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Collecting and analyzing jobs-to-be-done

via the Daily Mail

I’ve previously written about collecting jobs-to-be-done from customers. Because I was analyzing a broad topic across the entire innovation lifecycle, it was a good way to get a breadth of insight. However, it doesn’t work as well in the more common situation for product managers and innovators: analyzing a specific flow. In that case, there are three requirements for collecting jobs-to-be-done:

  • Comprehensive capture of job elements
  • Map collection as closely as possible to the actual job flow
  • Understand importance and satisfaction of individual tasks

Comprehensive is important, because you can’t address what you don’t know. A limitation of my previous effort was that it was not comprehensive. Actual job flow is a powerful framework. Needs captured in context are more valuable, and it’s critical to follow the steps in the job. Importance and satisfaction become the basis for prioritizing effort.

To address these requirements, I’ve put together a process to understand customers’ jobs-to-be-done. The major elements are:

1 Job flow 2 Job task 3 Collect job tasks per activity
4 Job canvas 5 Task importance & dissatisfaction 6 Number of customer interviews
7 Create affinity groups 8 Label the groups 9 Calculate group importance and dissatisfaction

For purposes of this write-up, assume you’re an automotive product manager. You’re tasked with understanding people’s needs to get work done on the commute to the office. Note this is a job that becomes more readily enabled by self-driving cars.

Start with the job flow

A job-to-be-done has a flow. For example, take this job:

When I commute to the office, I want to get work done.

A job flow consists of the job’s major activities, in sequence. The job flow looks something like this:

Job flow

The purpose of the flow is to provide a framework for capturing specific tasks. Putting this together is primarily the responsibility of the product manager (or innovation team). By stating the major activities that define the job, expect a much more comprehensive capture of all the job elements.

Job task

Each activity consists of a series of tasks. Task are what the customer actually does. They are independent of specific features, although may often be intertwined. Here’s an example task:

Job task

Previously, I’d focused on including context in job statements. But when these tasks are organized according to the job flow, the context is readily known. So task statements don’t include a context element.

But they do include an expectation statement. For every task we do, we have an expectation for it. It defines whether we consider the current experience wonderful or painful. This expectation is formalized for each task, captured in the customer’s own words. It’s valuable to know what the customer expects, as that becomes the basis of design.

Collect jobs tasks for each activity

Next step is to conduct the actual customer interviews. Whether done in the customer’s environment (best) or via a web conference call (acceptable), the job flow provides a familiar framework to the customer.

Job activity + tasks

When I worked at eFinance, I conducted brown paper sessions with clients to understand their commercial credit processes. A staple of the Capgemini consulting model, the brown paper is a step-by-step process flow of what the customer does today. Collecting the job tasks is similar here. Similarities and differences:

  • Brown papers are conducted with groups of people together. Job-to-be-done capture will more often be solo interviews.
  • Brown papers are done in a strict step-by-step flow, captured visually on a wall. If doing this for job-to-be-done interviews works for you, go for it. But a simpler post-it note capture style works as well.
  • After capturing the steps in a brown paper, the group is invited to post stickies describing points where improvement is needed. In the job-to-be-done interviews, each task includes a statement of what the customer expects for it.

A key element of the interview process is to probe the responses of the customer. In a perfect world, they will lay out the individual tasks and easily express their expectations. But likely, customers will talk a lot about features. Which is valuable in its own right. But the objective here is to capture what they are trying to get done. So apply the simple question why. Not in a robotic way. But make sure to probe past the expression of features. These are the tasks – versus features – to place on the job canvas.

Here’s an example of the approach:

Customer: I want a 4G internet card.
Interviewer: Why do you need that?
Customer: So I can connect to email and the web.
Interviewer: What is your expectation for connecting to email and the web?
Customer: Always-on internet.

One tip: Use different color sticky notes for each major activity’s group of tasks. This color coding will help later in identifying where the tasks occur in the job flow.

