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How Apple Can Return to Explosive Growth

The latest version Apple’s MacBook Pro hit the markets in late 2016, advertised as faster and more powerful than ever. One of its main selling points–the TouchBar–is said to make the device more versatile and easier to use.

We’re accustomed to Apple’s product enhancements being welcomed with open arms. But sales and reviews of the latest MacBook Pro buck that trend:

Apple sold nearly 4.9 million Macs in Q4 2016 for a revenue of $5.74 billion–a 14% decrease from the previous year (5.7 million Macs for a revenue of $6.88 billion).

Users of the MacBook Pro, like Alexey Semeney (CEO of DevTeam.Space), are claiming that Apple’s newest Macbook Pro isn’t a computer suitable for developers anymore.

Apple’s main changes to the Mac relate to the interface, such as TouchBar and Force Touch. They have focused on consumption jobs (making something easier to interface with), rather than functional jobs (helping users meet their goals, e.g. optimize health). Improving an interface can certainly be a worthwhile endeavor, but it’s unlikely that MacBook customers’ biggest struggles are in interfacing with the computer.

Meanwhile, Apple’s fastest growing products have made major advancements with regard to functional jobs: the iPod made it far easier to curate music, the iPhone and the app store serve dozens of jobs.

The sluggish sales of the newest MacBook Pro (and the Apple Watch) lead to bigger questions: Is Apple shifting their focus to consumption jobs rather than functional jobs? If so, what does that mean for the future of the tech giant? Let’s take a deeper look here.

Apple made its fortunes on products that get functional jobs done better than the competition

With Apple’s profits falling for the first time in 15 years in 2016, it’s worth examining how the company elevated to greatness. Because there’s hundreds of billions (and arguably trillions) at stake here.

For Apple to right the path with the Mac (and other products), it needs to return to its roots. To understand this better, it’s helpful to look at what its founder has said. Steve Jobs, upon his return to Apple in 1997, stated how the company should go about creating products:

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.”

So, innovation at Apple begins with the customer experience – which means not just how the user interfaces with the product (a consumption job) but how the user can achieve a goal (a functional job). Since the functional job (e.g. communicate with a team, buy a home, optimize health) is why the market exists, it needs to be the primary focus of the customer experience. A good interface that doesn’t get a functional job done better than the existing solutions will not succeed in a market.

For example, if a new health app has a beautiful, easy to use interface, but does not help optimize your health in any way, you will likely stop using it. But a new app that clearly and definitively helps you optimize your health will be a market success (as long as its interface is good enough to deliver the benefits of optimizing your health). Craigslist is a classic example of a product that gets the functional job done so much better than the competition that consumers overlook the bare bones, dated visual design.

Apple’s success is often mistaken as “good interface design” when its true success is the result of helping customer get functional jobs done combined with good interface design.

Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor who wrote Innovator’s Dilemma and Competing Against Luck, expressed this idea succinctly, “Customers don’t buy products; they hire them to get a job done.” The reasoning for this is simple: when people struggle to get something done on their own, they’ll hire a person, product or service to get it done.

In its history, Apple has built a host of products that massively improve their customers’ ability to get important jobs done. When the product does not get a jobs done to a satisfactory level (or better than the competition), customers fire it. This could very well be what is happening with the MacBook Pro.

Michael Tsai, a software developer, writes in his blog, “Apple has either lost its way” or “it simply doesn’t care about” developers. For Tsai (and many others), the MacBook Pro’s focus on convenience, looks, and complex interface enhancements, has made it clear Apple doesn’t view the jobs developers have to get done as a core focus.

Not all is lost, though. Apple might have made a mistake, but it likely isn’t lethal. Focus and dedication to solving customer needs better than anyone else is how Apple can regain its former growth trajectory.

Apple must focus on the right innovations

As I noted in my post about Apple’s $3 trillion valuation, no company is “organized to focus on the customer experience like Apple.” The key for Apple is in not losing sight of why products should be created–to satisfy customer needs in both functional and consumption jobs.

Apple must remember failure will result if there is too much focus on consumption jobs rather than functional job. Instead, the tech giant needs to be focused again on functional jobs (like it was when Steve Jobs was there). Among Apple’s recent creations, there are two good product examples to illustrate this idea.

First, consider the Apple Watch:

  • It looks stylish.
  • It tells the time.
  • It offers faster access to notifications.

Today, the Apple Watch is mainly an interface, i.e. a consumption product, for the iPhone. Sales data shows exactly why consumption products don’t succeed on their own. (Having said that, the Apple Watch as a platform can evolve to get functional jobs done on its own; it’s just not there yet.)

During the week of April 10, 2016, the Apple Watch, sold an average of 200,000 units per day. By July, it was down to roughly 20,000 watches per day. Clearly, after the initial novelty wears off, consumption products don’t bring sustainable success and market transformation.

Now, consider the Apple CareKit (a healthcare app for the iPhone):

  • It manages medical conditions.
  • It shares health information with doctors.
  • It includes sections for treatment plans and updates.

Here, Apple gets it right. The CareKit is a functional product platform, because it helps complete jobs. On top of that, the CareKit has the ability to disrupt healthcare–an industry that needs to be more integrated and mobile.

Even more importantly, the CareKit makes the Apple Watch more useful. Right now, the Apple Watch is essentially a luxury item and accessory of the iPhone (e.g., a non-essential consumption job). It does not directly address a job customers need to get done, and low sales have reflected that reality. But the CareKit could make the Apple Watch relevant again. Its sensor capabilities have direct applications for health apps, and could make the Apple Watch a functional job product instead.

If Apple focuses on innovations like the CareKit, it could really extend its market and reassure the world that it hasn’t lost sight of the commitment to functional jobs that made it great in the first place. After all, healthcare spending in just America totaled $3.2 trillion in 2015, accounting for 17.8% of GDP. Tech products like this that solve patient and doctor needs would certainly make Apple a major player in the sector.

Apple will stay atop the throne

Even today, Apple remains the world’s most valuable company. That’s largely because of the tech giant’s ability to continually satisfy unmet needs in functional jobs.

Apple has had its recent “struggles” with the Apple Watch and MacBook Pro (struggles only relative to the iPhone’s success). If such issues continue, the company could be in trouble. But one look at its history will tell you that the company can once again innovate and stay on top.

There are numerous examples of Apple reinventing itself. For instance, in 2001, when the iPod came out, it simply waxed the competition. That’s because it was a functional product that solved customer needs much better than the competition. To this day, the iPod is the best-selling digital audio player ever.

Then, in 2007, the iPhone was released, and the world went nuts. As Horace Dediu of Asymco notes, the iPhone has been what has disrupted the Mac in many ways. It has also disrupted the iPod, since it can get listening to music jobs done much better.

Why has the iPhone been so successful? Because it’s central to a platform full of apps that get many different jobs done more effectively for users from get to a destination on time to learn a foreign language to stay in touch with friends and family. The arrival of worthy competition means Apple must continue to innovate. And that innovation must center on getting functional jobs done better than anyone else.

So, it’s not panic time yet. Judging by its history, Apple will once again innovate through a focus on functional jobs, and enjoy sustainable success.

7 Steps to Improve Annual Planning with Jobs-to-be-Done

Serious group of businesspeople having problems at work.

It’s the heart of Q4. Product Managers across the land are getting requests for next year’s road map as part of a company-wide “annual planning process.”

Some of you have talked your way out of an annual plan, “Why bother planning for more than a quarter? Every year I’ve been here, we’ve changed everything after 2 months.”

Whether you’re planning for the next quarter or the next year, you’re still on the hook for a plan. The pessimists among us wonder how they can reach an acceptable deliverable with minimal effort. The optimists have hope. Maybe this year we can make a plan that doesn’t get overhauled before we finish the first step.

Why do product road maps change so much?

