Jobs-to-be-Done in App Development: How to Build Products for Real Users

You can be the world’s best professional, but nobody will hire you if the profession no longer addresses the actual requirements of society.  Much the same can be said about any product, including software. Tech startups, even brilliant ones, stay ‘unemployed’ when they fail to perform jobs people really want to get done.

Most research shows that 50 to 75 percent of startups fail within 5-10 years, and zero market need is the number one factor to blame. In other words, a great number of innovations are unable to solve customers’ vital problems. The point is that in many cases these problems were not taken into consideration from the very beginning.

In terms of the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) approach, people ‘hire’ products and services to attain certain desired outcomes. You don’t want a frying pan — you want homemade pancakes. You don’t want a music streaming app  — you want to listen to your favorite songs, to organize them into playlists, and to share tracks with friends. So instead of studying products, companies should concentrate on capturing people’s unmet needs.

Focusing on the job is a starting point for designing in-demand software that will be appreciated not only by a group of tech geeks but by millions of users. In this article, we’ll focus on key rules and ideas that help our clients put the JTBD-theory into practice.

Outline the market around the job, not around the product

Products come and go, but customers still need the same tasks to be fulfilled. In this context, needs are constant while solutions that satisfy them are changing all the time.

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Back in 1844, Samuel Morse sent what is believed to be the first telegram in history. The innovative telegraph messaging system created a revolution in long-distance communication. It satisfied the people’s unmet need for a quick exchange of information.

In the 21st century, the telegraph was completely replaced by various technologies doing the same job  — long-distance messaging  — much better and faster. We have email, SMS, online chats and hundreds of easy-to-use messaging apps.  Apart from text exchange, innovative products allow users to share photos, to record voice and video messages, and to make calls. They constantly add new features and offer new ways to stay in touch with relatives, colleagues, and friends.

So chat apps are among the most-used software, with millions of people ‘hiring’ several messaging applications all at once. It seems that building another, slightly better version of a popular product will inevitably drive to success. But this conclusion is totally wrong from the customer-centric point of view. Without standout improvements, which address underserved needs, your innovation is likely to stay unnoticed.

Map out the customer job to reveal innovation opportunities

In 2008 Tony Ulwick, the well-known innovation expert, and his colleague Lance Bettencourt introduced the customer-centered innovation map. The core idea is that the overall customer journey always consists of the same simple stages, and at each stage you can interact with your potential users, engaging a larger audience.

Below we give an idea of how to divide a job process into stages, based on Tony Ulwick’s theory as well as on our own experience in developing software for startups. The description of each stage includes specific activities from your customers and possible innovations that will enhance your app and make your business stand out.

#1 Stage: Planning

At this stage your customers:

  • determine goals
  • choose an approach
  • plan the job
  • assess and select resources

To innovate, your company can:

  • help to narrow down the choice
  • make planning easier
  • offer a ready-to-use plan

Example: Using machine learning, the fastest-growing mobile booking app, Hopper, plans cheap travel routes and helps you save on airfare. So you don’t need to waste time planning your next flight and searching for affordable offers.

#2 Stage: Preparation

At this stage your customers:

  • collect information, tools and items needed to perform the job
  • set up a work environment
  • evaluate the quality of all components
  • make sure that everything is ready for executing the task

To innovate, your company can:

  • ensure that all tools are available when and where they are needed
  • offer pre-arranged sets of tools/features
  • create guides on proper arrangement of the environment
  • help to collect, organize and integrate the data
  • provide customers with full-length information to confirm readiness

Example: The Australian startup Muru quickly classifies and tags thousands of tracks uploaded to music platforms like Spotify or Beatport. Any new composition can instantly be found and recommended to music fans given their preferences and previous music experience. The technology allows users to automatically create personalized playlists that match an individual musical taste.

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#3 Stage: Execution

At this stage your customers:

  • perform the core job that makes this stage the most important and visible
  • pre-assess the quality of the job done

To innovate, your company can:

  • ensure the high quality of the output
  • minimize risks of problems and delays
  • get several jobs done at a time
  • guarantee that the job will be executed in different circumstances

Example: In 2017, the on-demand video streaming giant Netflix applied a new encoding algorithm enabling videos to take up less space. This allowed more efficient and smooth streaming in areas with poor Internet coverage.

