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6 Oct

Don't design faster horses.

"Why do you think people buy your coffee?," my friend asked me as I was enjoying a quiet cup with her on a Tuesday morning, right before I opened up my cafe for customers.

"Well, if you ask Sneha, my partner, she'd say it's because we have the best coffee out of all the cafes in the area," I said.

"Okay, and what about you? Why did you buy both of us this coffee today?" my friend replied.

"I suppose, in my case, it's because I just love coffee. I love the smell, the taste, the experience. And it sparks all kinds of happy memories — of traveling, being with friends, of memorable and important business meetings. Doesn't hurt that it gives me a kick of energy and makes me feel more alert. It's also great for facilitating a conversation. We are here together, and I feel like coffee is a great social ritual that people can bond over."

"It's interesting to see the way in which Sneha's answer is different from yours. Sneha's answer implies people buy your coffee because you sell great coffee. Whereas your answer hints at a more fundamental reason behind why people buy coffee in the first place. Obviously, I like your answer more."

"And why would that be?," I asked.

"Because Sneha has a product-centric lens for viewing the world. She thinks we have great coffee, therefore people buy it.

But products can't cause you to do anything. They are just a means to an end. There are always deeper forces at work that drive our purchase decisions. In some sense, the products we buy are a means to accomplish certain 'jobs' we are trying to get done. And when these jobs arise we look around for the best products or solutions to 'hire' to get them done — just like we might hire an Uber to get ourselves from point A to B or a plumber to fix a leaky faucet.

So, if you want to understand why customers do what they do, you have to first understand the jobs they're trying to get done. You have to view them through a job-centric lens and not a product-centric one."

"Aha, I see! So, in my case, the job, or 'jobs' I hire coffee for are for feeling happy, getting an energy boost, and acting as an excuse to sit down and have interesting conversations with people — like the one we are having right now."



In the foreword to the book Demand-Side Sales 101, Jason Fried (Founder – Basecamp) describes an interesting experience he had doing sales when he was fifteen.

He was working at a small shoe store in Illinois where his job was to sell shoes. As a part of his training, sneaker companies would send in representatives to teach salespeople like him about the new models. They'd talk about technical advancements like new breakthroughs in ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) which made the shoes more comfortable. They'd talk about flex grooves and heel counters and Texon boards. Insoles, outsoles, midsoles.

A sneakerhead at heart, Jason was often pumped to learn all the technicalities of how these shoes were made. But what he found out that when he communicated this same knowledge about the shoes to his customers, they would often leave without buying anything.

Then, he started observing what his customers were really interested in.

He noticed that when people browsed shoes on a wall, they'd pick a few up and bounce them around in their hand to get a sense of the heft and feel. People picked the shoe with their hands, and if it didn't feel good in the hand, it never made it to their foot.

He noticed that if someone liked a shoe, they put it on the ground next to their foot. They didn't want to try it on yet, they simply wanted to see what it looked like from above. And when they finally got around to trying on a shoe, they'd lightly jump up and down on it, or move side-to-side, simulating some sort of pseudo-physical activity. They were trying to see if the shoe "felt right."

They didn't care what the cushioning technology was, only that it was comfortable. It wasn't about if it "fit right," it was about if it "rubbed wrong" or "hurt" or felt "too hard."

He noticed that hardly anyone picked a shoe for what it was intended for. Runners picked running shoes, sure, but lots of people picked running shoes to wear all day. Lots of people picked shoes purely based on color. "I like green" was enough to turn someone away from a blue shoe that fit them better.

"Turns out, people had different reasons for picking shoes. Different reasons than my reasons, and far different reasons than the brand's reasons. Hardly anyone cared about this foam vs. that foam, or this kind of rubber vs. that kind. They didn't care about the precise weight, or that this brand shaved 0.5 oz. off the model this year compared to last. They didn't care what the color was called, only that they liked it (or didn't). The technical qualities weren't important-in fact, they were irrelevant."

This isn't something that happens only at sneaker stores. It happens everywhere a person is buying a product or a service. And average product managers at companies spend countless hours planning product roadmaps and features without ever asking,

"Towards what end are we building this?"

This is where the Jobs-To-Be-Done Framework (JTBD) can help.

The JTBD Framework helps product builders see beyond simple consumer demographic information and see the actual reasons behind why customers buy what they buy: what's the job/s they're hiring the product to solve.

It allows you to triangulate on the fundamental questions:

  • Why does someone hire my product? What job/s are they trying to get done?
  • What are the social, emotional, and functional dimensions of the job?
  • What obstacles need to be removed for users to accomplish their primary functional, emotional, and social job to be done?

And finally,

  • What are the features that my product needs to prioritize so that it helps my users do these jobs well?

If your product does those jobs well, your customers will keep hiring it. If it doesn't do them well, they will fire it and hire another product.

For example, the Harvard Business Review essay on the JTBD framework mentions an interesting case study about a real estate company in Detroit selling condominiums to retirees and single divorced parents. After failing to convert visitors, the company realized that what's stopping people from buying their fully furnished condos was their dining room table!

Yes, people got stressed about the thought of buying a fully furnished condo if they
didn't know what to do with the existing furniture that they were so attached to.

“I went in thinking we were in the business of new-home construction. But I realized we were in the business of moving lives.”

— Bob Moesta

It was only after these buyers were given two years’ worth of furniture storage and sorting room on the premises that they decided to buy. These furniture storage rooms allowed the buyers "to work slowly through the emotions involved in deciding what to keep and what to discard."

From this case, it is quite clear that the jobs people want to get done not only have functional, but even social and emotional dimensions. And identifying the JTBD allowed the real estate company to build a feature that helped their customers do the job of moving their lives well.

Here's how you craft a JTBD statement.

Action verb —> Object of action —> Clarifier


Apple Music's functional JTBD —>"Listen to music without buying the whole album."

Action verb: Listen (to)

Object of action: music

Clarifier: without buying the whole album

Paypal's functional JTBD —>"Transfer money to anyone in the world, immediately."

Zomato's functional JTBD —>"Eat great food from restaurants I love, without leaving the house."

Peloton's functional JTBD —>"Have a group of friends to exercise with, without going to the gym."

McDonald's Milkshake's functional JTBD —>"Have a convenient snack to pass time during my boring morning commute."

Likewise, products also have social and emotional JTBDs.

Apple Music's social JTBD —>"Share curated playlists of our favourite songs with my friends."

Apple Music's emotional JTBD —>"Relax by listening to some great songs on my way back home after a tiring day at office."

Zomato's social JTBD —>"Host a bunch of friends for a house party without worrying about preparing food."

Zomato's emotional JTBD —>"Use food to celebrate milestones and create happy memories with loved ones in the intimacy of my home."

"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford

As a product leader, you need to take a step back from setting timelines and discussing logistics for features and ask yourself the hard question:

Towards what end are we building the features we are building?

80% of shipped features never really get used or hit the mark. The JTBD framework helps you prioritize the top 2-3 features you absolutely need to deliver a delightful experience on, so that you have clarity and alignment across the team and have more space to create a product that is loved, not one that is simply considered one alternative among many.

Test your understanding of the JTBD Framework with Stoa Daily Challenge #4.

Help Mr. N. Chandrasekharan, CEO of India's oldest conglomerate, in making Tata Neu great again.

Test your wits by playing the challenge here.

We look forward to your responses. All the very best!



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