Because the inputs typically used to make a road map–customer feature requests, sales team requests, stakeholder requests, new technologies–never stop changing.

But, your customer’s job-to-be-done (the goal or task that causes them to use your product) and the needs within the job do not change. You can use them as the basis for annual planning and vastly improve the stability and reliability of your road map.

Here are 7 steps to using the Jobs-to-be-Done product development method to create an annual plan that holds up throughout the year, delivers on the intended results, and satisfies customer needs better than the competition.

Step 1: Prioritize unmet customer needs
Customer Needs are the metrics customers use to judge how well the job gets done. A need is “unmet” if customers think it is important but not satisfied. Using a survey, you can assign importance and satisfaction scores to each customer need.

Here’s an example of a Customer Need:

When creating a mood with music (the job-to-be-done), you need to reduce the likelihood that the criteria for the playlist is too stringent e.g. the songs are too similar or no songs fit the criteria (the Customer Need).

In the job of create a mood with music, there are approximately 100 Needs.

The first step in annual planning is to prioritize the needs by the difference between importance and satisfaction scores–the bigger the difference, the higher the priority. A large difference indicates a large portion of the market is struggling to meet the need.

The result of this prioritization is a ranked list of problems to solve throughout the coming year and strong evidence that solving them will matter a great deal to your users. This list is the cornerstone of your plan.

Step 2: Analyze the competition and generate feature ideas to serve the unmet needs
Now that you have a list of problems (unmet customer needs) your team will tackle, it’s time to fill out your plan with solutions.

Look at how quickly and accurately existing solutions (i.e. the competition) meet your prioritized customer needs.

Remember our example:

When creating a mood with music, you need to reduce the likelihood that the criteria for the playlist is too stringent e.g. the songs are too similar or no songs fit the criteria.

If you’ve ever picked just one band to start a playlist on Pandora, you might find that the criteria is indeed too stringent and all the songs on the list are very similar. The accuracy with which Pandora meets this need is rather low.

This analysis provides the benchmark for your new ideas.

You’re looking to think up features that serve the unmet needs faster and more accurately than the competition. They will lead to people hiring your product to get their job done.

To generate ideas, gather a small, diverse group of colleagues from design, engineering, marketing, etc. Write a prioritized need on the board, and ask, “What can we do to serve this need?”

Compare each suggestion to the benchmark: existing features and the competition. If the idea will not meet the need faster and more accurately, toss it.

Keep a list of the ideas that do meet the need faster and more accurately. They will likely have varying degrees of difficulty, but you’ll deal with that later with cost estimates.

Think back to when Songza (now Google Music) launched playlists that were hand-curated by music experts. This idea served our example need much more accurately than Pandora. It’s an idea that would meet the criteria for “good” in a jobs-to-be-done idea generation session.

Step 3: Estimate new satisfaction scores
For each idea that met the above criteria and got on the list, estimate what the new satisfaction score would be if you surveyed your customers again, after they have been using this new feature. It’s a judgement of how much faster and more accurate the new feature will be.

If the existing solutions take days and your new feature only takes minutes and improves accuracy, you can imagine that satisfaction will increase quite a bit. If your new feature is only 1 second faster and the same level of accuracy, you should estimate a rather small increase in satisfaction.

Step 4: Estimate the cost of each feature
Your goal is to satisfy customer needs profitably so before you can prioritize which solutions to build first, you need a cost estimate. This is the one step that is likely not very different from what you do today. Talk with your builders–designers, engineers, etc.–and estimate the resources and time required to build the feature.

Step 5: Prioritize feature ideas by value
Feature value is a function of two factors:

  1. How many more customers will be satisfied with their ability to meet the need with the new feature
  2. How much the new feature contributes to improving the customer’s struggle to get the whole job done.

The first factor can be estimated using the new satisfaction score assigned in Step 3.

The second factor matters because your customers are not just trying to meet one need, they are trying to get the whole job done. If you’ve done the full research and collected all of the customer needs in the job (usually there are around 100), you’ll be able to see what portion of the job you are improving by meeting one or multiple needs with a given feature.

You can use these two factors to calculate the value of each feature idea. It gets a little complex, so get in touch if you want to know exactly how to do it.

After calculating the value of each feature, stack rank your list of feature ideas, putting those with the highest value and lowest cost at the top.

Step 6: Present to stakeholders
Road map presentations to stakeholders are often the most feared meetings of the year.

Product Managers have spent time with each stakeholder, understanding their goals, and collecting feature ideas from them. They’ve discussed feature requests from customers and salespeople as well as new tech that has come on the scene.

Based on estimated impact upon KPIs and cost estimates, this long list of ideas is prioritized and presented.

The stakeholders look for their ideas and fight for them. Fierce debate ensues. Passionate speeches are given. Horse trades are made.

Hours later, the team emerges from the room, exhausted and demoralized, but the road map is finalized! Everyone is getting something and no one is getting everything.

Those who think they got the raw end of the deal are onto their next mission–destroy that road map on which none of “their” features got prioritized.

Who wants to go through that every year or quarter?

A Jobs-to-be-Done roadmap presentation is very different. Here’s an agenda:

  • Remind the stakeholders of the job your customers are trying to get done.
  • Show the unmet needs, backed by qualitative and quantitative research.
  • Unveil the plan–a set of solutions to your customer’s most important and least satisfied needs.
  • Demonstrate your calculation for how getting more of the job done generates customer value, drives the willingness to pay and usage of the product i.e. meets business goals.
  • When someone offers a new idea that isn’t on the road map, evaluate it–does it meet a high priority need? Does it do it faster and more accurately than our existing ideas? Is the cost lower?

Because you’ve gone through the Jobs-to-be-Done planning process, you have objective criteria for judging ideas, reducing the need for debate and mitigating the risk of building the wrong product. Since the criteria is driven by your customers instead of your colleagues, it’s very difficult to argue against. Is there someone on your team who does not want to satisfy customer needs?

Step 7: Assess new ideas against prioritized needs
Plans fall apart when new information arises that undercuts the premise on which the plan was built. If the premise relies on ever-changing customer feature requests, sales requests, new technology, and stakeholder ideas, it’s easy to see why the plan would also constantly need to change.

When plans are built on stable customer needs, the constant flow of new data does not alter the premise and so the plan does not need to continuously change.

Instead you have a simple way to evaluate each request, each new technology, each new idea:

“Does this meet the prioritized needs better than our existing ideas and for similar or less cost?”

If no, you don’t change the plan at all. If yes, you don’t need to “pivot” or rip up the whole plan. You simply refine your existing plan–solve this list of customer problems–by swapping in a new solution for an old one.


The end of the year can be painful and frustrating if you don’t have a clear planning process that aligns your company and leads to a stable, reliable road map. I hope you find these tips for using Jobs-to-be-Done to be helpful with your annual planning.

Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions so we can help you go into the holiday season with confidence and have a prosperous new year!

[video] thrv CEO on Building High-Growth Products with Jobs-to-be-Done at Product Tank SF

Jay Haynes, thrv’s CEO, gave a talk on Building High-Growth Products with Jobs-to-be-Done at Product Tank SF, the San Francisco Meetup for Mind The Product. Below is the video of the talk.

Watch for the moment when Jay asks, “How many people work on teams where everybody agrees on what a customer need is?” Nobody raises a hand. So, if you’ve ever felt this way, you are not alone. But, as Jay explains in the video, there is a solution for clearly defining customer needs using the job-to-be-done.

A Step-By-Step Guide to Using Clay Christensen’s Competing Against Luck and Jobs Theory to Launch Great Products, Part 1: How to Ask The Right Question

Concept business illustration.

This is a two part series explaining thrv’s process for executing Jobs Theory. Part 1: How to Ask The Right Question is about defining your customer’s job, identifying unmet needs, and analyzing competition. Part 2: Answering The Right Question is about how to build a high-growth roadmap using Jobs Theory.

