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Jobs to be Done: A practical tool to align design and content to your users’ needs

Hashtags UX Research, Jobs to be Done, and understandusers

How to understand your user’s needs and desires is a crucial question when you want to increase sales or conversions. Within User Research (UX) there are several approaches that can help, like Personas or User Stories. However, during the elective course on Content Design taught by lecturer Vinish Garg, I learned about the Jobs to be Done framework (known by the acronym JTBD), and I found it particularly useful to align the design of a product and content to the user’s needs.

To understand it, a simple example is given by Jim Kalbach in his book “The Jobs to be Done Playbook”. He says that people drink coffee for breakfast usually not for the sake of the beverage, like its flavor or color, but in most cases, but to get the energy you start the morning.

Following that example, the idea behind JTBD is that every company or institution should get to know what its users or clients are trying to achieve when using their product/service/information. What is the “job” that they are trying to get done?

That question can help a team that develops a product, but also, a team that seeks that the experience of the user is good, to guide their decisions about content and design.

Let’s put this in an example. A company that wants to sell coffee for people to drink in the morning could benefit for knowing that the potential user “job” or goal that user want, is to get energy. From the perspective of content, this can influence decisions of marketing, design, and even the tone of voice of the company. From the perspective of the user, if the company understand the “job”, then there are more chances that the customer would act and buy the product, and maybe even recommend it to others.

In other words, as innovation experts Christensen, Cook, and Hall from Harvard Business School stated in 2005, a “job” or objective of the user is key to understanding users’ needs because “when people find themselves needing to get a job done, they essentially hire products to do that job for them”.

How Jobs to be Done looks: A Job Story

An important element of the JTBD framework is the way it is stated, so that everyone working on the development of a product, or its content, can easily understand the needs of the users. It consists of a Job Story, that was coined by Intercom.

It looks like this:

Jobs to be Done: Explanation of how the Job Story looks like using the structure: "When... I want to, so I can..."
Diagram from NHS UK

As the image above shows, the phrase has three parts, each of which has a different goal. 

“When (…)” focuses on the situation of the user, the moment in which the user would have a need.

“I want to (…)” focuses on the motivation, what the user attempts to achieve, do or gain.

“So I can (…)” focuses on the desired outcome the user seeks. 

An example from Intercom is: when an important new customer signs up, I want to be notified, so I can start a conversation with them”.

Paul Adams, Chief Product Officer at Intercom explains that the goal of this phrasing was that, “if we understood the situation in which people encounter a problem to solve, understand the motivation for solving it, and understand what a great outcome looks like, we were confident that we would be building valuable product for our customers”.

If we apply the Job Story to the prior example of the morning coffee, it could look like this: “when I wake up in the morning, I want to eat or drink something, so I can get the energy to start working”. 

Framed like this, several elements of the user are missing. For example, there are no demographic data (like gender, age, or socioeconomic background) or personal data (like a name, an occupation, or a picture). This is made on purpose so that the team that develops a product or content focuses on what makes the user act and buy or hire a product or service; that is, what goal the user wants to achieve.

Although this is not the topic of this blog post, it is worth noticing that, because of its narrow focus, JTBD has been questioned by experts at Nielsen Norman Group, like Page Laubheimer in his post “Personas vs. Jobs-to-Be-Done”, among other things, because JTBD lacks empathy with the users. However, the same expert explains that Jobs to Be Done is very helpful when used together with Personas. 

Three sources to follow to apply the Jobs to be Done framework

There are several approaches to how to apply JTBD. I have been reading about them and as I don’t have yet any personal experience applying the approach, I share with you three sources that I find useful to understand it.

–       The book “When Coffee and Kale Compete”, by Alan Klement. The book is free to download and offers a complete explanation and description of JTBD, and everything I think can be of help when applying the framework.

–       The post “Build Products that Solve Real Problems with this Lightweight JTBD Framework”, by Sunita Mohanty, Product Management Lead at Meta. This post was recommended by the instructor during the Content Design course I took. I find it very useful because the writer offers very practical examples from Instagram and Facebook and explains the applications JTBD can have for startups.

For example, the next image shows the Job Story structure that, according to Mohanty, is used within the Meta companies. 

Job to be Done structure from Meta that says: "When I, But..., Help me.. So I.. "
JBTD statement template from Facebook and Instagram product teams

– A case study of the National Health System of the UK, NHS. In a blog post from 2017, the institution explains how it developed Job Stories. It states that, even though the framework was not easy to apply, the Job Stories resonated well with their stakeholders and users.

Jobs to be Done is only one of many frameworks to apply to align the content and design to the user’s needs. If you are interested in the topic, I can highly recommend you to read the article  “How to Understand your Users: 5 Why Method” that my colleague Birgit Gündish wrote for this website.