Jobs to Be Done and Software to Be Built

Valuing more than the code we write or the pixels we push.

Clients don’t pay us to write code.

They don’t pay us to produce designs.

If that’s all they were buying, they could easily go elsewhere to spend less money and get a closer picture of exactly what they asked for when they walked in the door. With the emergence of places like Fiverr and the allure of international outsourcing, these tasks can be hired for pennies on the dollar and will lively be replaced by computers. It’s a race to the bottom that we’re not interested in winning. The business of selling lines of code or pretty pixels is a commodity and is nowhere near the business we’re interested in.

We Solve Problems

Clients pay us to solve problems, to collaborate, and to create. Not any problems, complex problems. Not any collaboration, human centered collaboration. Not any creations, delightful creations. Combining our skills, experience, and unique perspective, we work well with those who understand that collaboration and iteration produce the greatest results.

Combining creative disciplines and unconventional people, we use today’s tools to build impactful solutions. Design and development are tools, they are not the point. They are not the purpose.

Jobs to Be Done

As legendary Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt put it, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

The story below is an excerpt from a famous paper, but this story is particularly illuminating and outlines what I mean when I say “you’re not paid to write software”.

Consider one fast-food restaurant’s effort to improve sales of its milk shakes. (In this example, both the company and the product have been disguised.) Its marketers first defined the market segment by product — milk shakes — and then segmented it further by profiling the demographic and personality characteristics of those customers who frequently bought milk shakes. Next, they invited people who fit this profile to evaluate whether making the shakes thicker, more chocolaty, cheaper, or chunkier would satisfy them better. The panelists gave clear feedback, but the consequent improvements to the product had no impact on sales.
A new researcher then spent a long day in a restaurant seeking to understand the jobs that customers were trying to get done when they hired a milk shake. He chronicled when each milk shake was bought, what other products the customers purchased, whether these consumers were alone or with a group, whether they consumed the shake on the premises or drove off with it, and so on. He was surprised to find that 40 percent of all milk shakes were purchased in the early morning. Most often, these early-morning customers were alone; they did not buy anything else; and they consumed their shakes in their cars.
The researcher then returned to interview the morning customers as they left the restaurant, shake in hand, in an effort to understand what caused them to hire a milk shake. Most bought it to do a similar job: They faced a long, boring commute and needed something to make the drive more interesting. They weren’t yet hungry but knew that they would be by 10 a.m.; they wanted to consume something now that would stave off hunger until noon. And they faced constraints: They were in a hurry, they were wearing work clothes, and they had (at most) one free hand.
The researcher inquired further: “Tell me about a time when you were in the same situation but you didn’t buy a milk shake. What did you buy instead?” Sometimes, he learned, they bought a bagel. But bagels were too dry. Bagels with cream cheese or jam resulted in sticky fingers and gooey steering wheels. Sometimes these commuters bought a banana, but it didn’t last long enough to solve the boring-commute problem. Doughnuts didn’t carry people past the 10 a.m. hunger attack. The milk shake, it turned out, did the job better than any of these competitors. It took people twenty minutes to suck the viscous milk shake through the thin straw, addressing the boring-commute problem. They could consume it cleanly with one hand. By 10:00, they felt less hungry than when they tried the alternatives. It didn’t matter much that it wasn’t a healthy food, because becoming healthy wasn’t essential to the job they were hiring the milk shake to do.

What is our job to be done?

If we’re putting ourselves in the position of the milkshake, our customer is looking for a team to help them navigate the uncertain road ahead. They likely have a fresh, unique idea but are looking for guidance. Rather than doing a task, they are hoping for someone to make recommendations, push back, and challenge their preconceived notions.

Whether design or development, strategy or execution… we provide these services in pursuit of a greater end. If our work looks like a commodity then we’re doing it wrong or you’re not looking close enough.