Top 5 “Jobs To Be Done” Mistakes Product People Make

Innovators, product managers and marketers alike are embracing the Jobs to be Done mindset to design and sell products customers love.

Jobs to be Done: customers have progress they want to make in their lives. They hire products and services they believe will help them get the job done (under specific circumstances).

There is no one “Jobs to be Done” technique.

There are different approaches and tactics that have been developed to surface the underlying jobs customers are trying to get done, with the goal of identifying ways to improve the customer experience.

Unfortunately, as aspiring innovators are latching onto this buzzword, they’re stumbling and doing their customers a disservice.

These are the top 5 mistakes product people are making with Jobs to be Done.

  1. Making up Jobs without talking to customers
  2. Asking “impossible questions”
  3. Not asking customers how else they’ve tried to solve the problem
  4. Focusing only on functional needs
  5. Writing useless job stories

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1. Making up Jobs without talking to customers

Ok stop. If you think you’re doing “Jobs to be Done” without talking to customers, you’re wrong.

Jobs to be Done REQUIRES customer engagement. You need to get past the specific tactical action they’re trying to perform to understand the why.This can only be done via JTBD interviews. Why is this important for them to achieve? How will their life be different once this job is done?

Just making this stuff up by looking at behavioral data or customer feedback may tell you the WHAT customers are doing with your product, but they won’t get to the WHY.

The biggest opportunity with Jobs to be Done is helping customers do something in a way they never would have imagined possible. And you can only do that by understanding why they want to do it, through customer interviews.

Don’t want to make this #jtbd mistake yourself?
 Talk to customers! 

JTBD interview

2. Asking “impossible questions”

You know you need to talk to customers to understand their Jobs to be Done. Great. But be careful you’re not asking them impossible questions during your JTBD interview.

Impossible questions are those like:
“What made you do that?”
“What would have changed your mind?”
“How often would you use this?”

Impossible questions are those that demand your customer lie to you.
Not intentionally, of course. But asking someone to go back in time and tell you exactly how they made a decision is unrealistic and unfair.

Asking someone to go back in time & tell you how they made a decision is unrealistic & unfair. Click To Tweet

If you’ve read Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why“, he mentions how the part of our brain associated with decision-making and trust (the limbic brain) has no capacity for language. That’s why we have ‘gut reactions’ or make decisions we can’t explain. [Source]

When we ask someone why they made a certain decision, or we ask them to go back and imagine how things could have been different, we’re not getting the truth anymore. We’re asking them to make up a story.

All of a sudden you have a bunch of people making up stories, and sometimes those stories are embellished to be more even more ‘helpful’  for the interviewer. Not the best data to work off of.

As a general rule of thumb, avoid the word “would” during any type of customer interview, not just JTBD interviews.

Don’t want to make this #jtbd mistake yourself?
 Ask customers what really happened instead of asking them to guess. 

3. Not asking customers how else they’ve tried to solve the problem

You’re creative. You’re an innovator. You’re going to learn about the Job this customer is struggling to get done,and then you’re going to design an amazing solution. Great!

But if you don’t spend some time understanding how else the customer has already tried to solve this problem, and why those solutions did or did not work for him, you risk being completely blindsided down the road.

There are three benefits to spending time understanding the customers’ consideration set during your JTBD interviews.

  1. You can learn how important it is to him to get the Job done. If a customer has resigned himself to accepting things the way they are, he may need a much harder push to embrace a solution.
  2. You can learn what the shortcomings are of existing solutions in the market. What are the barriers your product should be sure to address?
  3. You can ferret out if there’s been a change in the customer’s life that makes a previous solution no longer viable. Is he being pushed from a previous solution, that makes him all the more more receptive to something new?

Don’t want to make this #jtbd mistake yourself?
 Ask them how they’ve solved the problem in the past! 

4. Focusing only on functional needs

This may be the most controversial ‘mistake’ on this list. Some Jobs to be Done schools of thought are happy to focus on very tactical Jobs, perhaps even within an interaction with a product.

Certainly, digging into the technical requirements of an product can help you improve the customer experience. A person can perform a task easier/faster/with fewer errors.

That seems very… robotic. We can design products that do more than that, can’t we?

The answer is yes.

We can absolutely develop products that help people work more efficiently, but the purpose should be for a greater cause. Why do we want to let people do this? What is the real reason this is important? What else will they do with the time this efficiency has afforded them?

Moving beyond the functional needs into emotional and social needs opens the door to much more impactful, lovable products.

Don’t want to make this #jtbd mistake yourself?
 A technique like the ‘five whys’ can help drive the conversation down to a more emotional, honest level. 

5. Writing useless job stories

Alas, this is also related to #4 above.

As Jobs to be Done is adopted in agile software companies, a Job Story format has emerged as a possible replacement for User Stories.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many Job stories that end up with circular logic.

“When I am making a choice, I want to see all options available to me so I can pick the best option”.

Ahem.

sad panda is sad

Yes, functionally, being able to see the options will enable the user to pick an option.

But what happens when you present a more aspirational outcome?

Imagine instead:
“When I am making a choice, I want _________ so I can feel confident I’m picking the right option”.

Now, the focus is on confidence, not on the actual act of picking the option. How are some other ways we can instill confidence? Guidance? Recommendations? A way to ‘undo’?

Once we focus on the behavior or emotional change we want to help the user make, the world of possibilities opens up.

Focus on the behavioral change we want the user to make, and a world of possibilities opens up. #jtbd Click To Tweet

Don’t want to make this #jtbd mistake yourself?
 Make sure your ‘desired outcomes’ are not just reframing the technical task at hand. That’s a system requirement, you should be designing for humans 🙂 


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So there you have it. The top 5 Jobs to be Done mistakes product people make.

Looking back at the list, which of these are you guilty of? Anything you plan to do differently next time?

  1. Making up Jobs without talking to customers
  2. Asking “impossible questions”
  3. Not asking customers how else they’ve tried to solve the problem
  4. Focusing only on functional needs
  5. Writing useless job stories

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