Finding your customers' jobs to be done

Aug 31, 2017

Consistently improving your product so it delivers a superior experience is hard. To effectively do this you need to deeply understand the problem your product solves for users.

Know your customers’ jobs

An effective way of understanding why people use your product is the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) framework. The idea is that customers employ your product to help them complete one (or more) of their jobs.

To successfully adopt this framework you need to know why people decided to use your product in the first place, why they continue to use it, and why they drop off or stop using it a few months down the line. In essence, you need to know the exact job your product does for your customers and what would make that job easier.

What job do people hire your product to do?

To gather these insights you need to sit down with users and ask them what drove them to use (or stop using) your product. Check out this awesome piece on how the JBTD framework helped Basecamp understand the problem they solve for people; and how the messaging they’d worked so hard to perfect for eight years was almost nowhere in sight.

Before you can sit down with your users you need to figure out your goals so you know who to talk to.

Using analytics to inform your JBTD goals

What your goals are depends on how your product needs to innovate. For example, if your product suffers from high drop off after three months you’ll want to know what job people expected of it and why it failed to do that job.

Whatever your goals, they should be clear and help you understand the true problem your product solves for users.

In his post about the JBTD framework, Nathan Kontny, the CEO of Highrise, began with the data already available:

We used a combination of our analytics tools and a screening survey we sent to a bunch of potential interview candidates.

Analytics holds a wealth of information and by combing through the data you can begin to compose an idea of what your JBTD goals should look like.

A great example is a product with a high drop off during a free trial period. Naturally, you’d want to know why so many people fail to complete the free trial. Analytics, when done right, can tell you the exact moment people stop engaging with your product.

Armed with this insight you can identify specific goals and users for your interviews. And you can ask hyper-targeted questions about a single moment in time when the product offering failed to help users complete a job.

JBTD isn’t bullet-proof

Nathan raises a good point about the difficulty of accurately figuring out your goals and who to ask:

“When did you first use our product?”

JBTD is often carried out at multiple levels: recent users, recent drop offs, and so on.

This information is hard to glean from analytics that doesn’t use unique ID tracking and full-funnel analysis, where you can follow your users from the moment they start their journey to the moment they complete their job.

It’s also difficult to force yourself to ask interviewees deeper and deeper questions. If a user responds that your product was “easy to use” and that’s why they chose it, the correct response isn’t to move on to the next question, it’s to dig deeper and ask what made it easy and why that was important.

It’s similar to the idea of first principles that Elon Musk is so famous for. Get to the most basic of motivations and you’re well on the way to product innovation.

This can feel invasive at times and we think people might push back. But what you’ll often find is that people want to help you improve your product so they can complete their jobs more efficiently.

No one said it was easy

Digging through your existing analytics data, defining clear goals, identifying the right users to talk to, and finally implementing those insights into a live product is not easy.

But if you can help your users complete their goals more effectively and more efficiently they’ll love you, and your product, for it.

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