How to apply the Jobs-to-be-Done framework for user needs analysis

Importance of understanding user needs

The quote above by Henry Ford is used often in business and strategy discussions. But it can also be misinterpreted in the context of product innovation and management.

A lot of product teams treat this as a suggestion that we don’t need to talk to customers because they don’t truly know what they want. This approach can be a recipe for unsuccessful product and service launches, because even if we end up creating the most technologically advanced product , it may not have any takers because it doesn’t address any underserved or unmet needs for anyone. Or perhaps it doesn’t do it any better than another, much simpler and cheaper competing product.

So what is the essence of that quote above then? What it really means is we shouldn’t ask customers for SOLUTIONS. However, we must absolutely do everything we can to better understand their needs, problems and the outcomes they want to achieve.

Here are a few examples of a few successful products

Instagram: People don’t care for what kind of cutting edge image and video filters you produce, they care about taking better pictures and connecting with their social circle.

Zoom: Users are not interested in the technical capabilities of the video conferencing product, but they do want to attend virtual classes and social happy hours in a very simple, easy to use way.

Uber: Riders care about the convenience, timeliness and comfort of getting around their cities. But if you talked to them about possible solutions years ago, they would provide have offered not something as innovative as Uber

Successful product innovation and management focuses completely on user needs and problems, and therefore any tool /method/ framework that can help with that should be added to the arsenal.

What is Jobs-to-be-Done and why is it used?

One of the methods that can be used to truly formalize user needs is the Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework. It means that the users hire the product to do a job for them, and as product innovators, we must surface as many jobs as we can BEFORE we develop a solution.

It is a form of qualitative method which can be used to formalize the needs, motivations, desired outcomes and pain points of the users, by writing and documenting jobs.

Prerequisites for jobs to be done framework

There are a few areas that need to be undertaken prior to the articulation of jobs, so let’s take a look at these.

  1. Opportunity hypothesis and research strategy need to be in place to create the right focus for the jobs analysis.
  2. It is possible that an early-round of industry research and limited qualitative and quantitative research is also available. JTBD can help perform a deeper dive into the needs following that early research, or be the primary method of choice to understand user behaviors and needs
  3.  As the name suggests, customer jobs to be done should precede with identifying the customer personas.

How to identify and write jobs

For each relevant customer persona identify the jobs in the following way:

  1. Identify the situation and context in which the user needs to perform a job
  2. List all the needs of the user in that situation and context
  3. Record the desired outcome that the user wants to achieve

A situation can have multiple needs and outcomes.

Jobs can be functional, social or emotional. To make sense of this, let us continue with the example of Uber where we look at one job of each of these 3 types.

Assume that you are responsible for identifying opportunities to make ride-hailing easier in cities. If you were writing down jobs-to-be-done for a user persona (to simplify let’s say a single professional who is a millennial, city dweller, and is active socially along with a busy work schedule), here are some examples of writing them.

Situation/ContextNeedOutcome/Expectation
When I go to work in the morningI want to be able to call my ride from homeSo I can save time waiting for a cab outside (Functional )
When I go to work in the morningI want to be able to track where my ride isSo I don’t feel stressed about when I’ll get to work (Emotional)
When I socialize with my friends on the weekendI want a nice and comfortable ride to pick us upSo we can all have a great time together (Social)

As you see above, you can keep documenting as many jobs as possible for the persona. Of course, to build a product, we need to do the same exercise with other personas (other types of users and drivers) as well.

Here are some other aspects to consider while using jobs-to-be-done framework for needs analysis:

  • Jobs are not the same as tasks/activities/operational steps that a user performs.
  • Jobs can be primary, secondary, or even latent(the user doesn’t even realize this until it is discovered).
  • The framework can also be a useful tool for competitive analysis by helping develop a better understanding of which jobs the competitors are most focused on.
  • While we want to unravel as many relevant jobs as possible in the customer’s experience, prioritizing them is crucial. This can be based on significance, urgency, frequency, and extent of currently served
  • Jobs can be drafted in a positive or negative form (i.e. what their outcome or experience should NOT be. E.g. “So I DON’T get late to work”). However some people prefer standardizing to only the positive form. E.g. “So I get to work on time)
  • The jobs-to-be-done framework helps to imagine the future state and desires/motivations of the users.
  • Thinking of areas like quality, speed, safety, ease of the steps that users perform in their journey is a good way of identifying additional jobs.
  • Identifying “adjacent” jobs which are the ones carried out right before or after the main jobs, can result in very impactful product innovations.
  • B2B products will typically involve identifying jobs for buyers, primary users, influencers, and other roles.
  • All approaches of qualitative research (1-1 interviews, focus groups) can be used for JTBD analysis, but the use of social media data mining can make this even more scaleable. Users post a lot of data on social media and forums which can be used to perform very thorough analysis.

Remember that the goal of the exercise is to help us create better experiences for the customers, not features for products. This knowledge when well understood across the team can help not only in successful product build-out but also set the stage for marketing and sales strategies.

Have you ever used this framework before? Or is this something you believe you can use in your product/industry?

6 thoughts on “How to apply the Jobs-to-be-Done framework for user needs analysis

  • Kim

    Nice article. If we built IT, they will come — mantra has proven wrong for many startups, ideas and a fail. Lots of lost time, sunk costs, large expenses into making something ‘cool, shiny and new’ people ultimately won’t use. Have to think about processes and end goals (psyche, behavior, trends, research, target market, ideal customer, business model, etc.). Create things that solve a pain point, bring an opportunity – is something people would want to use and benefit them. Anytime you can make a process, situation easier, based off what can be done as a favorable outcome, can lead to success. We, as users of many things, don’t buy or use things without doing research, seeing how something meets our needs or makes our lives better (in personal and professional lives). (Most) People like efficiency, results, and more importantly, an engaging and customized user experience. This can happen with lead gen.

    • Vipin Makhija

      Right on Kim. Every now and then it is possible to get lucky with “Build it and they will come” and create something successful, but the odds are usually stacked against you. And JTBD is just another way to create a structured way to understand users at a deeper level.

  • Rahul

    JTBD is powerful in that it focuses on the user (the essence of user-centered design) rather than the capability of the seller. The user doesn’t know what will solve their problem and neither does the team trying to find a solution. There is value in solving pain-points for users rather than showing off the latest shiny-app that you created using a recently developed framework. JTBD can help discover these pain-points – which can act as input for brainstorming solutions.

    • Vipin Makhija

      Discovery is what most businesses and product innovators and managers tend to go light on. using intuition can feel so much faster and more fun at times. So any methodical way of really avoiding product innovation which is purely intuition-based just increases the odds of succeeding. And JTBD can certainly be one of those tools

  • Pras Palani

    Well written article Vipin. Completely agree with the benefits of JTBD framework.

    • Vipin Makhija

      Thanks, Pras. Look forward to hearing more thoughts if you apply it in more initiatives. It can be quite powerful if used with intent.

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