Job canvas

For each major activity, job tasks are collected onto that customer’s job canvas. An example (with fewer tasks than would actually be there):

Job flow + tasks

In reality, there will be  a large number of tasks per customer interviewed. Strategyn’s Tony Ulwick states there will be between 50-150 outcomes collected from multiple customer interviews. Gerry Katz of Applied Marketing Science sees 100 or more needs collected as well. Sheila Mello of Product Development Consulting says it’s not unusual to extra several hundred images from the customer interviews.

Top tasks by importance and dissatisfaction

Once the job tasks have been captured, the customer selects the tasks:

  • That are most important
  • That are least satisfied

The customer will select the 3-5 tasks that are most important for each major activity in the flow (e.g. there are 3 major activities shown in the job canvas above). These tasks will be assigned points. For example, assume three tasks are identified as important. The most important task would receive 3 points, the next most important 2 points, and so on.

The customer will also select the 3-5 tasks that are least satisfied for each major activity in the flow. Assuming three selected tasks, the task that is least satisfied receives 3 points, the next least satisfied task receives 2 points, and so on.

Job tasks - importance and satisfaction

Keep this insight handy, but separate from the collected stickies (or however you’ve collected the job tasks). We’ll come back to how to use this information.

Note: it will help to apply unique numbers to the individual job tasks. You’re going to want to know the most important and least satisfied tasks across multiple customers later in the process.

Number of customer interviews

A general rule of thumb is that 15-20 customer interviews will provides solid coverage of customers’ needs. You can take it further, as George Castellion advocates 40 interviews. Each interview starts with a blank canvas containing only major activities.

Create affinity groups

After conducting multiple interviews, you will have a large number of job tasks, with information on which ones are most important and least satisfied. Working with a large number of statements by people is a challenge that others have faced. They key is to reduce the large number to a manageable set of insights. There’s a proven approach called the KJ-Method to systematically abstract hundreds of statements into a few key groups.

UX expert Jared Spool provides a detailed series of steps to run the K-J Method. I’ll use his description here.

Bring together group of people do the affinity grouping

The first step is to determine who will do the affinity grouping with you. Try to keep this group at 5 people or fewer. Draw on people from different disciplines.

Put all the job tasks on a wall

In a single space, all the job tasks should be visible and accessible. They need not be laid out in the job flow, which might introduce a bias to the grouping. The color of the stickies will be the basis for knowing where the tasks fall in the flow.

Group similar items

The next step is for the team members to group like  job tasks together. The process is one of looking at pairs of tasks, and determining if they share characteristics. This how Jared instructs clients to do this:

“Take two items that seem like they belong together and place them in an empty portion of the wall, at least 2 feet away from any other sticky notes. Then keep moving other like items into that group.”

“Feel free to move items into groups other people create. If, when reviewing someone else’s group, it doesn’t quite make sense to you, please feel free to rearrange the items until the grouping makes sense.”

“You’re to complete this step without any discussion of the sticky notes or the groups. Every item has to be in a group, though there are likely to be a few groups with only one item.”

Label the groups

Each participant then gets to label each group. This entails looking at the grouped job tasks and determining the common theme. Again, here’s how Jared instructs teams on this process:

“I want you to now give each group a name. Read through each group and write down a name that best represents each group on the new set of sticky notes I just gave you.”

“A name is a noun cluster, such as ‘Printer Support Problems’. Please refrain from writing entire sentences.”

“As you read through each group, you may realize that the group really has two themes. Feel free to split those groups up, as appropriate.”

“You may also notice that two groups really share the same theme. In that case, you can feel free to combine the two groups into one.”

“Please give every group a name. A group can have more than one name. The only time you’re excused from giving a group a name is if someone has already used the exact words you had intended to use.”

Note that part of the exercise in this step is to give one more consideration to the groupings. If, upon trying to determine a label one finds that the groups doesn’t actually make sense, the groups can be split up as needed.

I’ll add this caveat to Jared’s instructions. For purposes of this affinity group work, lots of different labels for each group of tasks are not important. It’s OK to go with one person’s good label for a group, a point to emphasize more strongly.