Throughout my 25-year career as a Private Equity investor, as a CEO of two Silicon Valley startups backed by A-list VCs, and as a Product Manager at Microsoft, I consistently ran into the same mission critical problem: no one knew how to predict revenue growth.

It was easy to predict our costs because we controlled them. However, we struggled to predict our revenue growth because we didn’t know what caused people to buy our products. Without understanding purchasing causes, we couldn’t accurately predict how changes to our products would accelerate our revenue growth.

Ten years ago, I found the solution to my problem in Jobs-to-be-Done innovation theory (aka Jobs Theory), the subject of Clay Christensen’s new book, Competing Against Luck. The central idea behind Jobs Theory is, “your customers are not buying your products, they are hiring them to get a job done.”

If you understand what that job is, you can identify what causes customers to hire your products. As a result, you can make improvements to your products that will get the job done better. This is the key to mitigating investment risk and forecasting revenue accurately.

In the book, Clay states, “a job has an inherent complexity to it: it not only has functional dimensions, but it has social and emotional dimensions too.” This is why “in practice, seeing a job clearly and fully characterizing it can be tricky.”

After a decade of practicing Jobs Theory with companies ranging from $50 million to $50 billion in revenue, I couldn’t agree more with Clay. Identifying the job your customers are hiring your product to do is very difficult. Yet for the companies I’ve worked with, it has been the difference between declining or accelerating revenue growth.

Competing Against Luck is a deep exploration of Jobs Theory, but Clay is clear about “not attempting to be comprehensive or provide a step-by-step manual.”

In my time working with Jobs Theory, I learned that companies need a step-by-step process to turn the theory into high-growth products. That’s why I started thrv — to provide training, services, and software that enable executives and product teams to execute Jobs Theory successfully.

For those of you wondering how to use Jobs Theory to launch great products, here’s a step-by-step guide (in two parts) that maps a decade of practice to the theory in Competing Against Luck.

Step 1: Define your customer’s jobs.
In Competing Against Luck, Clay and his fellow authors suggest:

…define a job as the progress that a person is trying to make in a particular circumstance…a job has an inherent complexity to it: it not only has functional dimensions, but it has social and emotional dimensions too.

Rather than combine the functional, social, and emotional dimensions into one complex job statement, in practice I’ve found it easier to separate jobs into three different types:

  • Functional Jobs
  • Emotional Jobs
  • Consumption Jobs

Let’s look at each.

Functional Jobs
A functional job is the core task or goal that a customer is trying to accomplish.

The key is to define the task or goal independently from any product, service or technology.

As Clay says, “we don’t ‘create’ jobs, we discover them.”

“Creating a playlist on Spotify” is not a job because it includes a product (Spotify) and a solution (creating a playlist).

The question is: why do people create a playlist on Spotify? One answer is to “create a mood with music.” This is a more useful articulation of the functional job.

All products evolve and fade away over time. In order to execute the job of creating a mood with music, consumers have “hired” a huge range of products: piano rolls, Victrolas, LPs, eight-track tapes, reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes, CDs, MP3 players, and streaming apps. If you define the job with reference to the technologies consumers have used, you will be trying to hit a moving target. But, the job of creating a mood with music has never changed and will never change. This gives you a stable target for your business. Jobs Theory holds true in B2B and medical markets as we will demonstrate below.


Photo by Gillo Pontebraga – CC BY

According to Clay, “the circumstance is fundamental to defining the job (and finding a solution for it), because the nature of the progress desired will always be strongly influenced by the circumstance.”

At thrv, we state this a little differently, but the concept is the same: who is the job executor?

For example, is the job executor a consumer, a driver, a traveler, a parent, a surgeon, a nurse, a patient, a salesperson, a small business owner, a CIO, a technical architect, a database administrator, an engineer?

A single person can, of course, be multiple job executors (i.e. a driver, a parent, a patient, and an engineer) all in the same day. In Clay’s words, a person can find themselves in different “circumstances.”

The job executor is your core customer. The market exists because they are trying to execute a job-to-be-done.

While the job executor does not always make the purchase decision (e.g. a procurement officer or a hospital administrator can influence a purchase), your market exists because someone is trying to execute the core functional job. There would be no reason to purchase a solution if no one were trying to execute the functional job.

At the end of Competing Against Luck, Clay writes, “Defining the job at the right level of abstraction is critical to ensuring that the theory is useful.” This is a key step in the process.

We use three techniques to get to the “right level of abstraction.”

Focus on why in customer interviews. Ask your customers why they use a certain product. Why does a salesperson use CRM software? Why does a patient use a step-tracking app? CRM software and health apps are solutions and thus not jobs. Asking why will remove the product (which is ever-changing) from the equation and uncover the job (which is stable).

Use the Wake Up in the Morning Test. When your job executor wakes up in the morning, do they think, “I have to get this job done today”? Do salespeople wake up wondering how they will acquire customers? Do parents wake up wondering how to instill a behavior in a child? If yes, ask a helpful follow-up, “Did people waking up 100 years ago also need to do get this job done?” If not, you likely have included a solution in your job statement and you do not have a stable target for a long-lasting business.

Use Active, Goal-Driven Job Verbs. Clay writes, “a well-defined job-to-be-done is expressed in verbs and nouns.” But, what kind of verbs? Certain verbs, like “manage,” are not helpful in defining a job. For example, “manage lead data” is not a job for a salesperson because it is not the goal (i.e. it is at the wrong level of abstraction). Why does a salesperson want to manage lead data? To acquire customers. Acquire customers is the goal and thus a more useful level of abstraction. Good job verbs are active and goal-driven, such as: determine, understand, learn, acquire, enable, ensure, optimize, create, teach, instill, develop, buy, sell, obtain, identify, detect, mitigate, diagnose, treat, cure, prevent.

Emotional Jobs
We look at emotional jobs separate from the core functional job. This makes it easier to identify the emotions a job executor is experiencing when doing the job and ensures that we don’t neglect the functional job. Emotional jobs are important, but if you don’t get the functional job done, eventually your customer’s negative feelings will take over and they will fire your product.

Emotional jobs come in two flavors: personal and social.

A personal-emotional job is how you want to feel and avoid feeling when executing a job. For example, when getting to a destination on time, drivers want to feel calm and confident that they will arrive on time. They want to avoid feeling anxious about being late.

A social-emotional job is how the job executor wants to be perceived (and avoid being perceived) by others. For example, an IT professional wants to be perceived as valuable to the organization when optimizing a network. A surgeon wants to avoid being perceived as unsympathetic by patients when restoring artery blood flow.

Emotional jobs matter because if two products get the functional job done equally well, customers will choose the one that makes them feel better. For instance, if two different 401k services produce the same rate of return, they get the functional job done equally well. But, if one service hides the day-to-day data, it will make me anxious. I will choose the one that makes the health of my fund more transparent, relieving my anxiety. As Clay writes, “Overcoming customer anxieties is a very big deal.”

Consumption Jobs
Consumption jobs are the tasks required to use a solution. Purchase, install, learn to use, interface, maintain, repair, and dispose are all consumption jobs that relate to using a solution.

In the book, Clay doesn’t use the same language to discuss Consumption Jobs, but when he talks about “experiences,” he often includes Consumption Jobs.

One example from the book is how American Girl dolls were never sold in traditional toy stores but only in catalogues and then in American Girl stores. The stores in particular turned purchasing a doll (a consumption job) into a special event between a parent and their child. By tightly controlling their sales channels, American Girl improved on the purchase job. It’s a great example of how improving consumption jobs can contribute to the whole experience of getting the job done with a product.

Step 2: Identify all the needs in your customer’s job.
Knowing the customers functional, emotional and consumption jobs is just the start to practicing jobs theory. As Clay states, a product “designed without a clear job spec, even the most advanced products are likely to fail.” But, what is a “job spec”?

