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  • 4 minute Read

A Ridiculously Simple Tool For Building Products People Love

What do Airbnb, Google, and Snap have in common? They know how to get their products “hired” for the job.

A Ridiculously Simple Tool For Building Products People Love
[Photo: Tom Werner/Getty Images]

I was a late adopter of Snapchat. When it first surfaced in 2011, I didn’t relate to its intended audience of college students who wanted to “chat” with photos that only lasted seconds.

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Fortunately for Snapchat, millions of others were savvier. They discovered a job that only Snapchat could fulfill. At the time photography apps focused on the presumed need to be high-quality, beautiful, public, and permanent. Snapchat showed us all that there was a market for the opposite. Its photos are silly, not sharable, and ephemeral.

Snapchat’s developers cracked the “job” their customers “hired” them for: to create a private persona that’s authentic and in the moment, and that you’d only share with friends. This is a subtle, but important, difference to the job people hire, say, Facebook or Instagram for: to create a staged persona for your internet social groups that’s discoverable by virtual strangers.

Identifying jobs people hire your product for is the basis of the Jobs to be Done theory of innovation introduced by Clayton Christensen. In 2011, Christensen shared a simple story about a milkshake that won me over to this approach. His client, McDonald’s, wanted to improve sales of their milkshakes. They started by creating personas of the typical milkshake buyer. A persona is a design tool to help a team get on the same page about who they’re designing for. Typically it’s a matrix of information about the buyer, their demographics, psychographics, social status, job title, and so on. Unfortunately, everyone buys milkshakes, so the more they learned about each buyer, the less they knew how to improve a milkshake. When they shifted their thinking and started asking what was causing a customer to buy a milkshake however, it became very clear how it could be improved.

For example, you might buy one to keep you full and occupied on a long commute, or to please your child, as a dessert after a movie. Each of these are very different jobs with different criteria, yet the buyer could be the exact same person in all three cases.

For more than a decade, most designers and design researchers like us focused on personas, the idea that by understanding the demographics, psychographics, and segments of your target audience, you’ll be able to design better products for them. I was once one of these designers. Nowadays more software companies, such as Airbnb and Google, realize that great products match with problems, not people.

At Intercom, we’ve spent the past five years rearchitecting our company with Jobs to be Done in mind. Initially it was a way to inform our product strategy. Now it informs our approach to everything from product design to marketing to sales and more.

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But most of what had been written about Jobs to be Done applied to milkshake and chocolate bar companies. So we created a framework of our own that works in a software setting.

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Our Framework

While it’s obvious you should be talking to customers frequently to try and understand their motivations, it’s not obvious what the best tool to do so is.

When we adopted the Jobs to be Done framework, we created the concept of Job Stories, a process focused on situations, motivations, and outcomes. Whenever we think about how to make improvements, our product, design, research, and marketing teams align on this simple statement:

The statement goes: [ When _____ ] [ I want to _____ ] [so I can _____ ]

“When ____” focuses on the situation, “I want to ____” focuses on the motivation, and “so I can ____” focuses on the outcome. When teams agree upon the situation in which people encounter a problem to solve, understand the motivation for solving it, and understand what a great outcome looks like, you can feel confident you’re building a valuable feature or product for your customers.

For example, Snapchat’s Job Story in 2011 might’ve been:

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When I’m experiencing something crazy/amazing/personal, I want to share that moment only with the right people and for the right amount of time, so I can share my life without compromising myself publicly or professionally. This is also why people tend to document a big night out on Snapchat instead of Facebook.

Meanwhile an additional job story in 2017, as Snap is about to go public, could be more business-oriented:

When I’m trying to use Snapchat to reach younger audiences, I want to know how many of those viewers have trialled my product so I can justify my advertising spend.

You can see how filling out this statement can provoke different ideas from what a persona of Snapchat advertisers might look like: consumer brands targeting 21 to 35 year olds.

Job Stories force teams to understand their problem so well that they can capture it in a concise format. It means their summary of the problem is actionable for all the design and engineering teams.

The Job Story is part of a one-page brief we create for every project (download a copy of the template here). It’s simple and must be completed in one printable A4 page. If you’d like a deep dive into how we’ve adopted the Jobs to be Done methodology, download a free copy of our book.

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