Jobs to Be Done from the Ground Up
On Deploying Empathy and Creating a Great Product
There is a lot of debate in the product design world on how to get to the root motivation behind why someone uses or purchases a product.
On one side is the persona, an exercise used to engender empathy in the product team toward their ideal customer. It includes where they work, what they are interested in and is essentially a caricature of your target audience.
In the opposite corner, Jobs Theory.
Jobs theory was championed in Clayton M. Christensen’s book, “Competing Against Luck” where he outlines a theory that the motivation behind why people do things is because they have a “job” they need done and they will pay you if you can do it. With Airbnb, the job of a traveler might be “I want to travel somewhere and not feel like a tourist” or for a host, “my wife and I travel a lot and we want to make money off this empty apartment.” In both those cases you could “hire” Airbnb to do those jobs for you. The “feel like a local” job fulfills an emotional need and the host’s job to be done fulfills a more practical need.
The downside to personas is the fact that the things you focus on are critiqued as not the reasons they buy things. The prospect being a 30 year old single man who makes $50,000 a year doesn’t correlate with him buying your product.
The downside of Job Theory is that theories tend to nebulous and can easily be misinterpreted if there isn’t sufficient work done in the field and many points are debatable based off varying opinions.
So, what is the best way to find the root “need” of the customer?
In the summer of 2017 my wife and I spent six weeks in Uganda doing humanitarian work. I was building a website for a local organization and she was working with children that have special needs.
In Uganda, a common mode of transportation is the ‘boda boda’ which essentially is a motorcycle taxi that can get you around town for less than a US dollar. They make for good stories – the kind you tell after you have survived, (no harm no foul right?) and safety was often a concern.
I’m in rural Eastern Uganda for most of my tenure there. So I never made physical contact with SafeBoda which currently only runs in the nations capitol of Kampala and other big cities in Eastern Africa.
Around the same time, Jeff Whitlock was leaving Kampala after an 11 month stint at SafeBoda managing their product team. It wouldn’t be until several months later that he would be on my radar and I’d get my first look at SafeBodas business model.
I thought,”This is perfect! I wish I knew about this when I was in Africa!” It was so cut and dry that I just assumed it would be a behemoth business that would disrupt the average boda driver in Uganda.
Why Hire SafeBoda?
For safety of course!
Well thats what I’d hire them to do. I’d love to pay a premium to ensure I don’t get thrown off a bike or have to haggle with my driver.
But that is my perspective and the perspective of every other 1st world tourist to Africa. Luckily I had the chance to ask Jeff at a Meetup what he thought the job to be done was.
Surprisingly, Jeff stated that Ugandans didn’t hire SafeBoda for safety. They hired it for other reasons like status (Safeboda is more expensive than traditional boda bodas) so they can be seen as someone who can afford a Safeboda.
They also hired Safeboda to get them through traffic without feeling like they are going to be ripped off because overpricing and theft is a common problem from shady boda drivers.
In reality, Ugandans are desensitized to the dangers of public transportation in Uganda. To them, it is normal.
Jeff even admitted that that assumption was prevalent to the founders of the company. It’s name implies that they set out to create safe transportation but they found that they better serve Ugandans with their reliability and the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality.
How to Suspend Assumptions
This is how Jeff got pass those assumptions.
He mixed jobs theory with personas. In a persona, you create a fictional character that embodies your target user. Jeff took this concept and made a persona out a real person. So it had all the trappings of a persona but it is a real person Jeff and his team can interview and research their behaviors.
Doing it this way allows for all the benefits personas can bring to the table but with the added clarity of Jobs Theory which gets to the root cause behind someones behavior. The fact that you have a real person that makes up the Jobs Persona profile makes it easy to see real impact in that persons life.
User Research from the Bottom Up
Using real people to make your jobs personas allows you to do a bottom up approach to User Research. Unlike marketing research, which is similar to traditional personas, that defines people by demographic and how much money they make, Jobs Theory frames peoples actions based off the individual and builds from there.
A Jobs Persona allows you to validate if the jobs of the individual translate to the jobs of many and when you consider Long Tail Economics which highlights the interest based ‘niche’ demographics of the information age, you need to research people based off the interest and the niche they fill instead of external motivators.
To expound on that, let’s look at the Jobs framework:
Job: this refers to the point a and b a person wants to travel. This is a need they need to be fulfilled. “I want to feel like a local on my trip to x”
Objective: is the state the individual wants to be in after completing the job. When it comes to a security system, it is the feeling that “when I go to bed, I can have the sense of peace that my house is secure” or in Airbnb’s case, “I am not treated like a tourist which makes it easier for me to authentically experience my new environment.”
Barrier: is the impediment to the objective. This could be lack of experience in an area, financial constraints, or inconvenience that the individual would rather avoid if they can. “All I know are hotels, what would be a better option?”
Solution: is what allows a person to complete the job despite the barriers they have. Airbnb does this well by designing their experience to surmount budget restrictions, social restrictions (like a house outside the touristy side of town), and the inconvenience of finding a better solution than a hotel.
I hired my 15" MacBook Pro because I:
Job: I need to make and edit a video to market myself on LinkedIn
Objective: I need to be able to produce at the speed I can imagine changes without waiting for the machine to catch up.
Barrier: My HP laptop keeps crashing when I run Adobe Premiere Pro and playback is laggy. This will take forever!
Solution: A MacBook pro with a quad core i7 processor and dedicated graphics card has enough umph to enable uninterrupted creative flow.
Result? I made more videos because the my machine is as fast as me if not faster.
What makes a good UX Designer so valuable is their ability to impact the bottom line of a business because they understand the core individual that makes up the audience. Spending time to explore and research the right way allows a product team to nail down the core job-to-be-done for the user because by the time you open up a sketch file, you have dug up the emotion you want to elicit after talking with real consumers.
Think about why you hire things in your own life. It isn’t because you are a 34 year old black male who is a financial planner and likes cats. You hire a product or service because you will pay money to not be inconvenienced by something you are not good at like mowing the lawn (hire your neighbors son) or driving a car (hire Lyft).
Personally, it upsets me that people insist I need to part with my money because guys around my age are “statistically more likely to do x”.
You have to buy this insurance policy because “statistically men you age get into accidents”. What the insurance agent didn’t take into account is that I don’t currently play any sports or do extreme activities or drive often as the average 23 year old.
You have to get an MBA because “statistically men your age suck at business”. What isn’t taken into account is that I grew up with entrepreneurs as parents and helped build the family business – a real life MBA which is called aka an apprenticeship. Speaking of jobs to be done, can I not just hire a book to teach me the same principle?
To end this rant, I have to mention something Cameron Moll expounded on when he was giving a group of UX Students and I a tour of the Facebook campus.
“Be informed by data, not driven by it”
I may be a 23 year old but I am not an extreme athlete. My chances of injuring myself are as high as my 40 year old uncle. This is why insurance companies are ripe for disruption! They do not pair products on jobs-to-be-done, they are data driven and define my by inconsequential stats.
Rachel from Uganda might like Safeboda because of safer rides but she ultimately hires a normal boda boda because she values speed over safety.
At Facebook, they switched the chronological newsfeed over to a algorithmic feed and the internet protested! But when they switched back to a chronological model, the found that despite the user complaints the algorithmic feed had better numbers and engagement. This reveals some true principles about human behavior:
People usually don’t know what they want because they can not articulate it.
Most decision making is subconscious until the individual becomes self aware.
As UX Designers, we can become aware of their subconscious needs before they do by applying A Jobs Persona to the research process. By doing this we delight the user by meeting a need they were not aware they had.