#4 Stage: Monitoring and Modification

At this stage your customers:

  • check and evaluate results
  • share results with friends
  • decide what, where and when to change for better performance

To innovate, your company can:

  • track progress against the predefined goal
  • transform results into impressive graphics
  • update the app automatically
  • offer changes based on previous results

Example: The Nike + Run Club app tracks your running workout and customizes training plans according to your progress. After every run, the application prepares a new program and sets new goals.

#5 Stage: Completion

At this stage your customers:

  • save information
  • prepare to repeat or continue the job

To innovate, your company can:

  • offer automated backup and recovery
  • ensure smooth transition from the completed task to a new work cycle
  • enhance information security

Example: Google account allows users to synchronize bookmarks, preferences, history of recently closed tabs, and other settings across different computers, tablets etc., so you can continue working without lots of preparation from any device.

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Of course, this compartmentalization of the job process is quite rough and every stage mentioned above can consist of 2, 3 or more steps depending on the project's complexity. By constantly analyzing every stage, you can make them 1) faster, 2) easier, 3) more predictable and secure, 4) more effective, and 5) unnecessary. By capturing job gaps and translating them into improvements, you increase your chances for market success.

Create the job story

Jobs stories are another way to identify customers’ unmet needs. Invented by the Intercom team, the method allows focusing on the situation, motivation, goals and intended outcomes, rather than on buyer personas and user experience. The framework is quite simple:

When (performing the specific step)________,

I want to (achieve the goal) _______,

So I can (focus on the solution) ________.

Situation
Goal
Solution
Innovation
When chatting via a messaging app with my business partnerI want to keep financial details private and prevent leakageSo only two of us can read the textEnd-to-end encryption, secret chats (Telegram)
When taking selfiesTeenagers want to entertain themselves and their friendsSo they can get funny pics and share them on social media platformsFace swap filters (Snapchat)
When looking for a romantic partnerPeople don’t want to feel unwantedSo they can minimize the risk of rejection by getting connected with those who’ve already liked their profilesNotifications are made and chatting is allowed only in case of mutual attraction (Tinder)
When trainingI want my hard routine to feel easierSo the workout can entertain, not only make me healthy and strongTechnologies that bring together fitness and virtual reality (VirZoom)

Choose a winning strategy

Many companies combine job stories and job mapping to conduct a deep analysis of customers’ unmet needs. As a result, they have a detailed picture of the market outlined around the specific job, including its underserved, properly served and overserved segments. But it’s impossible to build a product that will satisfy hundreds of demands arising at different steps of the job execution. Don’t try to seize the unseizable – it's better to focus on two crucial points:

  • create your innovation around a limited market segment or a targeted set of unmet needs;
  • ensure that the job will be done significantly (20-30%) better than previous versions. Otherwise, you can hardly make the customers switch to your software from the app they are already using.
Type of market segment
Winning strategy
How to innovate
Highly underservedBreakthrough strategyDiscover new products to make jobs done significantly better
UnderservedImprovement strategyAdd the lacking features or improve the existing ones to get the job done better
Appropriately servedSustaining strategyDiscover new related jobs and get them done by adding new features to existing products
OverservedDisruptive strategyGet the job done in a totally new way and/or at a lower price, disrupting and throwing back the entire industry

Track why people are using new features

For further improvements, you should learn in what way and for what purposes customers are really using added features. The results of this monitoring can be unexpected, as it was with the Intercom’s shareable map. It proved popular with users, but the company’s marketing team couldn’t understand why.

The map allows you to see how many customers you have in a given region/country/city and where the majority of customers live. But other softwares perform similar jobs much better. The research revealed that users liked the design, not the functionality. They adored sharing the map through social media and showing it off during conferences or presentations. Knowing that, developers started working on easier shareability and a more impressive look instead of improving cartographical accuracy.

Summary

At the very beginning of this article, we mentioned that no market need is the number one cause for startup failure. To be more precise, 42% of failed businesses admitted this reason in their reports. Two other substantial factors, customer neglect and a lack of advisor or network, account for 14% and 8% cases of failure respectively. As was acknowledged in the post-mortem of the community management platform, eCrowds, “We spent way too much time building it for ourselves and not getting feedback from prospects — it’s easy to get tunnel vision. I’d recommend not going more than two or three months from the initial start to getting in the hands of prospects that are truly objective.”

JTBD appeals directly to customers’ requirements and makes you respond to actual problems. By incorporating this approach, you’ll minimize the risk of being unwanted in the market. Our specialists are ready to give you further expertise on the matter. Let’s launch a game-changing app together!

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