Designing the right product, for the right people, at the right time.

- January 5, 2016 4 MIN READ

How much thought goes into the purchasing decisions in your life? Do you ponder your thoughts for months, conduct significant research, speak to your friends, or do you simply make what seem like snap decisions?

Everyone is different and every situation is different, yet we often find ourselves buying similar products to the people around us. Why is that?

To put it simply, many human beings share the same problems and opportunities.

As consumers, we likely think about this as the thing we’re trying to achieve – entertain ourselves for the next two hours, impress on the third date, or acquire customers more cheaply and effectively. In our day-to-day lives, whether personal or work related, we all have things to achieve or problems to solve.

For people designing product, one way to think about customer needs is through the jobs-to-be-done framework. I’ve referenced this framework in previous articles and wanted to talk specifically about how this framework can be used by product managers, engineers, designers, strategists and entrepreneurs to help design the right product for the right people at the right time.

Clayton Christensen’s milkshake example is perhaps the best way to highlight how a variety of products can fulfill a customer job, often in unexpected ways.

The key insight from this is that the product sits separate to the customer job – the problem they have or the thing they are trying to achieve. What I mean by this is the product is interchangeable. To the customer, the job is what matters most, The product, for the most part, is a means to an end.

To explain this further, let me introduce you to a persona, Angela. Angela is a 28-year-old engineer for a small, but fast-growing software company. She lives in Sydney, has an active social life, loves music and is still somewhat influenced by her family and culture.

It’s Thursday morning at 6am. Angela spent most of last night drinking with some friends and regardless of how she tries to frame or justify it; she had a relatively large Wednesday night. Angela is running low on sleep, energy and motivation. But knows she’s got a bunch of work due tomorrow at 5pm because the Scrum team she’s a key member of runs two weeks sprints – starting on a Friday afternoon at 1pm and finishing on a Thursday afternoon at close of business. If she doesn’t get the committed work done today, the team can’t showcase it tomorrow at sprint review. The last thing Angela wants to do is let the team down, and it just so happens the CEO is attending tomorrow’s session. Apparently she has high expectations.

This is Angela’s problem.

At first, Angela hits the snooze button, but quickly realises the situation she’s in. She start thinking about how she’s going to get up out of bed let alone get through the day.

What are her options? Berocca? Coffee? Make a really quick visit to Australia’s first hangover clinic? God forbid, she could even do some exercise to get her endorphin levels up.

These, among others, are Angela’s potential solutions – the things she might hire.

The insight here is that although many options may be available, each of them exists to serve a purpose, to help solve a problem or fulfill an objective. That’s how Angela looks at them.

As a consumer, Angela’s job isn’t to buy Berocca, order three long macchiatos, get herself an IV drip or make use of her dust covered gym membership. Her job is to complete the work her team committed to in sprint planning. She therefore has the option of hiring something to help her get from her current state to her desired state.

This is how we have to think about product. Product, regardless of what it is, exists to serve a purpose in someone’s life. This approach is a far cry from the days where hyper-detailed product requirement documents (PRDs) ruled all, or as some may know it, the “build the whole thing and they will love it, pay for it, and keep paying for it” days.

A framework that can be used to help quantify a customer’s job so that we can better understand and better service their needs is the jobs-to-be-done framework. As explained on Stratgyn.com, Strategyn’s founder Tony Ulwich created this framework to enable companies “to deconstruct a job that customers are trying to get done into specific process steps. The resulting job map provides a structure that makes it possible, for the first time, to capture all the customer’s needs and to systematically identify opportunities for growth.”

Nathan Kinch 1

This is of course a highly manual process, but it’s undoubtedly a valuable one. (For more on how to put jobs-to-be-done into practice, see here.)

What about the decision point? How can we better understand which option Angela, or anyone else for that matter, might choose? Well, the Re-Wired Group came up with a really useful framework for understanding this very moment. They call it the “switch”. Switch refers to the moment a person makes the decision to hire or fire a specific product to solve their problem or fulfill their objective.

In our example, at 6.10am, Angela is getting very close to the ‘switch’.

As part of determining the motivation someone might have to either hire or fire a product, Re-Wired’s simple model helps quantify what in fact influences a ‘switch’.

  • F1. Push. Problem with current solution
  • F2. Pull. Benefits of a new solution
  • F3. Anxiety. Worry about new solution
  • F4. Inertia. Existing habits and switching costs

Here’s what the math looks like:

(F1 + F2) < (F3 + F4) = No switch. What I’m currently doing works well enough. My cash is staying mine.

(F1 + F2) > (F3 + F4) = Switch! I’m onto something new. Take my money please.


Image credit: jobstobedone.org

(On this topic of the ‘switch’, there’s some great content, both written and audio here.)

We can use all the tools in the world and every framework available to us, but he bottom line is this; people don’t hire or fire our product for their features, security or extensibility; they hire our product to help them fulfill their job-to-be-done, and fire our product if it isn’t effectively enabling them to fulfill their job-to-be-done.

So when we start asking ourselves why someone will use, pay for, abandon and stop paying for our product, we need to ask the people using our product how effectively it’s solving their problem or enabling them to achieve their objective.

Products should be measured on efficacy. As a product leader, an intense focus on efficacy, starting with the customer and their job-to-be-done, gives us the best chance of continually shipping product that delivers significant, recurring value.