In our view, a job spec should include all the criteria a customer uses to judge if she can execute the job successfully. We call these criteria the customer needs, and they are metrics. As Clay writes, “A powerful lever to drive job-centric process development and integration is to measure and manage to new metrics aligned with nailing the customer’s job.”

So how do we identify all the needs (the “new metrics”) in your customer’s job? First, let’s define a customer need in more detail.

We know that all job executors want to execute the job “perfectly,” in Clay’s words. In our view, this means they want to execute it as fast as possible without any errors and without it going off track–quickly and accurately.

The good news is that speed and accuracy in a functional job can be measured, so we use “time” and “likelihood” as the main metrics to define customer needs in a job.

When drivers are trying to get to a destination on time, they need to reduce the time it takes to determine if an alternative route should be taken due to traffic. When surgeons are restoring artery blood flow, they need to reduce the likelihood of restenosis. When CIOs are enabling secure data use, they need to reduce the time it takes to determine the referential integrity of the data. When consumers are trying to create a mood with music, they need to reduce the likelihood that a song disturbs the mood.

We always structure customer needs the same way. They have a direction (reduce), a metric (time or likelihood), and a goal (e.g. an alternative route, restenosis). This structure makes needs measurable and consistent so you can align your team around objective goals.

Competing Against Luck uses the example of Southern New Hampshire University, who focused on the job of “providing [adult learners] with credentials that would improve their professional prospects as quickly and efficiently as possible.” Re-focusing on this job generated explosive growth for SNHU.

One way SNHU improved their performance on this job was by responding to financial aid inquiries within 10 minutes instead of 24 hours.

This demonstrates how you can define the needs in the job as metrics customers use to judge how quickly and accurately they can get the job done. We would define the job of SNHU’s customers as adult learners (the job executors) obtaining credentials to improve their professional prospects (the job-to-be-done).

Instead of framing the problem generically as adult learners who want to execute this job “as quickly and efficiently as possible,” we would identify all the needs in the job and structure them with a direction (reduce), a metric (time or likelihood), and a goal (e.g. obtain financial aid).

This gives us more detail about what “quickly and efficiently” actually means to the job executors.

Responding to financial aid inquiries within 10 minutes reduces the time it takes to determine if you can obtain financial aid. This is just one need in the job, but every job-to-be-done has about 100 customer needs (metrics). Your job spec should include all of these needs to get a full picture of the job.

This need structure is useful throughout the process. It helps you identify unmet needs, find competitor weaknesses, generate the best product ideas, and mitigate risk in your product road map.

Step 3: Find the unmet needs in your customer’s job.
“The Theory of Jobs to Be Done…focuses on deeply understanding your customers’ struggle for progress and then creating the right solution…”

Finding unmet needs is how you precisely articulate and quantify your customers’ struggles. A need is unmet if it has high importance but low customer satisfaction. It indicates that the job executor wants something to happen quickly or accurately but is not able to make it happen with their current solution. They are primed to switch to a new solution that meets the need.

We uncover the unmet needs with a survey that asks job executors to rate each need in the job for importance and satisfaction.

Identifying unmet needs also helps you empathize with your customers.

For example, Apple and Google Map did not help drivers “reduce the time it takes to determine an alternate route.”

You can picture this.

Imagine you are driving to a job interview and traffic on the highway comes to a complete stop. It’s not rush hour so this is a total surprise. What do you do? Do you get off and try to go a different way? How long is the traffic jam? Maybe a traffic report will come on the radio soon, but your anxiety increases with every passing minute.

Before Waze, you had no way to quickly determine if you should take an alternate route.

Waze built a business that Google bought for $1.3 billion by serving this unmet need in the job of getting to a destination on time. Waze’s app did this better than Google Maps, Apple Maps, and the radio. As a result users switched, and Waze experienced exponential growth.

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Step 4: Segment your customers.
Marketing 101 teaches us to identify a target customer. With Jobs-to-be-Done, our target is the job executors with the most unmet needs. They are the most underserved customers and therefore the segment who is most likely to buy (“hire”) your product to get the job done.

How is this different from traditional segmentation?

Clay writes, “Here I am, Clayton Christensen. I’m sixty-four years old. I’m six feet eight inches tall. My shoe size is sixteen. My wife and I have sent all our children off to college. I live in a suburb of Boston and drive a Honda minivan to work. I have a lot of other characteristics and attributes. But these characteristics have not yet caused me to go out and buy the New York Times today.”

Clay captures the essential flaw in traditional segmentation: demographics and psychographics do not cause purchases.

Age, shoe size, zip code, purchase history, etc. are all examples of characteristics that companies traditionally use to segment customers. This is also true in B2B markets, where companies segment customers by industry classification, number of employees, revenue, etc.

Here is a thought experiment to prove the point that demographics are not the most useful means of segmentation. Could an elderly rural woman who drives an economy car and an urban young man who drives a luxury sports car both struggle to get to a destination on time in the same way? In other words, could they have the same unmet needs in the job?

The answer, of course, is yes. But these two people (or “personas”) would never be grouped together in traditional segmentation and so a large portion of the market would be missed.

To execute Jobs Theory, we find customers who rate the same needs as important and unsatisfied and group them together. These are the people most likely to buy your product if it gets the job done better, regardless of their personas. They have the highest levels of frustration and anxiety when executing the job and are likely looking for a new solution.

Step 5: Identify your competitors’ weaknesses.
Once you have identified the job, found the unmet needs in the job, and segmented your customers, it’s time to identify your competitor’s weaknesses.

In every market there are multiple competitors, but they might not be who you expect. As Clay writes, “the competitive field is likely completely different from what you might have imagined.”

Did you ever think that Facebook is competing with cigarettes?

A smoker taking a break is not just seeking nicotine. Nicotine is a solution to a job. The underlying job is to relax.

As Clay writes, “From this perspective, people hire Facebook for many of the same reasons. They log into Facebook during the middle of the workday to take a break from work, relax for a few minutes while thinking about other things, and convene around a virtual water cooler with far-flung friends.”

The first part of identifying your competitors’ weaknesses is to identify the solutions people use to get the job done.

Airlines are not just competing with other airlines to help salespeople acquire customers. They are competing against web conferencing and CRM software. Angioplasty balloon makers are not just competing against other medical devices to help patients with blocked arteries improve their health. They are competing against diet programs, exercise routines, and fitness devices.

Once you see your entire competitive landscape, you can find and measure your competitors’ weaknesses by using the unmet needs in your customer’s job.

The structure of a customer need (direction, metric, goal) makes this possible. Your team can measure competitive weakness down to the second and the percentage. If the competition attempts to meet a need with a solution that is slow, manual, unreliable, or inaccurate, you have found a competitive weakness.

The competitive weakness sets the bar for how well your solution should meet the needs. To get customers to switch, you should target significant improvements over the speed and accuracy of your competition’s weak solution.


Now that you’ve defined your customer’s functional, emotional, and consumption jobs, identified the unmet needs, segmented your market, and analyzed how the competition serves these needs for the segment, you have the right question:

What can we do to serve our segment’s unmet needs in the job better than the existing solutions?

In Part 2, we’ll show you the process for answering this question.

Be sure not to miss Part 2 by signing up for our Jobs Theory newsletter. If you want to learn more about thrv right away, sign up for a demo.

How Jobs-to-be-Done Completes Your Google Ventures Design Sprint

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In 2010, Google Ventures design partner Jake Knapp developed a process that would help product teams go from abstract idea to a testable prototype in five days flat, now known as the Google Ventures Design Sprint. Within the past five years, Knapp has led more than 100 design sprints with companies like 23andme, Slack, and Nest.

