How User Needs Drive Product Innovation
Lina Breslav
Lina Breslav

How User Needs Drive Product Innovation

Lina Breslav, UX Researcher

Impactful product innovation can seem like magic. Unfortunately, many innovation projects rely on generating ideas by gathering smart people in a room together to ideate. In contrast, the concept of Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) is a way of thinking about innovation that relies directly on user needs. For us, the biggest advantage of Jobs-to-be-Done has been a mindset shift, democratization of ideas, and team alignment around user needs. JTBD naturally eliminates the ideas-first tug-of-war. To hear a broader overview of how Jobs-to-be-Done works before jumping into detail, watch Episode 1 of Creating Premium — A Product Innovation Guide.

For us, the biggest advantage of Jobs-to-be-Done has been a mindset shift, democratization of ideas, and team alignment around user needs. JTBD naturally eliminates the ideas-first tug-of-war.

Everyone Approaches JTBD Differently

As powerful as it is, JTBD is simply a way of thinking about innovation that relies on understanding user needs. It is not a specific process to implement on your project. Accordingly, organizations have constructed different processes to meet their needs. In Outcome-Driven Innovation, a popular application of JTBD, Tony Ulwick of Strategyn prioritizes opportunities by uncovering user needs and desired outcomes. Intercom has created another application of the theory that relies on job stories as an alternative to personas and traditional user stories. Other applications, like this one at Udemy, integrate personas and customer journeys into the process. Because we are a product agency, we evaluate each project independently and construct a research plan that aligns with our partners’ businesses and available resources. Despite these differences, the goals of each process are similar: uncover user needs and prioritize them to understand the best opportunities.

Create a Research Plan that Suits Your Project

A JTBD-driven research plan aims to gain the clearest picture of user needs and prioritize opportunities. Though there is no fixed set of activities, qualitative methods help generate the necessary range of information to prioritize via quantitative methods. To this end, the main JTBD-driven qualitative research method is usually the in-depth interview. There are different possible interview types (e.g., the Switch Interview; the Outcome-Driven Innovation Interview). However, your interview questions will usually be informed by what you need to learn in order to test quantitatively against a representative sample of your users.

In addition to in-depth-interviews, I encourage researchers developing a JTBD-driven plan to consider other methods outside of a lab setting. Depending on your project, some methods you might consider are ethnography, diary studies, and/or contextual inquiry. It’s useful to consider these if context is critical to understanding the market you’re targeting (often true). In short, establish the qualitative portion of the research plan in a manner that serves your own purposes and helps you deeply understand a range of user needs.

In short, establish the qualitative portion of the research plan in a manner that serves your own purposes and helps you deeply understand a range of user needs.

Consider a Mixed-Methods Approach

Many JTBD-driven research processes are mixed-methods, meaning qualitative methods help generate an initial range of user needs while quantitative methods help prioritize findings and uncover best opportunities. The quantitative methods you choose will be dependent on many factors, but most often you’ll be deploying a survey to a representative sample of your users. Your qualitative findings will inform your survey, and it should be written to serve the types of analyses you’ll be applying to your data later on.

Depending on your research plan, there are a number of activities that can help you get the results you need to better understand potential opportunities. One of the most straightforward and powerful options is quadrant analysis. Quadrant analysis can be used to graph responses on a matrix in order to understand where opportunities lie. Importantly, it can also help you eliminate possible directions that won’t help your users get their “jobs” done. Sylvia Brown’s (of New Market Advisors) JTBD-driven quadrant analysis method simply displays relationships between job prevalence and job importance (on a Likert scale) to identify best opportunities. For example, if respondents indicate that something is a top job and highly important, this relationship can be visualized in the “top priority” quadrant.

Sylvia Brown — Quadrant Analysis

Credit: Sylvia Brown

Outcome-Driven Innovation includes a similar version that takes the analysis a step further. Ulwick calls this the “Opportunity Landscape”, which visualizes underserved, appropriately served, and overserved user needs. For example, a promising opportunity could be one where respondents have “highly important” needs that aren’t well-served by current solutions.

Tony Ulwick — Opportunity Landscape

Credit: Tony Ulwick

In both cases, the resulting map will direct you to your most promising opportunities while eliminating those that will have a much smaller impact.

Constructing a research plan around JTBD is not easy or straightforward, which is why there are so many organizations with different processes. Many JTBD resources aren’t written for user researchers or digital products in mind (Intercom’s process is a good exception). However, we have found it to be a rewarding and worthwhile exercise. Here at Prolific Interactive’s Durham office, the concept of Jobs-to-be-Done helps us fulfill our mission: solve meaningful problems to create measurable value for users.