Here’s an example of labeling a group of job tasks:

Job tasks grouped

Once done, you’ve organized a solid group of job tasks into major themes for what customers are trying to do.

Calculate the importance and dissatisfaction score for each group

Remember asking the customers to rate the three most important and three least satisfied job tasks? Now it’s time to use those ratings. In each group, calculate the following for both importance and dissatisfaction:

  • Total points
  • Average points per task

For each group, you’ll have something like this:

Job task groups with scores

The Total score gives a sense for where the customer energy is. Large scores on either metric will demand attention. The Average score is good for cases where a group has only a few, highly scored job tasks. It ensures they don’t get overlooked.

Prioritize roadmap

You now have major groups scored with customers’ view of importance and dissatisfaction. Within each group are the tasks and expectations that customers have. This is the good stuff, the insight that fuels design efforts. It’s also the data-driven, factually based input that helps clear the fog when tackling a new area for development.

The expressed customer insight – what they want to do, what is important, what is not satisfied – becomes the foundation for constructing a roadmap. The team can layer on other considerations: business strategy, adjacent initiatives that impact the effort, internal priorities. Balance these with what customers actually value. Anything that ignores this hard-won customer insight needs a compelling reason, and an understanding of the higher risk it entails.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

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Latent needs are overplayed as an innovation dynamic

Reading this thought piece from the Silicon Valley Product Group, The End of Requirements, I saw this point about latent needs:

Unrealized needs (also called “latent needs”) are those solutions where customers may not even be aware they even have the need until after they see and experience the solution. Examples include digital video recorders, tablets, always-on-voice, self-driving cars, etc.

In other words, customers often don’t know what they want. This is essentially another version of the Henry Ford quote, “If I asked people what they wanted, they’d have said faster horses.”

I want to differ with the Silicon Valley Product Group here. People do know their needs, it’s incumbent on companies to understand them. Then it’s appropriate to try out ideas that can better satisfy those jobs. This diagram illustrates the two separate dynamics:

Decoupling customer JTBD from solutions

In their post, they use self-driving cars as an example of “latent needs”. Two issues with that. First, self-driving cars are not yet in the market, so it’s not possible to say that was a latent need, as described by the Silicon Valley Product Group. The second issue is that self-driving cars will actually address known jobs-to-be-done. I wrote a whole post on that, Exactly what jobs will self-driving cars satisfy? In that post, I outline several jobs-to-be-done and some key outcomes desired:

Job-to-be-done Outcomes
I want to get from point A to point B Minimize commute time | Minimize accident risk | Minimize commute risk | Increase driving enjoyment
I want to get work done Increase digital work completed | Increase availability for conference calls | Minimize distractions
I want to improve the environment Minimize emissions | Minimize fossil fuel consumption
I want to enjoy my personal interests Increase spent on activity | Minimize distractions

The point here is that these are not latent needs. Some are needs that people do not think about now in the context of commuting in a vehicle. But they are not latent needs.

I do agree there are some needs that can be hard to discover, or which become more important as societal norms and expectations change. Sure, there are some needs that are not obvious and may indeed become more visible in the face of a potential solution. But these are exceptions, not the norm.

Making product and innovation decisions based on the thought that, “Well, people don’t really know what they want” is a recipe for a lot of wasted effort. It’s not a sustainable basis for growth.

Agree? Or think I’m oversimplifying things?

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

What’s your view on customers’ value to innovation?

More and more, customer-centricity is becoming a thing. As in, an increasingly important philosophy to companies in managing day-to-day and even longer term planning. In comes in different forms: design thinking, social CRM, service-dominant logic, value co-creation.

But it’s not pervasive at this point. Companies still are spotty on how much they integrate customers into their processes. This is a revolution that will take some time to unfold.

In terms of innovation and product or service development, there is a spectrum of where organizations are today:

Quick descriptions of each point on the spectrum…

Customers have thoughts?: For these firms, customers are transactions. How will I know if I’m attuned to the customer? I look at my daily sales receipts. If they’re up, I’m attuned. If they’re down, I’m not!

