Posts Tagged ‘Product Management’

Social Jobs to be Done

January 19, 2018

I am a huge fan of Jobs to be Done theory (JTBD). It has really revolutionized my thinking about why customers buy a product, and what makes a product great. The founding principle of the theory is that customers don’t buy your product because they want your product, but because they have a job to do, and they think your product will help them. In thinking about the job that the customer is trying to do, the theory breaks them down into groups: Functional Jobs, Social Jobs, and Emotional Jobs.

The Functional Jobs are relatively easy – e.g. I need a cheaper way to get to work, or I would like to be able to check my email without carrying / starting up my computer. For functional jobs, we pretty quickly get to the kinds of performance metrics we are used to thinking about with products – the cheaper way to get to work might be satisfied by a car with better gas mileage, and checking my email might be satisfied by a smart phone or tablet. But what about the other two, Emotional and Social Jobs?

Christensen makes a point in his book to say that if the JTBD only has Functional components, then a person (or a computer) can quickly weigh the relative benefits, and there will be one obvious winner. All successful products will be forced to optimize to those dimensions, and you end up with a commodity. He wasn’t suggesting that there is no room for choice or variation in your product, instead he was highlighting the importance of thinking about the other two components present in most jobs. I think a lot of us, especially if we come from an engineering background, tend to ignore and misunderstand these fuzzier-seeming components of a customer JTBD. This is especially difficult when we try to understand the difference between an emotional job and a social job.

As I try to apply JTBD theory in my work, and teach it to the people on my team, this lack of clarity shows up pretty fast. My first advice to the team was “be aware that these factors are important, look for evidence of them in our customers, and capture them in our descriptions whenever we can”. In other words, take a swing at it, but we really don’t understand how to examine, much less compete in these areas. We could possibly be blind to two-thirds of the problem our customers are trying to solve!

So now I am collecting examples that I think help highlight social and emotional jobs, and the difference between them. Today, I was looking at Apple iMacs, and something along this line caught my eye. Look at this photo comparing a regular 27″ iMac with the iMac Pro.

There is a huge difference in price between the two computers, and the iMac Pro offers much a much more powerful range of CPUs, bigger storage, and (not shown in the picture) more memory and better GPUs. From a functional perspective, we can see the difference between the two computers. One is much more expensive, and much more powerful. I can decide if I need the extra capability, and whether it is worth the extra price.

Now notice the colors of the two computers. The iMac Pro is Space Gray, and comes with a matching Space Gray keyboard, mouse or trackpad. Why? It doesn’t have anything to do with the performance of the computer so it doesn’t solve a functional job for me (like enabling me to do advanced AI modeling). What about an emotional job? Maybe I just like the way it looks, so when I sit at my desk, I enjoy the aesthetic environment more? That makes sense, and we see that the laptops are offered in multiple colors to satisfy that emotional job. But why isn’t the regular iMac offered in multiple colors, so I can satisfy that job with either version?

I think Apple has limited the Space Gray to the iMac Pro to satisfy a social JTBD. When you spend that much more for a computer, you are probably doing it for a reason – you work on more advanced problems than most other people, or you can afford to buy the top of the line no matter the cost, or you are smart enough to know how to take advantage of the extra performance, or maybe the boss values you more than your colleagues. I work from my home office, so no one will know if my computer is Silver or Space Gray and there is not much social benefit to me of having that distinctive color. But imagine that I am a programmer or researcher or designer or video editor, and across all the adjacent cubicles and offices, there is a sea of 27″ silver computers. If mine is one of only a few Space Gray ones, it stands out as something different, something special, and by association, separates me as different and special.

A college professor once told me about an insurance company where all the employees had identical office furniture, right down to round trash baskets. Managers got square trash baskets. In this ocean of uniformity, the small differences were glaringly obvious. The professor said that if someone suddenly ended up with a square trash basket, other employees noticed and asked about when they had been promoted, and if they hadn’t been, accused them of some sort of social fakery for having a status symbol to which they were not entitled.

I don’t think Apple expects many people to buy the much more expensive Pro computer just to show off (although it seems inevitable that a few will be sold for this reason). I do think they made the Pro stand out visually as an extra benefit for these high-end customers. They are different / special / more valuable in what they do, and therefor what computer they choose (and how much they spend), and Apple wants to help them signal this to their social group.

When we are designing our own products, we should notice if the job our customer is doing when using our products is something that would elevate our customer’s social status, and look for ways to help them signal that to their social group.