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JTBD: How to Develop a Product Your Customers Actually Want

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We started using ‘Jobs to be Done (JTBD)’ about a year ago after learning about Intercom’s success with the framework. We recently wrote a post introducing JTBD and how we use it. To recap, the premise of JTBD is that people ‘hire’ products in order to make progress in their lives. When they struggle to make progress with their current solution, they ‘fire’ it and ‘hire’ something else.

When thinking about how to use JTBD to improve your product, it’s important to remember that the job belongs to the customer, not your product. The question isn’t “what job does my product do?”, it’s “what job is someone trying to get done when they hire my product?”

The Jobs to be Done framework was exactly what we needed: Geckoboard has wide appeal across a variety of job titles and industries, and our research showed that nothing about those job roles or industries defined how people use the product. It also wasn’t clear how blindly adding more ‘dashboard features’ would make the product better for our users. Taking that approach would lead to a bloated product full of under-used features.

To start using JTBD, we first needed to determine what jobs our customers were hiring Geckoboard for. This means understanding the moments of struggle that cause someone to seek out a new solution, and uncovering the “hiring criteria” that they use to decide what to try next. We used two main sources of input to do this - special JTBD ‘switch’ interviews, and our existing knowledge of how our customers use Geckoboard.

‘Switch’ interviews

Switch interviews are a special form of interview devised by two leading JTBD practitioners - Bob Moesta and Chris Spiek of the Rewired Group, a consultancy who’ve worked with the likes of Intercom and Basecamp.

The goal of a switch interview is to understand why someone makes a purchase. JTBD says that people buy things in order to help them when they’re struggling to make progress. Switch interviews focus on this moment of struggle when someone decides that the status quo is no longer good enough and that they need to switch to a new solution.

This is applicable both when someone moves from one solution to another (e.g. buying a new mattress) as well as when someone finds a solution for the first time (when doing nothing is no longer good enough). Studying the former helps you to understand how to win over more consumers, and studying the latter tells you how to reach non-consumers.

Your goal in the interview is to build the story of how your customer went from the moment they first realized they were no longer content with how things were, all the way through to the eventual purchase and use of your product. In stark contrast to conventional customer development interviews, you’re not asking them about their relationship with your product - you just want to understand their story.

There are two tools you can use to help guide your interviews - the timeline, which lays out the series of events that lead from that ‘first thought’ through to the purchase, and the forces diagram.

I’ll talk a bit more about the forces diagram, as I found it to be incredibly useful both for these interviews and for thinking more generally about product features and messaging. Here’s what it looks like:

progress-making-forces-diagram

During the decision to make a purchase, two forces aid progress, and two work against it:

  • Push of the Situation - what’s compelling your buyer to seek out a way to make progress?
  • Pull of New Solution - what do they perceive to be attractive about the product that you’re offering them? Not in terms of features, but in terms of how they imagine their life to be better with your product.
  • Anxiety of the New Solution - what concerns do they have about adopting the new solution?
  • Habit of the Present - what allegiances do they have to their current solution?

I find it helpful to sketch this out in my notepad at the start of the interview and add notes under the four headings when I hear something interesting.

As you conduct more of these interviews, you’ll spot patterns in what people say. Use these insights to find ways to help amplify the progress-making forces and overcome the progress-inhibiting forces. As a result, people with similar struggles will be more likely to hire your product.

As an example, the team who interviewed McDonald’s milkshake buyers (as mentioned in our introduction to JTBD) found that they were worried about getting stuck in a long line and being late for work. To overcome this anxiety, the fast-food restaurant moved the milkshake machine in front of the counter and started selling prepaid cards so that customers could quickly walk in and buy their milkshakes.

Note that this insight has nothing at all to do with the product’s features! By making this relatively small change and reducing one of the anxieties in the buying experience, customers who otherwise may have ‘hired’ a faster solution elsewhere, or gone without their milkshake entirely, were subtly convinced to purchase a milkshake - a great result for McDonald’s.

Before getting started, I highly recommend watching this example interview conducted by Bob and Chris here. They’ve also got an excellent article that discusses the application of the technique to SaaS features specifically.

Existing knowledge of our customers

Before we conducted our Switch interviews, we were already in the habit of talking to customers regularly. We invite every customer who subscribes, stays with us for more than six months, or leaves to have a chat so that we can learn more about how they’re using Geckoboard. After studying Jobs to be Done, we were able to re-cast a lot of this research through a ‘jobs’ lens.

This was most useful for understanding what someone ultimately ended up doing with Geckoboard - the functional part of the job. It didn’t help us to understand the struggle someone was going through when they decided to hire the product - but it did help us to think about what outcomes people wanted as a result of buying Geckoboard, as well as which ones we were better at than others.

Defining the jobs you’re being hired for

Armed with all of this raw data from the switch interviews and our existing knowledge of our customers, we used the job story framework devised by Intercom and built on by Alan Klement to summarize the jobs that we uncovered, and threw the results onto a big Trello board. The framework requires distilling the information gathered from customers into a situation-motivation-outcome statement that looks like this:

JTBD-framework How the job story framework works. Image Source:Alan Klement.

We ended up with 11 jobs, which we then sorted into five major themes.

This seemed like a lot, but that shouldn’t be entirely surprising. People have a whole range of things they’re trying to accomplish, and they’ll use whatever they can to make progress, even if it’s not ‘best suited’ to the job. As a startup, we can’t afford to focus on so many things at once though, so we had to make a decision as to which job or jobs we should focus on.

Ultimately, the success of your business lies at the intersection of the jobs that people hire you to do, the things that your product is good at, the things you’re passionate about as a business, and the things for which there is a viable market. With this in mind, we cut down the list of jobs down to just two that we wanted to focus on:

  1. “Help me to unite and focus my team so that we hit our goals”
  2. “Help me to stay aware of changes to my most important metrics”

Geckoboard is a pretty excellent hire for these things!

Of course, these statements don’t define the entirety of the job. While they explain what it is that someone hopes to achieve as a result of using Geckoboard, they don’t explain why we are or are not getting hired for the job. That information comes from the Switch interviews - to identify patterns in the journeys your customers go through when deciding to purchase your product. It’s during these moments that you’ll find your opportunity to be the best hire for your customers’ jobs.

Conclusion

We use these jobs as our guide in everything we do. Ultimately, the JTBD framework forces us to learn about and focus on the things that matter to real people. It allows us to make product decisions based on how they’ll make us a better hire for the job at hand. We’ve also tightened our messaging based on these jobs, which has attracted more relevant customers. All in all, JTBD has helped us focus - and as a result, to grow.

Have you identified the jobs your customers are hiring your product for? We’d love to hear your story in the comments below!

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