Customers don’t know what they want: What was it Steve Jobs said again? Ah, yes: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Unlike the previous point on the spectrum, here, companies have considered that their customers have thoughts. They just don’t think there’s much point in paying attention to them. In a more charitable vein, Roberto Verganti cites companies that “make proposals to people”. While there’s no direct customer engagement, these companies build product intuition through trends changing other sectors. Unfortunately, many companies with the “customers don’t know” aren’t actually doing that either. It’s more someone’s whim defining the offering.

We respond to questions and issues: In this part of the spectrum, companies may proudly say they listen to their customers. Not too deeply though. It’s more a surface-level valuation of customer input. It doesn’t fundamentally change the company culture, or really draw customer insights more deeply into the organizational workings. The hip companies have extended this work out into social media. They monitor tweets, Facebook posts, Pinterest pins, etc. for complaints, questions and sentiment analysis.

We have a Customer Advisory Council: Take some of your best customers, and appoint them to a special panel that meets periodically during the year. Good forum for airing bigger picture issues. In this case, companies asttempt to more directly solicit customer input into their thinking. These sessions are good, because otherwise the only way customer feedback gets into an organization is during the sales process and then one-on-one with an account/customer rep. Insight gets trapped in a CRM account somewhere. While progressing on being attuned to customer insight, CACs are still siloed affairs. Many in the company have no idea what comes out of them. And they are removed from the day-to-day work that truly defines an organization.

We focus group new innovations we’ve already developed: As opposed to developing something and putting it out there, these companies work with focus groups to understand what is liked or disliked about an offering they have developed. This can be quite valuable done right, and becomes a direct conduit for customer insight into the company. The biggest problem here is that it’s after-the-fact: the product or service has already been designed. Now, in the lean startup methodology, this approach of develop and test is a core principle. In corporate land, focus groups may be less about test-and-learn, and more about affirming one’s pre-held views.

We solicit customer jobs-to-be-done: As part of their planning and design process, companies solicit customers’ jobs-to-be-done. They want to get a bead on customers are trying to accomplish with their products and services. This is no small feat. I’ve done this work myself, and it does take a willingness to open one’s mind beyond your own personal beliefs. But getting and using jobs-to-be-done in product and service design is a basis for better, more valued offerings to the market. Key here is not just engaging customers on their jobs, but actually incorporating that into design.

We gather customer ideas: Customers are using your offerings, and can see opportunities where new features and services would help them. While certainly product, R&D and marketing will come up with ideas on their own, what about the people who actually use your products? This is a form of open innovation. The amount of ingenuity outside your company walls dwarfs what you have internally. Key here is to solicit around focused areas for development, which makes using the ideas more feasible inside companies. Wide open idea sites can be harder for companies to process, as they don’t fit an existing initiative. Defined projects have a receptive audience and a commitment to progress forward.

We co-design with customers: The most advanced form of customer-centricity. Customers have a seat at the table in the actual development of products and services. This is, frankly, pretty radical. Their input guides the development, their objections can remove a pet feature favored by an executive. This is hard to pull off, as it is counter to the reason you have employees in the first place (“experts on the offering”). It requires a mentality change from being the primary source of thought to a coordinator and curator. Key here is deciding which customers to involve at what point in the process.

My guess is that most companies are still toward the left side of the spectrum, but as I say, it is a changing business world.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

Tweets Offer Little Value in Understanding Customer Needs

Social media. A rich source of insight and opportunity for companies. Why, it’s an article of faith that customers are talking…on their terms…where they want. So get out there and learn from them! See what this IBM executive says:

Companies that embrace social media as a source of insight will be rewarded. They’ll develop a deeper understanding of customer needs and will be able to attract new customers more easily. They’ll have a better shot at providing the products and services that the market wants – before the competition does.

