Teaching people how to conduct Jobs to be done (JTBD) interviews

Interviewing is harder than it looks. TV hosts, such as Oprah and Paxman, make it look as simple as having a conversation but as we know they are both well planned and highly adept at listening and asking at the same time.

Over the past three years, I’ve become a big fan of Jobs to be Done, JTBD, www.jobstobedone.org as a lens through which to look at the needs of customers. I really believe that through discovering needs, instead of wants, we can spot opportunities to innovate both when designing products and services or when planning online and offline marketing.

In my consulting work I conduct interviews to try and unearth needs whether I am working with a credit card issuer, a packaged goods company, a university or a web design agency. I used to be unstructured and nervous but through practice I have become better and much more confident. Helping others get to the same level has become a priority.

In my main job is as an educator, at Hyper Island, www.hyperisland.com, I want to share both JTBD and interviewing with my students (and participants on executive courses) so that they can explore the power of the technique themselves.

I started by introducing workshops to let them interview each other (usually with a third person as a note taker). I asked each of them to identify a significant purchase they had made in the last few months. They took it in turns to ask questions to discover why the purchase had been made, why now and what alternatives had been explored. We used both the timeline and the four forces model (from Bob Moesta & Chris Spiek and their team at Rewired Group, www.therewiredgroup.com) to guide the questioning.

I bought my juicer because I got a new girlfriend

We explored some interesting stories together: “I bought my juicer because I got a new girlfriend”, “I needed these shoes to feel more confident”, “I came to university but could have volunteered in Africa instead”, “ I was looking to free myself from work while wanting to more tools and structure for when I return”, “I want someone to take care of my finances in the same way I have someone to take care of my health”.

Talking to them later they felt they had enjoyed the session, saw that Jobs to be Done could be revealing but many lacked confidence that they could do it themselves.

I started to work on better notes and slides but soon pivoted into creating some cards that they could use to plan and execute their interviews. These are the product at the heart of a Kickstarter I am running right now — https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/196851189/jtbd-cards-learning-to-interview-customers .

I know that a rigid interview script does not work because it does not feel natural while an unstructured conversation rarely unearths the insights we want. The cards are a tool that feels structured but flexible at the same time.

Pattern languages

I’ve been influenced by pattern languages, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pattern_language, and have given each of the cards a hopefully memorable name. As the interviewer becomes more confident these pattern names become a hook on which to construct questions; it’s easy to construct an interview script using just these names. They provide just enough of a prompt to guide the questioning while

I tried early versions of the cards (printed stickers on playing cards) and they were popular but learners asked for more structured help. The second version of the deck introduced a colour coding to allow them to use only a subset of the cards to start with; gradually adding cards as they understood more about the process.

It also became clear that in the contrived atmosphere of a workshop the roles of interviewer and interviewee were less marked than in the real world. The interviewee wanted to be involved. I decided to use the reverse of the cards to highlight big questions that could be shared and discussed with the interviewee. This is the deck I’ve launched on Kickstarter and I’m excited to get feedback.

Initial reactions using the prototypes over the last few months have been positive with participants demanding a set for themselves. It was clear this would not scale and hence moving into production.

I’ve also been asked to turn some of my other sessions into similar resources so keep an eye out for a deck on Google Analytics and KPIs and other on evaluating a brand’s digital presence from a Jobs to be Done perspective.