But, while some of the hottest names in the tech industry have adopted Knapp’s approach, the design sprint on its own can lead to solving the wrong problem and overly subjective criteria for solutions. By pairing sprints with Jobs-to-Be-Done, product teams can define the problem from the customer’s point-of-view and objectively choose solutions that satisfy customer needs. The combination of JTBD and the Google Ventures Design Sprint ensures that your work will bring value to the user and your business.

What is the Google Ventures Design Sprint?
Knapp explains the design sprint process in his book, Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days complete with step-by-step instructions on how to conduct a sprint on your own. The goal is to educate teams on how they can focus their energy on creating solutions quickly and eliminate exhausting brainstorms that go nowhere.

The sprint is broken down into five stages, each taking up one day: Understand, Diverge, Decide, Prototype, Validate. A pending deadline paired with a clear process makes the Google Ventures design sprint an easy sell for design teams. It’s quick and intense.

“When we talk to startups about sprints, we encourage them to go after their most important problem,” writes Knapp. Later in the book he adds, “your goal should reflect your team’s principles and aspirations.”

How does a team know its most “important” problem? If the sprint’s focus is defined by the team’s “principles and aspirations,” how do you know they match users’ needs?

For example, imagine a team whose product has low user engagement rates.

Improving the daily or monthly active user counts is critical to business growth and their eventual round of funding. As such, they define their most important problem as “users aren’t opening our app frequently enough.”

A common (although not too clever) solution is to gamify the app in hopes of increasing user activity. But users don’t want to spend more time in your app, they want to solve their own problems quickly and move on with their lives.

If you define your most important problem from the perspective of your employees or business goals, you may miss solving the most important problems of the people who matter most, your customers.

Why JTBD is Critical to Your Process:
None of this is to say the design sprint is wrong. It’s simply incomplete. To complete it, the team must understand what the customer need is from the beginning, without the context of their own product. To identify unmet customer needs, companies must understand what job their customers are hiring a product to do, as described in the Jobs to Be Done (JTBD) framework popularized by Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School professor and author of The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth.

Here are the moments of a Google Ventures Design Sprint that are risky without a customer-focused product strategy method such as JTBD:

1. On Day One, the Design Sprint process relies on the intuition of the team to determine and map out the problem. There are no requirements to talk to customers until the problem has been solved and prototyped. The risk of choosing a business-driven problem instead of a user-driven problem is high.

2. On Day Three, everyone pins drawings of their solution ideas to a whiteboard. Each participant is given stickers and asked to place them on any solutions they find “interesting.” This activity creates a pseudo-heat map of good solutions. However, asking participants “what is interesting?” is the easy question.

“When faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution,” said Daniel Kahneman, psychologist, Nobel Prize winner, and author of Thinking Fast and Slow.

The difficult question is: “Which solution serves your customer’s need better than the existing solutions in the market?” Satisfying customer needs is your goal, not building features the team thinks are interesting.

3. After selecting a few “interesting” solutions, the design sprint presents yet another opportunity for subjective decision-making in the role of The Decider, often the CEO, PM or another executive. When voting for the best solution to the problem, the decider can override all other votes. In an environment where the highest paid opinion wins, it’s hard to see where customer sits in all of this.

“Deciders generally understand the problem in depth, and they often have strong opinions and criteria to help them find the right solution,” Knapp wrote in his book.

Although Knapp may have strong, intuitive skills that align with customer needs, not all teams are created equally. CEOs will veto group decisions. Product managers will rely too heavily on their own agenda. And teammates will get attached to ideas. Intuition-based decision making can be dangerous. It’s unpredictable and ripe for customer neglect, but we can create procedural safeguards to protect against its bias.

Pairing the Google Ventures Design Sprint with Jobs-to-Be-Done
How can Design Sprints use JTBD to create clear, objective criteria for defining problems and making decisions?

Here’s an idea:

  • Before day one of the sprint, define the customer’s job-to-be-done.
  • Map the steps people take when executing the job.
  • Through customer interviews, identify the metrics job executors use to judge whether or not the job is going well. These are your customer needs.
  • Conduct quantitative research to determine which needs are unmet–those that are rated important but not satisfied in a customer survey.
  • Now, define the problem for the sprint. Choose one highly unmet customer need to serve. Your goal is to “generate ideas that serve the need better than the existing solutions.” This starts your sprint with an objective, customer-focused problem.
  • When choosing a solution, change the criteria from “most interesting” to how well the solution serves the unmet need. Because each need is a metric based on time or probability, you can measure which solution will satisfy the need best. Voting and vetoing become irrelevant because you’ll weed out any solution that doesn’t meet the need more quickly or accurately than the existing solutions.
  • On Friday, when you user test your prototype, you now have a strong hypothesis that your solution serves the customer need better. Look to confirm your hypothesis and test usability. Does the solution indeed make the job faster and more accurate? Does the user understand how to execute their task with this design?

Before your team jumps into a Google Ventures Design Sprint, consider employing the JTBD framework to make the process more effective. With JTBD, you can identify customer needs, eliminate opportunities for bias, and test different solutions objectively. If your team needs help in getting started, we’d be happy to show you how thrv helps product managers get their customers’ jobs done.

How Apple’s Product Strategy Satisfies Needs Better Than Samsung’s

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Horace Dediu argues that in the mobile phone market, profit share is the key to creating shareholder value, not market share. This makes sense. You don’t want to just sell more product than your competitors (market share); you want to make more money doing it (profit share). For example, Apple sells fewer smartphones and has less market share than Samsung but Apple makes 90% of the profits in the market. It’s no surprise that Apple has the largest market cap in the world.

Samsung and Apple have similar products and operational models, but a huge disparity in profit. The Jobs-to-be-Done definition of product strategy highlights the differences between Apple and Samsung’s smartphone businesses and provides a rubric for choosing strategies that lead to gaining higher profit share than your competitors.

Here’s a traditional definition of strategy: “the set of coordinated actions that a company takes to achieve its goals.” Shobhit Chugh’s blog post and slideshare apply this definition to product management. This notion of strategy is closely related to Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter’s definition from his 1996 article What is Strategy: strategic success is based on “choosing a unique and valuable position rooted in systems of activities that are much more difficult to match.” (If you don’t subscribe to Harvard Business Review, contact us and we can get you a complimentary copy of the article.)

The focus in both of these definitions is activities. However, it’s very difficult to create a “unique and valuable position” based on activities, especially if they are operational in nature. (Porter even recognizes this in his article, stating “Constant improvement in operational effectiveness is necessary to achieve superior profitability. However, it is not usually sufficient. Few companies have competed successfully on the basis of operational effectiveness over an extended period, and staying ahead of rivals gets harder every day. The most obvious reason for that is the rapid diffusion of best practices.”) Operational activities are often straightforward enough to copy and therefore don’t lead to competitive differentiation over a long time horizon.

In fact, Samsung executes many of the same activities as Apple. Both companies manufacture hardware, sell direct to consumers, sell to retailers, conduct R&D, and market to the same customers via the same channels. Yet, Apple takes far more profit in the mobile phone market. Why?

With Jobs-to-be-Done, instead of defining strategy as a set of activities, we define it as a set of choices.

  1. Which job-to-be-done to target
  2. Which job executor to target
  3. Which platform to use to satisfy unmet needs in the job.

Here are a few examples of strategies using this definition:

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Now, let’s look at Apple’s strategy vs Samsung’s strategy. Smartphones serve many, many jobs, but for the purpose of this example, let’s zoom out and look at just three of them.

Screenshot 2016-07-28 11.40.50

What do you notice?

The platform choice in Apple’s product strategy has two major differences: a proprietary operating system (iOS) vs. an open source operating system (Android) and a proprietary app store vs a 3rd party app store.

Android has become a commodity. Any company can use Android to launch a mobile phone, which means it is very difficult to satisfy unmet needs in a job differently than the competition. In other words, it is very hard for Samsung to differentiate their Android phones from the competitors’ Android phones.

