355 — Agile — Jobs To Be Done (I)

I just started reading When Coffee and Kale Compete by Alan Klement — you can download the ebook for FREE here. The book explains an interesting approach to developing User Stories aka Jobs Stories (based on his approach) to build products that are valuable to customers or users.

If you are not familiar with what user stories are, imagine you want to build a sand castle at the beach for your little brother. You want to invite Michel Lepire to your team. Michel has built castles for years and is very passionate about agile practices, meaning “I want to optimize your resources” type of approach (in other words “the sea level will rise and the waves will reach us, let’s keep that in mind and build a castle your brother will like/play with”).

Michel is real — http://www.sculpturesmichellepire.com/fr/

Michel asks you to explain the scope of the castle as well as the main functionality. Michel wants you to provide a description of your brother, what he wants and why. He basically wants you to see through your brother´s eyes and mind and provide simple yet clear descriptions of what your brother will do with the castle following this format:

As a <role>, I want <feature> so that <reason>. i.e.: as a user, I want to open/close the castle’s door to take naps inside privately.

Michel knows building sand castles can take teams, resources and lots of efforts. If the foundations of the design (from UX to ERD modeling) are not solid, the project can fall into place. If your brother is not brought into the equation, he may end up hating the castle and ignoring it vs. wanting to play with it. If Michel takes too much time, the sea levels may rise and the sand get wet.

I make this analogy between software products and sand castles to talk about agile practices because in a way, we can argue the software industry has a very limited lifespan: it is constantly renovating itself and companies competing in the industry must understand this to innovate or at least survive. The entry levels to build software are becoming easier to access as technology education gains ground and the access to devices and infrastructure to build, make, shake things up continue to consolidate. The sea will always be there with its shores, waves and Moon cycles.

In software application development, agile software development (ASD) is a methodology for the creative process that anticipates the need for flexibility and applies a level of pragmatism into the delivery of the finished product. Agile software development focuses on keeping code simple, testing often, and delivering functional bits of the application as soon as they’re ready. The goal of ASD is to build upon small client-approved parts as the project progresses, as opposed to delivering one large application at the end of the project.

At World Tech Makers, the technology education startup I am currently running we are full-gears ON on product development. After many iterations and a pretty high turnover ratio, we finally pulled off a “stable” 11-persons team focused on two main areas:

  1. Customer Development
  2. Product Development

We are using agile methodologies on all of the company´s processes: we have sprints for our software development team, sprints for our design team and sprints for our sales and research teams. We use Trello and daPulse. We also use Pipedrive and Taiga. We are focused mainly on emerging markets although we have been lucky to receive strong leads to bring operations to the USA market. We stay agile because it allows us to optimize resources as a startup and keep a very strong communication among ourselves as a team.

So when I first heard about Jobs to be Done from a Global Shaper from Medellin´s hub a few months ago, I was very curious. We were about to create our Sprints and start developing software after focusing 100% on on-site training only. This Global Shaper happened to have studied at MIT and was also helping them translate to Spanish the contents of an online course the school launched. He seemed to know what he was talking about.

As an entrepreneur, finding market fit is one of the most difficult tasks you can have. Before scaling you have to focus on building something people want, knowing you are running out of resources (ie $$$/time/“f — --ups”). The JTBD framework can not only be applied to business development but also product development from what I am learning from Alan.

Instead of seeing your product development process only from your eyes and assumptions, you are striving to build based on the jobs that need to be done from your customer’s/potential customer’s needs, in other words, you want to understand the tasks your customers/users want to accomplish. The approach is more descriptive than predictive.

The jobs-to-be-done framework emerged as a helpful way to look at customer motivations in business settings. Conventional marketing techniques teach us to frame customers by attributes — using age ranges, race, marital status, and other categories that ultimately create products and entire categories too focused on what companies want to sell, rather than on what customers actually need.
The jobs-to-be-done framework is a tool for evaluating the circumstances that arise in customers’ lives. Customers rarely make buying decisions around what the “average” customer in their category may do — but they often buy things because they find themselves with a problem they would like to solve. With an understanding of the “job” for which customers find themselves “hiring” a product or service, companies can more accurately develop and market products well-tailored to what customers are already trying to do.

(see tomorrow’s post for Part II)