Your form has successfully submitted

One of our teammates will get back to you soon.

Is brainstorming just a guessing game? How to turn a planning session into a data-driven approach with the Jobs-to-be-Done theory.

This blog post argues that there is a better and more systematic way of getting your ideas refined than a brainstorming session. With the Jobs-to-be-Done theory, you can get to the bottom of your customer’s needs and create a unique path to success.

The first thing many of us do when there is a new idea on the horizon is a brainstorming session. Let’s be honest, we’ve all been there - whether it’s in front of a whiteboard, jotting down ideas with loads of post-its and different colors, or setting up a Zoom call to discuss possible options to solve our customers’ pain points. Maybe you even took it a step further and developed a mind map? We are usually encouraged to come up with as many ideas as possible and then “fail fast”. What if I told you that there is a better way of coming up with new features? In this post, I will try to convince you that brainstorming might not always be the best tool in your toolbox when it comes to mapping out a new idea.

“Your customers are not buying your products. They are hiring them to get a job done.”

Have you ever considered that your customers are actually “hiring” your product to get a job done? I was definitely puzzled the first time I heard that famous quote by Clay Christensen from Harvard Business School. Think about all of the different products that you could possibly use to listen to music. Why do the majority of us only choose one and stick with it? It’s because (in our opinion) the product literally “gets the job done” in a way that’s fast and accurate. In order to illustrate this idea, think about the good old days when in order to listen to your favorite artist you had to go to a music store, look for the CD, buy it, take it home, put it in a CD player and press play. This is actually a pretty simplified list of steps, however, the point is that right now it takes literally less than 10 seconds to do all of the above with your favorite music app. Following this train of thought, most companies have the answers to the problem at hand as soon as they understand what the “job” to be done for their customers is. Intrigued? Read on.

The theory behind it all

The concept of the Jobs-to-be-Done theory is not new. However, it’s something that is still astonishingly underrated. The first mention of this approach dates back to 1968 when Chester Wasson and David McConaughy suggested that what the customer actually wants is to satisfy certain physical, emotional, and social needs. As you may notice, they didn’t mention anything about a product. Then, Theodor Levitt took it a step further and advised his marketing students on what they should be focusing on - what the customer is actually trying to do with a product or how a product is helping them in some way instead of the characteristics of the product itself.

So, what do we need?

Understand the needs! This is the critical part of getting it right. Ask yourself: do I know what my customers’ needs are? We already know that there is a specific job that our end-users need to get done, but what we also need to figure out are the steps that need to be taken in order to get there.

This “simply” means breaking the end goal into steps that will get us there (listening to your favorite artist's example above). Then, we need to look at which step makes your customers struggle; those variables are what we call needs. A staggering 95% of companies are not in alignment with what their customers’ needs truly are. In order to be in that top 5% of innovative thinkers, you should always have these two words in the back of your mind: speed and accuracy.

In short, needs are variables of the actions that a customer needs to take to perform a step in getting a job done. Your customers will not tell you how to build your product, however, they will tell you which step they are struggling with.

How you may ask? Easy: surveys! However, I am not talking about the ones that calculate the NPS score that you can see everywhere. The only way to really understand your customer’s pain points is by asking them whether they are struggling with any of the steps in order to get the job done. Once you have identified that, you can start creating value by either removing that step completely or, if that’s not possible, making it faster and more accurate.

Finding the right market

Getting to a destination on time - I am certain that you can think of many different apps that can help you do that. Most of them are even free. Are they doing it fast enough and accurately, though? It might be good enough for what you, one of the many consumers, need. However, there might be a bunch of people looking for something better, who are ready to pay for a solution that is going to get them to their destination faster and more accurately. Most of those busy people would probably be willing to pay a monthly fee to be able to just click on one button and organize their rides between places and always be on time at their destination. We refer to these folks as the “premium” market and you might be overlooking them. Choosing the correct need that your customers are struggling with combined with their willingness to pay can help you find opportunities you haven’t seen before. Remember, the job doesn’t change over time, the products do.

So, should I use personas to understand my customer better?

Another common mistake many companies make is using characteristics of a person to cluster their customer “personas”. Why is that a mistake, you may ask? Let’s go back to the job of getting to a destination on time. Do you really think that the only person who does that on a daily basis is John, aged 35, with three cats and a hamster? The answer is obviously, no. These traditional characteristics that we use to segment our customers are faux pas in the Jobs-to-be-Done theory. Instead, you should take a step back and define the job and the needs of your customers and then look for the needs that your customers are struggling with. If your roadmap is based on these “persona” assumptions, you might be missing out on a big chunk of the market that you didn’t take into consideration. In the end, what matters is that you’re satisfying the needs of your customers better than your competitors.

The systematic approach

I don’t think that any business owner wants to let their product (and to some extent, success!) be influenced by fate or an idea that was produced at a brainstorming session and is not data-driven. It is indeed a strenuous effort to go back to the whiteboard and understand the job, the steps to execute it, and the needs of our customers. However, think about it as an opportunity to innovate. This is an opportunity to understand your customers better and make sure you’re building a product strategically instead of throwing darts in the dark and learning by “failing fast”. There is indeed value in quickly releasing new features to the market to test the waters, however, those decisions should not be made without considering the actual customers’ needs.

To gain a deeper understanding of the Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) theory, it's worth exploring the advancements made by THRV. In particular, THRV has refined the JTBD theory and methodology by defining a customer need as a combination of a customer action and a variable to get the job done.

How can I help my clients as a Project/Product Manager?

It often happens that our clients have a very strong vision for their products. They tell us all about their hopes and dreams and can clearly see a path to success. This type of fantastic client is one who is incredibly committed to actively participating in the development process. However, as a consultant and a PM, you should always go back to the basics - what are we trying to achieve by developing this feature? Is it going to satisfy our customers’ needs? If so, how? Your clients’ vision might sometimes be clouded by their own personal priorities and that is totally understandable. No need to worry, though! A skilled PM will make sure that the roadmap is based on creating real value for the user and will ask these simple, yet fundamental questions in order to keep steering the ship in the right direction.

Did this article make you want to reconsider your strategy for product development? At Stack Builders, we also have a group of excellent Project Managers who can help get you on the path to success along with our team of devoted developers.

Published on: Mar. 10, 2023

Written by:

Alicja Placzkiewicz

Alicja Placzkiewicz

Subscribe to our blog

Join our community and get the latest articles, tips, and insights delivered straight to your inbox. Don’t miss it – subscribe now and be part of the conversation!

We care about your data. Check out our Privacy Policy.