On the other hand, iOS is proprietary, unique, and specifically designed to work with Apple’s hardware and services. No other mobile phone company can use iOS, which makes it inherently differentiated, and there is a segment of customers willing to pay a premium for the satisfaction iOS delivers to them relative to Android.

Samsung’s commodity OS forces them to attempt to differentiate mostly on hardware. By enhancing the hardware alone Samsung cannot add as much value to the needs in the job as Apple can by improving their hardware and software together. Samsung’s investment in Tizen, an “operating system built from the ground up to address the needs of all stakeholders of the mobile and connected device ecosystem” is evidence that they too believe their platform choice is holding them back – not from market share, but from profit share.

By looking at Apple’s Product Strategy choices through the lens of Jobs-to-be-Done, you see how they set themselves apart beyond simply choosing a different set of “activities.”

The JTBD definition of product strategy can keep product teams focused on delivering results for the customer. It’s clear, it’s specific and it’s easy to put on the wall and rally your team around it.

The Jobs-to-be-Done method helps you choose the strategy that will deliver higher profit share than your competitors. Here’s what you do:

  1. Define your customer’s job-to-be-done
  2. Identify the Customer Needs in the job-to-be-done
  3. Quantify the importance and satisfaction of the Customer Needs
  4. Segment the job executors based on unmet needs
  5. Analyze how well the competition satisfies the customer needs
  6. Make choices about product strategy using the following criteria:

Choose the job-to-be-done that has the most under-served needs for your customer.

Choose the job executor who will generate the highest value market based on their willingness to pay to get the job done and the number of job executors.

Choose the platform that can satisfy the unmet needs for your chosen job executor with the lowest amount of risk. The cost and risk of getting the job done for this job executor are critical. If it’s too expensive and too risky, it’ll eat into your profit.

These are the three choices that will lead you to a differentiated product strategy that can beat your competition. Of course, you’ll also need superb execution, but that’s another topic for another day.

Why not take a moment to ask your team what your product strategy is? Is your team using a definition based on operational activities or do you have a product strategy based on your customer’s job-to-be-done? If you find they aren’t aligned on what strategy to choose or even what a strategy is, get in touch with us here at thrv. We can help.

6 Steps for Product Managers to Handle the Pokemon Go Augmented Reality Craze

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Executive Summary:

With Pokemon Go’s explosive growth, product teams around the world are asking, “What are we going to do with Augmented Reality?” Jobs-to-be-Done provides a customer-centric framework for deciding if and how to invest resources in this new technology and ensure your efforts will create customer value.

  1. Don’t rush to build; be swift but purposeful. Flocking to new technology without a clear strategy can be counter-productive and increase your risk of failure.
  2. Define your customer’s job-to-be-done.
  3. Identify the unmet needs in the job-to-be-done.
  4. Answer these questions, “Can augmented reality help our customers meet these needs faster or more accurately? If so, how?”
  5. Measure if the new ideas will meet customer needs faster or more accurately than the existing solutions.
  6. Determine if you can integrate the ideas from Step 4 into your existing product or if you need to build something new.

If you’ve gone online in the past week, even for just a moment, you’ve no doubt heard about Pokemon Go, the Augmented Reality game that has men, women and children taking to the streets, parks and museums in a fevered effort to catch ’em all. The game’s success has sent Nintendo’s stock soaring and Product Managers across the country are being asked: What’s our AR strategy?

As recently as last year, Augmented Reality was firmly ensconced in the Trough of Disillusionment on the Gartner Hype Cycle. However, Pokemon Go’s success coupled with reports of it driving real in-store traffic and revenue, shows the technology is realizing its commercial potential. The distant, sci-fi promise of AR is here, now.

If you’re a Product Manager, you may have colleagues running rampant with “shiny new toy syndrome,” asking when you’ll have an AR solution ready to launch. Someone may have even written a press release already. The temptation to build first and ask questions later is strong, but it doesn’t feel right to you. Prioritizing your existing road map was agonizing and re-allocating resources to the dream of AR will take away from key projects already underway. But, you don’t want to appear staid, lacking in agility and dynamism, and, above all, you’re a team player. Shouting down your better angels, you say, “OK, let’s do a brainstorming session.”

Famous last words.

The company’s best minds are assembled. The room is full of energy. BD talks about partnerships. The UX team argues the finer points of distinguishing reality from augmentation. Someone’s telling a story about their neighbor’s nephew’s crazy antics hunting down Pokemons. Ideas flow like water from a firehose–plenty of volume, but little precision. Two hours later you’ve got four walls filled with sticky notes, divergent ideas, and a vague direction set by the HIPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion).

Back at your desk, trying to piece the ideas into a project plan, you wonder how you could’ve done things differently.

Here’s an idea: turn your generic brainstorming session into a Jobs-to-be-Done idea generation session. It focuses your team on the most important issue: how to address the unmet needs in our customer’s job-to-be-done. This approach ensures that what you do with Augmented Reality, if anything at all, will be of real value to your users and not just a transparent, rudderless attempt to ride the wave of a suddenly popular technology.

In the JTBD idea generation session you’ll focus on those unmet needs and continually ask, “would an AR solution help our customers accomplish their jobs-to-be-done faster or more accurately?”

Let’s walk through the process as if you’re a Product Manager in the field of medical imaging.

First, define your customer’s job-to-be-done through research and customer interviews. For our example, let’s say the JTBD is “Diagnose skin cancer.”

Next, interview your customers to determine the needs within the job and then survey them to identify which needs are unmet (important and unsatisfied). For the job of “Diagnose skin cancer” unmet needs may include:

  • Reduce the time it takes to detect a change in a patient’s skin condition e.g. a mole has grown in size or changed in color or texture.
  • Reduce the likelihood of missing a change on the patient’s skin.

NB: If you have already defined your customer’s JTBD and researched the needs, you don’t need to do it again just because there is new tech available. You can jump straight to idea generation, using the research you already have. Incidentally, thrv can help you execute these steps quickly.

Now, assemble the company’s great minds for an idea generation session. But, don’t guide the session with “How do we add Augmented Reality to our product?” Instead, ask “How can augmented reality help our customer reduce the time it takes to identify a change in a patient’s skin condition?”

After collecting ideas on how augmented reality can serve this unmet need, judge the ideas based on how well they meet the need. In other words, which solution will identify skin changes fastest? Think through the process of using the new AR solution and consider if it’s actually faster than the existing solutions your customers use. If the AR solution is faster, it will create value and drive growth. If it’s not, don’t bother investing it.

Finally, if your idea does meet the needs in the job faster or more accurately, determine if you can integrate it into your existing product or if you need to make a new one.

Explosive growth is exciting. When it happens with a new technology or platform, it’s natural for someone to catch a case of GMOOT (Give Me One Of Those). It’s easy to start with the ideation process, usually in the form of an unfocused brainstorming session. Instead start with asking the right questions–what’s our customers’ job-to-be-done and how can the technology can help them get it done better?

How the Jobs-to-be-Done Vocabulary Can Align Your Team

From xkcd.com

thrv works with product teams to help them satisfy their customers’ needs. Critical to this effort is alignment among the teams we work with. They need to be aligned around who their customer is, their product strategy, and, at the core of it all, the words they use to communicate with each other. What is a “product strategy”? What is a “customer need”? What’s a “market”? If a team doesn’t agree on the definitions of these terms or the definitions frequently change, it’s very hard to gain alignment and build something that matters to customers.

Since language is so important, we work hard to keep it specific and consistent. When you and your team first embark on your Jobs-to-be-Done journey, you’ll hear new terms and new definitions for old terms, and everyone needs understand them all. To help you and your team speak our language, we’ve created the below glossary of key JTBD terms. We’ll be adding to this over time and linking to it when we use the terms in our blog posts.

