Skills for product managers to deeply understand customers’ problems and goals
Today we are talking about how to understand what provides value to customers by giving them what they need to solve a problem or complete a task. Clayton Christensen described this as the job to be done.
It is a topic our guest, David Duncan, knows well, as he co-wrote the Jobs-to-be-Done book Competing Against Luck with Clayton Christensen and has more recently written The Secret Lives of Customers: A Detective Story About Solving the Mystery of Customer Behavior. Dave is a managing director at Innosight, where he helps leaders of organizations create customer-centric teams and innovation strategies.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:05] How did your experience earning your PhD in physics equip you for your current work in innovation?
I studied physics because I was fascinated by the subject and motivated by a desire to understand things deeply. Later, I moved into business and now work at Innosight, where we help companies figure out how to innovate more effectively. My background in physics helped me become a better problem solver and a better and more quantitative thinker. It gave me literacy in technology-related topics that enabled me to understand what different companies do. Science and engineering are at the heart of a lot of great innovation.
[4:00] What does your new book The Secret Lives of Customers add to Jobs-to-be-Done knowledge?
One of my goals was to create a broadly accessible book. The Secret Lives of Customers teaches anyone in any role in any organization the concepts, tools, and techniques they need to understand customers confidently. I put Jobs-to-be-Done in the broader context of the problem it solves—effectively understanding customers.
Another goal was to assert the approach to JTBD I and others at Innosight have learned and developed over the years. The book also includes some new tools and frameworks including how to apply Jobs in strategy, as well as product development and innovation.
[7:18] Tell us about your book’s narrative format.
The Secret Lives of Customers is a fictional detective story. One of the main characters is a market detective who tries to understand customers in market investigations. The reader learns about the tools and techniques he’s using. This format was much more fun to write, and I hope it’s more fun and engaging to read. It’s best to learn to understand customers by watching someone have a conversation with them, reflecting on what you observe, trying it yourself, and getting feedback.
[10:51] Why should product managers think of themselves as market detectives?
In the story, I use market detective to describe a person who is aspiring to understand customers. The book emphasizes one-on-one customer conversations, which is the foundation of all other customer research techniques. One-on-one interviews are often the most valuable technique you can use and almost always relevant to every use case. They enable product managers to hear directly from customers, develop products that are more connected with their jobs-to-be-done, and develop features that reflect an understanding of not just their functional jobs but also their emotional and social jobs. You can make better prioritization decisions about which products to work on and minimize the temptation to be product-led rather than customer-led.
[13:08] As market detectives, what are the three competencies we need to have to put Jobs-to-be-Done in place?
You need to learn a language, a method, and a mindset to confidently understand customers.
Almost every discipline has its own vocabulary, but surprisingly there isn’t a standard, widely accessible language that guides interactions with customers. We need a language that guides us to ask the right questions that lead to the right insights at the right level of detail. The right questions are those that help you understand what really matters to customers—their problems, their goals, and the jobs they want to get done.
Once you have the language to ask the right questions, you need a method for discovering, organizing, and interpreting that information. The core thought process for understanding customers includes four questions: What are the customers’ circumstances? What are their jobs-to-be-done? What are they doing today to accomplish their jobs? How do they evaluate quality solutions for those jobs?
Finally, you need the right mindset to apply the language and method. Be genuinely interested in the person you’re talking with. Be authentic and willing to share some of yourself in the conversation. Go into the conversations with a beginner’s mind—set your assumptions aside and be receptive to being surprised.
[18:24] Can you share an example of using the right language to understand the job the customer is trying to accomplish?
The Secret Lives of Customers is set in a coffee shop, which people hire for diverse jobs. A student goes to the coffee shop after class to do homework. A travelling businessperson uses the wifi at the coffee shop to send emails. Other people hire the coffee shop to socialize, meet new people, take a break, or treat themselves. The power of the Jobs lens is that it shines a light on the nuances of those different jobs.
[24:28] Tell us more about the method.
The method is not a list of questions you should ask. Rather, it helps you focus on what you’re trying to learn in the conversation. Be interested in people and curious about them and their problem. People get wrapped up in apprehension about customer interviews, but it’s far better to just go talk to someone than to overprepare and worry. When you have a conversation, you need to recognize when you learn something useful. The method helps you distinguish between questions you’re trying to answer and questions you’re going to ask. You’re trying to answer questions like, What are their jobs-to-be-done? What circumstances in their lives influence those jobs? How do they think about current solutions for those jobs? You don’t have to ask them those questions, but be alert to that information as you have a conversation. The best customer conversations are a series of prompts to get the conversation going, rather than a Q&A. With the compass of what you want to learn, you can lead the conversation to whatever you’re trying to accomplish.
[28:16] Tell us more about the beginner’s mind and how it applies to JTBD.
The beauty of Jobs-to-be-Done is that is forces you to have a beginner’s mind. It decouples you from the solution you’re selling and orients you toward the customers’ concerns, problems, and goals.
Action Guide: Put the information Dave shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Learn more on Dave’s website, MarketDetective.com
- Check out The Secret Lives of Customers on Amazon
- Connect with Dave on LinkedIn or Twitter
- Learn more about Innosight at Innosight.com
“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.