The Jobs to be Done approach to product development

Teo Yu Sheng
Feb 18, 2017 · 8 min read

The Jobs to be Done (JTBD) framework was originally developed as a marketing concept for market segmentation, but product companies began to adopt it as a way to think about product development.

The idea behind the JTBD framework is straightforward: people don’t buy products because they fit into consumer segments; they buy products to solve problems in their lives. Essentially, your product is bought (hired) to solve a problem (to fulfil a job).

Consequently, customers compare different product offerings using a set of hiring criteria. These dimensions tell them how well a product solves their problems, and can range from price, convenience, aesthetics, to whatever matters to them.

To improve your product, you need to find out what job it’s being hired to do, and what hiring criteria it’s being evaluated against. Then optimise your product relentlessly against those dimensions.

You don’t need to beat your competitors at everything.

Enter the JTBD Interview

To find out what job your product is hired to do, and what hiring criteria it’s being evaluated against, you’ll need to conduct JTBD interviews with your customers.

The interviews attempt to find out, in as much detail as possible, how your customer ended up buying your product. From there, you analyse and investigate why they did so.

There are 2 main reasons we first ask about the how and not the why:

  1. We tend to remember how we came to buy a product (unless it’s been a while back). So the how tends to be pretty reliable.

Think of JTBD interviews like Sherlock solving a case:

  1. You first set the scene of the purchase. Where did they buy it? What day was it? What time? Who else was there? Did they also buy other things? What were they doing before the purchase? What did they do after?

Most people will tell you their reasons for the purchase before you even get to (4). But remember, Sherlock wouldn’t stop asking questions just because a suspect offers him an alibi. So take those rationales with a pinch of salt, and ask the probing questions anyway.

It’s the surprises that are most valuable in user interviews, so ask ahead even if you think you know what the answer will be.

JTBD interview questions

The questions are separated into 3 sections. It starts off with the point of purchase, then jumps back in time and works its way to the purchase.

The point of purchase

Find out, in as much detail as possible, how the purchase was made. You’ll want to reach a point where you can paint in your head the exact scene of purchase.

  1. When did you make the purchase?

Finding the first thought

Find out when, how, and why your customer first realises they have a problem that needs to be solved.

  1. When did you start thinking about solving your problem?

Building a consideration set

Find out what products your customer considered buying, and what criteria they had in mind to evaluate the various products. Find out what made them buy your product in the end.

  1. When did you start searching for a solution?

Pro tip: most interviews rarely run in perfect sequence of the questions. That’s because people will often randomly remember details about a previous question/topic, or will talk about a related topic that’s a few questions down your predefined list. Using topic maps will help you deal with this.

A topic map I used for my JTBD interviews

Conducting the JTBD interviews

JTBD interviews are similar to regular user interviews. But here are some things you’ll want to look out for:

  1. Always start with the point of purchase, then go back in the timeline.

The JTBD timeline

Each interview should yield a timeline of the journey the customer took from getting their first thought about solving a problem, to actually hiring the product to solve it.

It’ll include details like:

  • When and how they first realised they had a problem. Was it a nagging backache? Was it a conversation with a friend? Was it an ad?
A simplified JTBD timeline

Analysing the interview data you’ve collected

In the end, you’ll want to know the job your product is hired to do, and the criteria it is measured against. Analysing your JTBD timelines is crucial here.

How many interviews is enough?

Patterns will start to emerge after 5 interviews. And unless your product is used for many disparate reasons, you shouldn’t have to do more than 10 interviews to get a clear picture of the job your product is hired to do.

The general rule’s to stop once the answers start to repeat, i.e. once you stop learning new things about your product or customer.

Finding the Job

This is pretty straightforward.

By the end of each interview, you should have a sense of the problem your product was hired to solve. Across multiple interviews, the problems your customers face are likely to be similar. This is the job your product is hired to do.

It’s also perfectly normal for a product to serve 2–3 jobs (in which case, you’ll probably need to conduct a few more interviews to make sure the extra jobs aren’t anomalies).

Finding the hiring criteria

This requires a little more detective work. Look out for:

  1. The reasons why your customers chose your product over other products.

Hiring criteria are often phrased as statements that maximise or minimise a certain dimension, for example:

  • minimise the [money I spend on solving the problem]

If you found this article useful, recommend it so that others can find it too!

Further reading

The best way to learn anything is to start doing it. But here are some extra reading material that can help make your first step forward a little less shaky:

  1. The Jobs to be Done Mattress Interview by Chris Spiek
    JTBD experts record a sample interview to give you a sense of how it’s done

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