It’s true, there are opportunities. But really, my sense is the opportunities lie on the marketing (read: sell) side of the house. Now social media occupies a large landscape. So how about narrowing focus, to Twitter. How useful are people’s tweets for customer insight? Specifically, giving companies a better handle on customers’ jobs-to-be-done?

tl;dr answer: Not so much. Lots of grousing about personal circumstances, and some silliness. But not much insight.

Saving and paying for college, in 450 tweets

Source: Mark J. Perry

To examine this question, I assumed the perspective of a financial firm trying to get a better handle on the “paying for college” jobs-to-be-done. In aspirational, emotional terms,  college continues to be a top goal of parents for their children, and of teenagers as well. In economic terms, colleges have an insatiable appetite for tuition increases.

Importance for our children, increasing costs, need to save. Surely, there are some unfulfilled jobs-to-be-done out there. So I turned to Twitter to see what people were talking about. What needs were they expressing? What insight on this topic?

To see what people are saying, I ran Twitter searches on three terms:

  1. college savings
  2. “saving for college”
  3. “pay for college”

I collected 150 tweets each for those three Twitter search terms (you can see them in this Google spreadsheet). With that data, I looked at (i) how many contained usable insight, (ii) what were the common words, and (iii) the collective sentiment.

Now, my research here is one of…oh say…a quadrillion possible customer insight areas to explore. Conclusions I draw here are not necessarily applicable to all areas. But it’s a good start.

Mining for jobs-to-be-done

Imagine you work for a large financial services company. You know in the U.S., people have put nearly $150 billion into 529 college savings plans. It’s a potent cocktail: lots of money; aspirations for, and symbolism of, a college degree; and escalating tuition. There have got to be opportunities to improve people’s lives here!

You want jobs-to-be-done, defined as people’s expressions of things they’re trying to get done in relation to saving and paying for college. Just what are they tweeting about out there?

You collect the tweets, and then categorize each tweet according to its value in understanding jobs-to-be-done:

  • No value
  • Points toward a job-to-be-done (a shadow of a job)
  • Direct expression of a job-to-be-done

In reviewing 450 separate tweets, here are the results:

Twitter search term No value Points to a JTBD Direct JTBD
college savings 137 12 1
“saving for college” 141 9 0
“pay for college” 150 0 0
Totals 428 21 1

Looking at those, you begin to understand the challenge of looking at tweets as sources of customer insight.

Tweets with no value

By far, the most prevalent case was that the tweets provide no value in understanding what jobs people are trying to get done. At least, no actionable value. Below are examples of these types of tweets:

Many tweets in the “no value” category were of this type. Honest, authentic? You bet. Fuel for developing new innovations in products and services? Not so much. I’ll admit that value may be in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps someone wants to target scholarship-winning kids to buy new cars. But for the financial services firm, looking for insight from customers, these tweets don’t help.

Note that many of the tweets in this category weren’t from real people. They were marketing tweets by institutions. Which makes it hard to just dig in to those tweets. First you need to separate the manufactured marketing tweets from the honest expressions of individuals. Welcome to the jungle.

Tweets pointing to a job-to-be-done

I’ll admit, this categorization sounds funny: “pointing toward” a job. What does that mean? Look at a couple examples:

The tweets are not themselves the jobs-to-be-done. But they reflect jobs, if you read them carefully. In the first tweet, Raeleen wants to contribute to the college fund of her nephew. The larger story is that family, beyond the kid’s parents, can be part of the college savings effort. Here’s a definition of the job-to-be-done:

Situation: When I am planning my child’s college savings…
Job: I want participation from family members and friends.
Success means: Increased savings from a broad cross-section of family and friends.

The job reflected in the second tweet is one of structurally managing the college savings apart from other savings and cash expenditures.

There weren’t a lot of these, and many of them were pretty obvious jobs-to-be-done. But in hunting for the elusive job-to-be-done in the wild, their gamey, tough meat was better than nothing.

