviewee? What’s the job they’re looking to hire a mattress for? The interviewee wanted to sleep like a baby to have more energy to play with his kids and run his new-found business.
Instead of Dreaming Up JTBD, Discover Them By Talking to Customers
I hope I’ve convinced you by now that doing JTBD interviewing is crucial to apply JTBD successfully. Without JTBD interviewing, you would not discover the way to get commuters to drink more milkshakes would be to make them thicker. The real and unexpected nuggets of gold can only be discovered by talking to customers and understanding their JTBD and the different forces that are at play.
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It’s important to note in the mattress interview, they talk to a single customer. You need to talk to many more customers to discover the different JTBD that your customers have. And then, you need to decide which of the JTBDs your product will help accomplish.
Remember, customers only care about your product to the extent that it makes a difference in their lives. Building great products is not about what your product can accomplish but what it helps your customer to achieve.
With JTBD interviewing, you can root your product in the actual JTBD of your customer and build a product that grants the progress they are looking for in their lives. Without talking to customers, you can’t do JTBD.
Product Managers and Product Owners: the next time you get all excited about JTBD, please extend the same level of enthusiasm for the interviewing that’s necessary to discover the JTBDs of your customers.