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The lockdown, Jobs-to-be-done and what you can learn from it

Quite symbolically the political authorities in Switzerland chose – of all the dates – Friday the 13th of march to proclaim that the lockdown will be put in place. A new situation for everybody.

After the initial turmoil a question started popping up at Vendbridge: What can we do to help people in this crisis?

Since we are experts in the application of Jobs-to-be-done we (virtually) sat down and discussed if Jobs-to-be-done could be helpful in this situation. From the discussions we had, there is something to learn that applies to everyone that tries to use Jobs-to-be-done thinking in a business context: Thinking in Jobs-to-be-done helps you discuss what the relevant subject of your project is.

In a nutshell, Jobs-to-be-done is the shift from thinking about solutions first to thinking about what people want to achieve first and solutions later: People don’t want drills, they want to furnish their rooms.

What do we mean by this? At the beginning of our discussion, just like any project we run, is the question of what Job we want to put at the heart of our project.

You might start with something like this: “To live a normal life during lockdown”. It is secondary if that is a well-formed Job statement or not. But one of the powers of Jobs-to-be-done is immediately visible: If this is the core Job we are going to look at, then we not only talk to people working from home but also kids, elderly people, etc. We also do not talk to people who are not affected by the lockdown (some businesses remained open). And the scope of themes we want to talk about is large: Almost everything falls under “a normal life”! But is this really what we want to cover? Is all of this interesting? To whom?

We quickly agreed that this Job was too broad. We needed to narrow it down and ask ourselves what the results of the project should be used for: For whom (in the sense of client) are we running the project? This question matters because it applies Jobs-to-be-done to itself: What’s the purpose you want to use Jobs-to-be-done for? You need to have that in mind when you start, otherwise, you get lost (here’s a tool to help you prevent that).

We knew that ultimately we were not going to be able to help those affected by Covid-19 even remotely, that’s nurses, doctors, and the many heroes keeping society afloat. But we could help companies that are now suddenly faced with almost 100% of their workforce in a remote situation. Once that was agreed to a whole set of possible Jobs to be looked at disappears from the discussion. Fixing this meant that we’re not going to look at “studying for school” or “getting medication”. All of these are great Jobs to be looked at, but not the relevant ones.

Sometimes the fact that we do not look at some Jobs makes people feel bad. It’s always hard to let go. But you cannot look at everything. That’s what focus means. Focus is about saying “Yes” to a few things while saying “No” to a lot of things. Think back to the purpose you want to achieve with your Jobs-to-be-done project and frame the Job you want to look at to this purpose.

Now that we know whom we want to help quickly a lot of distinctions between groups of people working remotely arise: team leaders vs. employees without team responsibility, customer-facing positions vs. not customer-facing positions, etc. Do they all have different Jobs or the same? Do we have to run a project for each of them separately or is there a hat that fits them all? Our clients often have the same kind of questions in their projects: What really are the distinctions between people that matter?

Again the Jobs-to-be-done logic thought trough helps tremendously to make the relevant distinction. The Job-to-be-done is what they all have in common, while the contexts they are in varies. All of the people that we now consider relevant for our purpose want to achieve the same thing: they work – many from a new location. Some of them from home, some in the office, some in cafés, etc. In other words: For the Job-to-be-done “To work” the office, the home, the café, the train, i.e. locations can be viewed as different solutions. What the lockdown has done is this: it forced a lot of people to chose their home as a solution to get the Job “to work” done. Usually, they chose (or had to choose) the office. They are all still trying to get the same Job done, but from a different place, i.e. using a different solution. And that is what we set out in march to understand: How good is the solution “home” for the Job “to work” – in comparison to the office, the café, the train, etc.

This is just the starting point and only a hypothesis. You have to go out and talk to customers to confirm or refute that way of thinking. And that’s exactly what we did – more on that will follow. But we hope that you can see how thinking in Jobs-to-be-done can help you discuss and define what the relevant subject of your project should be. Play around with different Jobs and as yourself what they imply: Who will you be talking to? What will you be talking about? Is all of that interesting or are we too broad? That way very early on your team is aligned and you will have a common understanding of what’s the signal and what’s the noise.

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