Hopefully, the glossary helps your own team increase consistency with their language and avoid communication breakdowns. It may also help you translate customer feedback into actionable metrics, but if you really want to learn how to do this, reach out to us. We’re happy to help.

Jobs-to-be-Done: A theory introduced by Harvard Business School Professor Clay Christensen to explain why customers buy or use products–they hire them to get a job done. Importantly, jobs enable product managers to define market from the customer’s rather than the product’s perspective. As a result, jobs (which are independent of any product) are stable over time.

For example, consumers have used records, cassettes, CDs, iPod, and streaming apps to execute the jobs of curating and discovering music. While products change over time, the customer’s job will not.

Customer: The key customer is the person who is executing the job. This is why a market exists: because a person in either a personal or a business context needs to execute a job and they look for solutions to “hire” to get the job done.

Functional Jobs: The most important types of jobs because they are the reason that a market exists. When we write “job” we are referring to the Functional Job. A Functional Job is the core task or goal that some person is trying to accomplish in a personal, business, or medical context. When someone has a functional job to accomplish, they look for a product or service to “hire” in order to get the job done. Check out this short post for a little more info on what qualifies as a functional job.

Functional jobs begin with an action verb that describes the job. Some common job verbs include: determine, ensure, create, learn, obtain, develop, identify and optimize.

Emotional Jobs: Statements about how people want to feel about themselves or how they want to be perceived by others when they are executing a Functional Job.

Since emotions can be both positive and negative, Emotional Jobs include both how someone wants to feel and how they want to avoid feeling. For example, when consumers are selling a used car, they want to avoid feeling gullible.

Consumption Jobs: Tasks that relate to consuming and using a product or service. Consumption jobs include: install, learn-to-use, repair, maintain, interface, and dispose.

For example, if consumers hire an app to help them sell a used car (a functional job), they need to learn how to use it and to interface with it.

Job Executor: The person or entity who is trying to get the job done. For example, in the job of “sell a used car” the job executor could be a consumer (an individual who owns a car and wants to sell it), a car dealership, or an auction house. In the job of “Create a mood at an occasion with music” the job executor could be a consumer, a professional DJ, a radio show host, a sync department for a tv show, etc.

Job Steps: Every functional job is a process that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Functional jobs can be broken down into different steps that fall into six main categories: define, prepare, execute, monitor, modify, and conclude.

Customer Need: A metric that the customer uses to measure the speed and accuracy of executing a job step.

In order to be measurable and actionable for your product team, a customer need statement should be structured with three important elements: (i) a direction of improvement (usually “minimize”), (ii) a metric (usually “time” or “likelihood”), and (iii) a goal that relates to the job step. The goal should always be independent of any solution.

For example, when consumers are selling a used car and executing the step of “assessing the vehicle’s market value,” they need to minimize the time it takes to determine the local fair market value of the vehicle.

Importance: a measure of how important a customer need is to the customers. Importance scores are calculated using a five point scale: not important, somewhat important, important, very important, and extremely important. An importance score is a measure of the percentage of customers who say that the need is very or extremely important.

Satisfaction: a measure of how satisfied customers are that they can achieve the goal of the Customer Need. Like importance scores, satisfaction scores are calculated using a five point scale: not satisfied, somewhat satisfied, satisfied, very satisfied, and extremely satisfied. A satisfaction score is a measure of the percentage of customers who say that the need is satisfied.

Opportunity Score: A measure of the difference between importance and satisfaction for a customer need (weighted for importance). An opportunity score is calculated by the following equation: Opportunity = Importance + (Importance – Satisfaction).

Opportunity scores range from 0 to 20 for each customer need in the job. Any opportunity score of 10 or higher means that the customer need is unmet by current solutions in the market because customers rate the need as highly important by not satisfied.

Unmet Need: A Customer Need that has an Opportunity Score of 10 or higher because the Importance Score is high and the Satisfaction Score is low.

Segmentation: In Jobs-to-be-Done, customers are segmented by how satisfied they are with their ability to execute the job. To identify groups of underserved customers, thrv using the opportunity scores to group customers who all have similar needs with high importance and low satisfaction, regardless of their demographics.

Competitor: Any company that has a product or service with features that satisfy customer needs in any job step in the job and manual processes that people use to get the job done, even if they are not associated with a business. Often companies think of their competitors as those companies who offer similar products. In Jobs-to-be-Done a competitor is any company who is helping a customer get the job done, even if they only help get a few steps in the job done.

Competitor Feature: Any part of a competitor’s product or service that helps a customer satisfy a need in the job-to-be-done or an activity within a manual process that a person executes in order to satisfy a need.

Competitive Analysis: An assessment of how well the customer can get the job done with the competitor’s solution. The assessment is a collection of measurements of the speed and accuracy with which a customer can satisfy needs with the competition’s features.

Idea Generation: The act of thinking up features that will satisfy unmet customer needs faster and more accurately than the competition.

Jobs-to-be-Done and Agile, Better Together

I’ve spoken to quite a few product managers whose teams and companies have recently adopted the Agile Software Development framework. When we discuss Jobs-to-be-Done and thrv, they are often intrigued, but then say, “We just went Agile. Does Jobs-to-be-Done work with Agile?” The answer is yes, Jobs-to-be-Done not only can work with Agile, but they are better together. Agile helps you develop a product faster and JTBD helps you develop the right product. Together, you get the right product faster.

Agile has spread so quickly, it has taken many forms. Here’s a quick reminder of the core values from the Agile Manifesto:

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Jobs-to-be-Done is based on the idea that your customers are not buying your product, they are hiring it to get a job done. This is the foundation of its customer-centric product development method that helps you identify unmet customer needs and generate solutions to serve them.

Agile and JTBD address two different but equally important issues–how to build and what to build. Yet, they aim to achieve the same goal: satisfy customers.

In fact, that’s the first principle of The Agile Manifesto:

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Agile enables teams to adapt to an environment where requirements and technology are rapidly changing. Jobs-to-be-Done gives teams a stable focus for their agile efforts–customer needs in the job-to-be-done, which never change. Putting the two together allows you to build rapidly developing products and services that matter to the customer. Every team needs to determine what should go into the next sprint and I think using JTBD to do it produces the best results.

What can happen if Agile is used without a solid product strategy framework and process such as JTBD? The team can succumb to two common fallacies that lead to a critical problem.

Fallacy 1

There is no need for product discovery.

Some Agile teams start with writing code, cranking out an MVP without asking “Why are we building this? How do I know it will satisfy customers?” Often, this happens because senior management defined the backlog in a separate meeting.

JTBD starts with discovery by talking directly to customers. You can confirm which features will satisfy users because you can connect them directly to stated customer needs. And if you use thrv as a developer, you can see the connection between your Task, the Feature Idea and the Customer Need it intends to serve so you always know why you’re building what you’re building.

Fallacy 2

If our sprints are tight enough and we release often enough, we don’t need feedback from customers.

It doesn’t matter how often you deploy if the features are irrelevant to customers and you don’t know if you are satisfying them. JTBD gives you a criteria with which to measure potential customer satisfaction–does the feature serve an unmet need and does it do it better than the competition?

It also provides a framework for checking in with customers once the product is built. Instead of asking, “Do you like this?” You ask “Does this reduce the time it takes to get the job done?” And instead of only tracking product usage, you can also track the value it produces for the customer–how much more accurately and faster are they getting the job done?

The Critical Problem

A poorly articulated product backlog that has a variable criteria for prioritization and is full of features that do not matter to the customer.

Without clear criteria for prioritization, opinion will win. Though an agile team decreases the cost of each release, if you’re placing bets on opinion, it may take many releases to stumble upon the right features. That cost adds up quickly. And it’s multiplied by technical debt. Every time a feature goes unused, it needs to be removed. If it’s not, it can cause side effects that get in the way of new development, making every new build take longer. The cost of building the wrong thing compounds with each deployment.

