Getting Practical with Jobs to Be Done: Tools, Templates, and Best Examples
If you wish to start using Jobs to Be Done theory to help your customers make progress with better services and products, but you don’t know what to actually do to come up with Jobs, this article is for you.
There are 2 stages to applying Jobs. First understand the customer through interviews. Then, distil insights and articulate the jobs.
All implementations of Jobs theory share core concepts, such as emphasis on causation and summarizing insights in a template. But Jobs theory doesn’t prescribe any specific tools. Each practitioner develops their own tools for extracting insights and formulas for articulating jobs. I have collected the best examples of such tools for you.
Conduct jobs-style interviews with customers
The goal is to understand is what causes our customers to start looking around for a better solution. Bob Moesta uses the analogy of dominoes tipping over. A typical interview is an hour or more. Using “bracketing”, you first establish the outcome (what a customer purchased; why then and not the day before?), then you ask about the earliest struggling moment (first thought). Finally you fill the story in between:
Bob Moesta offers a few questions to help you understand the customer:
The research process ends when:
1) for each interviewee you understand the cause, constraints, and all the things that fell into place for the outcome to occur
2) when you have interviewed enough people for common themes to emerge.
Interviews done right tend give you a new lens on your business. The process requires an open mind and patience:
There are other sources of research that can be sources of input. Here are clusters of feedback I identified from a customer survey — the bold are jobs and the bullets are direct quotes from customers:
Not all themes here are jobs. “Easier life for devs” is too vague and lacks context. “Transitions” on the other hand is situational (when my team is going through a migration…). Notice I extracted comments that have emotional energy. These themes could form jobs hypotheses to dig into during more detailed interviews.
Sketch the customer’s timeline
Your sketch of the customer’s decision timeline might look like this:
Analyze the words and forces
As you talk to customers, record their conversation so you can focus on paying attention. The exact words they use are important.
After an interview, you’ll want to highlight key events, causes, and consequences that customers mention. Here’s an example:
Build a database of interview scripts and insights (Notion is a great tool).
You should put together a forces diagram to understand what is motiving and obstructing process:
When filled, a forces diagram will look like this:
This is an example of forces mapped in time:
Organize your notes
You need a way to synthesize your notes using a framework that makes sense for you and your business. A key element in this has to be “when” (the cause or circumstances) and “so that” (the outcome). This is one person’s make-shift canvas:
A more structured example is something like this, available in Miro:
Here the Customer Forces Canvas:
Here are 2 versions of another canvas that’s simpler:
Strategyn has a proprietary and not-obvious canvas I will not cover here. Point is, there is a diversity of tools out there. Pick something that gives you guidance and develop it as you try it and learn.
Cluster to derive insights
If you have conducted a lot of interviews, you will need to group or cluster your insights. This is an example of a “mental model”-style synthesis:
This next example takes each customer interview (rows) and tags the circumstances (orange) and the outcomes (blue) that came up during each:
Conversations with common themes are grouped into 3 Jobs to Be Done:
There are a variety of clustering approaches that can be used. The basic idea is show relationships between insights and abstract to breader insights:
This example shows one team’s final jobs further grouped into themes:
Some people cluster their insights into personas:
Here is an example of a persona I put together and then enhanced it with “when”:
This example show the biggest opportunities tagged by user segment:
There are different approaches to articulating jobs. Some jobs are low level, some are big. Some are functional, some are emotional or social.
Articulating a job so it’s actionable but not mundane is more an art than a science, and I will not cover this in detail here. I have yet to see a good Goldilocks Test for this.
In simplest terms, a job encompasses the cause and the outcome, leaving the space between open to a multitude of solutions.
“Jobs are the vector from circumstance to outcome.” (https://twitter.com/rjs/status/1196994350414061569)
A deep understanding of a job covers aspects such as:
Alan Klement has proposed a simple formula (adopted by companies like Intercom), which he calls a Job Story:
An example of a Job Story: “When an item does not have an estimate or has an estimate I’m not happy with, I want to be able to restart the estimation process and notify everyone, so that the team knows a particular item needs to be estimated upon.” (https://jtbd.info/replacing-the-user-story-with-the-job-story-af7cdee10c27)
The “I want” could be called “Give me a way to…” or “Do…” to emphasize that it’s not a proposed solution or feature request by the customer.
Here is an example of a job from Clay Christensen, which uses an “I want” formulation with the word IF instead of when:
I want peace of mind that if something unfortunate happens, my loved ones and I will be taken care of.
One good way of formulating a higher-level job/theme is by saying
“Help me do… ”
Under this higher level job you would list several specific instances of “when… so that…” (see examples below). You can also use “help me” to connect cause and outcome:
Applying insights to solutions
Once you understand your customers’ jobs to be done, you can start thinking of product and service level solutions that do the job:
Here is an example of a jobs lens used to write a help desk article. Note this is a low-level job, almost a task. (I would argue the “Functional job” here is a solution/function, while the “Desired outcome” is more like a job.) Still, it’s a good example of how the “jobs lens” can guide content development:
Another example are these notes used to write a book:
Next is an example of using jobs to write a marketing tweet. Notice jobs-inspired “inventory” on the left and the reference to the struggle and context in the top left corner. Notice breakdown of options of pulls/pushes that can be used to assemble the final result:
The results of this analysis:
Next is a concept I put together for a potential new business focusing on a specific job to be done. Notice the main headline covers “when” (my trip has been cancelled) and the desired outcome (so that I get a happy ending):
The job has many solutions, which are itemized as the checkmarks. The main content on this page is the voice of the customer. The rest of the content is all about addressing anxieties and expectations. Notice it also addresses trade-offs — you may not be able to get a refund, but you could reschedule or maybe get someone else to take your trip for a partial return.
Common problems with personas and canvases
As you evaluate a canvas or template or put together your own, there are a few common mistakes to avoid:
Demographics and Psychological Traits are largely not valuable in Jobs. However, mentioning a “Market segment” could be useful to bucket or tag jobs for specific audiences.
Missing Causation/Situation: You need a “when”. Canvases will commonly refer to “pains” or “benefits”. From a jobs lens, a pain occurs at a specific moment. It’s the timing that’s key. So instead of saying “lost documents”, you’ll say “when an insurance policy renews and I need to dig up all previous documents to see what has changed…” That situation is what defines the struggling moment.
Solution-Side Criteria: Solutions-side criteria don’t belong on a persona. If you use a broader canvas, customer-side criteria should be distinctly separated from solution-side criteria (such as in the Value Proposition Canvas). Business opportunities should be defined as itches no other solution has been able to scratch or do so adequately.
Missing functional, emotional, social criteria.
Blocking Forces: Include anxieties about changing/choosing and the force of habit holding customers back.
Missing Tradeoffs and Constraints. What is the customer willing to forego and which things they will not give up?
Missing Alternatives. What has the customer tried, looked for, or considered useful.