Direct expressions of jobs-to-be-done

After going through 450 tweets, I was sure I’d find at least one person tweeting a job-to-be-done. Maybe dazed by collecting and analyzing that many, I settled on the one below:

I see here an emotional job-to-be-done. Namely, the feeling of accomplishment that one feels in preparing financially for college. That’s a feeling that should be built on. I can tell you, when my wife and I put money into our kids’ 529 plans, we get that sense of accomplishment. Something that a financial institution should plug into more strongly.

So that was a nice job-to-be-done. However, as I said, slim pickings in finding jobs-to-be-done in tweets. Which should make you question how much of the presumed insight waiting to be gathered out there is actually…there.

But I did run the tweets through a couple other analyses to see what they turn up.

Sentiment analysis

For all these tweets about saving and paying for college, how was the sentiment? Does the mood tell us something about the jobs-to-be-done? Or at least provide some form of insight?

I ran them through a couple different tools: Sentiment Analyzer and Sentiment140. Sentiment Analyzer analyzed the 450 tweets I had collected. Sentiment140 ran an analysis on the most recent 19-25 tweets it could find related to a search term. While the bases of tweets differed, the two engines came up with remarkably similar results. Sentiment140 is on top, Sentiment Analyzer is on the bottom of the graphic below:

See how the college savings tweets are strongly positive. The general idea of college savings is a positive one, as college is a very strong emotional element for us. We may have attended ourselves, with memories from that period, and we want our kids to go. Then see how the mood swings to a darker one when tweets contain the phrase “pay for college”. It’s as if the more ‘transactional’ the experience becomes, the more negative the mood gets. Another difference is that tweets about “pay for college” overwhelmingly were by teenagers and young adults, expressing frustration related to affording college.

For marketing purposes at least, this sentiment analysis may have value in targeting people in different stages of the college saving spectrum.

Word trends

Another area explored is the commonality of words in the tweets used. Do they reveal latent jobs-to-be-done? I ran the tweets through Wordle:

The Wordles do reveal some interesting patterns. When people tweet about college savings, the most common words are plan, account, day, get. In this case, day is driven by the timing of when I collected the tweets. May 29th was upcoming, and it was U.S. national 529 Day (get it? 5/29). The most frequent word plan certainly makes sense, and in some ways fits the positive sentiment seen earlier. Thinking ahead about what’s needed to pay for college.

Notice the most frequent terms switch to start, money, need, parents in the “saving for college” Wordle. Let’s focus on the transition from plan seen in the college savings Wordle to start in the “saving for college” Wordle. It’s a transition from a more abstract concept to a task that one must undertake. The vibe switches to a get-things-done mentality.

Finally, note what dominates the “pay for college” Wordle: money, gonna, help, stripper. You might look at that and say, “stripper”? First, note that I converted the various stems of strip in the tweets to a single word, stripper, so as to better capture what showed up in a lot of the tweets. Essentially, a number of people (female and male)  joking about becoming strippers to pay for school. I read these tweets as reflecting the steep costs of college, and teenagers/young adults not feeling like they have options to pay for it. A reflection of escalating tuition and cases where college savings were not available.

Usable insight on customer needs?

The title of this post highlights a particular aspect of insight that interests me: customer needs. On that score, I don’t find the tweets to be that valuable. As someone who is outside the financial services industry, I do find them to be gauges of what’s going on out there. An industry insider might already have a handle on what I discovered.

Here’s what makes tweets challenging to use for insight on customer needs:

  • Wide range to subjects: tweets run the gamut, even for a specific search term, and their volume makes it tough to sift through to find areas you want to explore
  • Odds are low that they’re speaking about core things they are looking to get done
  • People tweeting are not part of the market you’re seeking: for example, although there is $150 billion saved in U.S. 529 plans, these parents weren’t tweeting about saving and paying for college
  • Tweets have a one-off quality: follow-up and discussion to get deeper insights doesn’t happen

That’s my take. What do you think? Wouldn’t surprise me if others are seeing more value than I am. If you’re interested, you can check out the tweets I used for analysis on this Google spreadsheet.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

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