JTBD provides a clear, customer-focused criteria for prioritization. Though researching customer needs requires time up front, it helps teams avoid delays and costs down the road. Investigating the customer’s job leads to finding the right features in far fewer releases.


Even though Agile and JTBD offer a powerful partnership, there is a natural hesitancy to try to incorporate the two methodologies. Perhaps adopting agile was disruptive and the idea of adding something new is exhausting. Here are a few of the objections that come up and ways to counter them:

Objection 1: Research is slow. Building right away is fast.

You may have a colleague remind you of the following Agile principle:

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“There’s no time for lengthy and costly customer research,” they’ll say. JTBD does require some upfront research, but it can be done rather quickly, especially with thrv’s help. Regardless, the cost of building the wrong thing for multiple sprints is far more expensive than implementing JTBD.

Objection 2: Research will prevent us from being nimble.

Here’s another Agile Principle:

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“Conducting all sorts of research will lock us into a certain approach, and we need to be able to shift quickly,” goes the argument.

Indeed while product feature requirements may change, the job does not. Forty years ago people wanted to curate music. They still do today, but in the intervening 40 years the products have ranged from LPs to 8-tracks to tapes to CDs to MP3 players to streaming music on phones. Customers don’t want Spotify any more than they want a 50-CD changer. They want to reduce the time it takes to find the right song for the mood. The job and the needs are stable.

Customer research doesn’t set your road map in stone because you’re always looking for a better way to serve the needs, adopting new technologies as they are ready.

Research doesn’t prohibit you from learning from releases; it gives you more specific parameters about what you’re trying to learn.

And research doesn’t prevent you from being creative: instead of throwing spaghetti at the wall, you’re throwing darts at a target, the customer need. Without understanding the job-to-be-done and customer needs, you might as well wear a blindfold when throwing the darts (or the spaghetti).

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This is gross.

Darts_in_a_dartboard

This is nice.

Objection 3: We just figured out agile; it’ll be too hard to add something to that mix.

Ok, here’s your chance to take an Agile Principle and turn it back on your colleagues:

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If you’ve just recently finished a sprint and are reviewing your efforts, this is a perfect time to bring up Jobs-to-be-Done. It’s not about scrapping what you’re currently doing to try something new; it’s an improvement to your existing methods.

There’s nothing about Jobs-to-be-Done that precludes Agile, sprints, or scrums.


So, how can you get started without too much disruption to your release cycles?

Have your product and UX team work on the JTBD research while the engineers work on the current sprint. (I do recommend that engineering participate in the research but they can spend less time on it. If you want engineers to join the research, try decreasing the number of tasks in the sprint.) Once the research is done, you can can use quantified customer needs to prioritize the backlog for the next sprint planning session.

From now on, you’ll have features on the backlog associated with customer needs. This means that when your designers are creating wireframes or your engineers are building features, they can see the customer needs they are serving. They’ll know why their work matters and better understand how to deliver customer value. This will lead to better decisions from everyone and more productive sprints.

It’s easy to assume one ideology can handle everything and introducing another will create conflict. With Agile and JTBD, the opposite is true.

If your team is using Agile and you want to know more about adding Jobs-to-be-Done, drop me a line. I’m happy to help.

JTBD Product Management: An Education Market Example, Part 3. Road Mapping, Aligning the Team, & Scoping an MVP

This week features the third and final installment of our JTBD Product Management: An Education Market Example series. If you haven’t read them already, check out Part 1, Part 2, and our Cheat Sheet. With this series, we’re presenting you with an overview of how the Jobs-to-be-Done framework can help you view product management and product development through a different lens – one which focuses on the customer, the job they are trying to get done, and their unmet needs.

We’ve been using the educational publishing industry in order to bring this thinking to life, but the ideas presented here can be applied to any industry where you’re tasked with creating new products, or new features to existing products.

In today’s post we’ll talk about how to prioritize your road map, align your team and develop your minimum viable product.

Prioritization

When you spend all day, every day thinking about your product, it’s only natural that your success metrics will be product-centric. For example, if you’re building an education app road map, you might optimize for an increase in “time spent in app” or “frequency of sessions.” Any feature that would make these metrics go up would be high priority.

However, if you’ve read the previous entries in this series you know that the customer’s satisfaction with getting the job done is your ultimate target. When developing a road map, Product Managers using Jobs-to-be-Done prioritize features that serve the most important and least satisfied customer needs.

If we’re working on the job “learn a subject,” we might find that “minimizing the likelihood of having a question that can’t be answered in the moment” is very important and not satisfied. Interestingly, a feature serving this need might cause users to spend less time in our educational app because more of their questions are answered right away and they are learning the subject faster. The app is increasing value for the customer even though a commonly used KPI is decreasing.

Prioritizing by customer needs leads to releases that deliver value to users and avoids those that could be great for the business but irrelevant to the users.

Align Team

Designing, developing and bringing a new product to market requires a team of skilled individuals who are committed and focused on a common goal. You’re going to be challenged with a host of difficult decisions from feature prioritization to scope to where to invest resources. Even the best teams can be challenged by these situations, especially when the time for discussion ends and choices need to be made.

All too often, this is when the course is determined not by data, but by The Boss, who makes a suggestion that’s really more of a directive. Since she’s in charge, the HIPPO (HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion) rules. As a result, your team is left in a state of frustration. Everyone is left to argue for their ideas on what to prioritize and the result is time and money wasted, a dysfunctional team, and customers who are potentially confused by or unsatisfied with your product.

So, how do you get team alignment? By removing the personal and focusing on the measurable. When you measure things like speed and accuracy, you eliminate opinion or hunches. If the research shows that students learning algebra have an unmet need to “reduce the time it takes to learn how to factor quadratic equations” and it currently takes days, everyone can get behind an idea that reduces that time to hours or even less. When you align the team around customer needs, opinions matter a lot less.

Scope MVP

The idea of delivering a minimum viable product to market as fast as possible is so widely accepted, it’s nearly conventional wisdom. But, how do you know which features belong in the MVP? What makes your product viable?

You and your team may bring years of training and experience to the task so you could rely on intuition. Or you could attempt to estimate the impact on your business and include the features that will generate pageviews or time spent in your app or repeat visits–whatever your KPIs are. Or you could show the MVP to your customers and say, “Do you like this?” If they say, “yes,” are you ready to go?

When scoping your MVP, Jobs-to-be-Done thinking prompts the question, “What features will have the most impact on my customer’s needs?” For example, Britannica may have shown new editions of its encyclopedia with “even more volumes” to its customers. They may have said, “Great! We love information. Bring on more volumes!”

But do the extra volumes help reduce the likelihood that a student’s question can be answered in the moment? Does it reduce the time it takes to find the definition of an unfamiliar word?

“Liking” a product is not the same as having it serve your needs much better than previous solutions.

Jobs-to-be-Done assumes if you create value for your customer, value for your business will follow. The features that belong in your MVP are those that serve at least one important and unsatisfied customer need. It’s best if your MVP meets the most underserved need i.e. the one with the highest opportunity score. If your MVP doesn’t serve an unmet need, you’re not ready to ship. If your MVP includes features aligned with over-served needs, you may have to re-think your roadmap.


That wraps up our JTBD Product Management introductory series. We hope you’ve found it informative and that it has sparked questions, such as “Is our company defining our market as a product or a job?” “Is someone out there getting our job done better with a different product?” “Do we agree on what a customer need is and does our MVP meet at least one?”

If you feel you could benefit from implementing the thrv approach, get in touch with us. We’d love to talk with you about how our products and services can help you launch high growth products. Be sure to check the thrv blog regularly for more ideas, stories and insights on how to implement the Jobs-to-be-Done framework.