guest blogger product management

Jobs to be Done Interview Tips for Product Managers

Guest Post by: John Kresse (Mentee, Session 7, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Chris Butler]

I prided myself on knowing my customers. I served teachers, students, and administrators, each group with specific product needs and goals. When I built a new feature, I knew exactly who would benefit from it and knew who to call for feedback.

But that was my old job in edtech. In my new PM role at a large B2C, I felt lost. I had many, many more customers (millions more), but no way of segmenting these customers into personas or roles like at my previous job.

When every book reader in the United States (I work at Barnes & Noble) is a potential customer, who do you build for? How do you conduct customer research and make feedback actionable when your customers vary greatly in their backgrounds? What do you when creating personas feels forced and unhelpful?

Enter Jobs To Be Done, a methodology that forgoes customer persona creation to instead segment markets and product opportunities around the different types of goals (jobs) customers use a product to achieve. At the center of this exploration is the JTBD customer interview, where the interviewer seeks to understand the arc of the customer’s journey, from the moment the customer realizes she has an unmet need, to looking for a solution, to purchasing and using that solution.

This post is not an overview of the JTBD methodology.  For a great introduction, download Intercom’s Jobs To Be Done eBook.  This is also not a comprehensive guide to JTBD style interviews. For a broad overview, read Alan Klement’s post and Jason Evanish’s playbook on the subject. In this post, I include three tips for product managers new to JTBD style interviews, written by someone (me) who just completed his first round of JTBD interviews.

Make sure you’re recruiting the “right” customers.

Who is the “right” customer to interview?  Simply put, he or she is the customer who exhibits the behavior you want to better understand.  In my case, since I wanted to explore potential differences in the customer lifecycle between in-store and online book purchases, the right customer was someone who purchased books both in a physical bookstore and online in the recent past.

I recruited users from an online community for readers, and as a screening tool to ensure interviewees had recently made in-store and online book purchases, I asked all interested participants to fill out a pre-interview survey.

Yet during the interviews, while my interviewees could easily recount the details of their last visit to a bookstore, they had difficulty describing their most recent online book purchase. They told the story of their last visit to a bookstore in great color, but summarized their last online purchase without much detail.

In hindsight, my recruiting strategy was too broad. I found readers, but not readers who make a lot of online purchases. Could I have worked with our CRM or membership team to find interviewees who had completed an online purchase in the past month?

Lesson learned: narrow your recruiting strategy so that you find customers who have explicitly completed the behavior you want to explore.

Writing your script: translate the JTBD moments into customer experiences relevant to your user journey.

In the JTBD interview, the researcher explores pivotal moments throughout the customer’s lifecycle to map the arc of the customer’s purchase decision. These moments can be generalized as:

  • First thought/identification of unmet need
  • Passively looking for a new solution
  • Actively looking for a new solution
  • Deciding on a new solution
  • Buying a new solution
  • Consuming the new solution

While these pre-defined customer moments can serve as a great foundation for your interview script, I found that attempting to rigidly fit interview questions into these generic moments made writing my script difficult.

For example, when I started writing my interview script, I crafted questions to pinpoint my customers’ “first thought/identification of an unmet need.”  None of the questions I wrote made much sense to book buyers until I translated the generic JTBD moment into something more relevant to my users: Why did you decide to visit a Barnes & Noble store on that particular day?

Same goes for passively vs. actively looking for a new solution. As soon as I translated these moments into “browsing the shelves” vs. “searching for a specific book,” my script felt much more natural.

And post-interview, mapping the responses of my interviewees to these translated moments helped organize and identify trends in their answers.

Conducting the interview: let the interviewee fill in the gaps.

In the JTBD interview, your goal to get customers tell you their story, to help them recreate how they discovered, decided to buy, and then consumed a product or service.

Yet as I learned in my first interviews, helping interviewees tell their story themselves requires patience on the part of the interviewer. When I listened to the recording of my very first interview, I heard myself asking leading questions that filled in steps of that prematurely moved an interviewee through her story.

Interviewee: “After the bookseller made her recommendation, I read the back cover of The Big Short and thought the book sounded interesting.”

Me: “Got it. So did you end up buying the book?”

“Interviewee: “Yep, I bought the book.”

But maybe the customer pulled out her phone, scanned the book’s barcode and read an online review online before they made the purchase. Or browsed another section of the store before meandering to the register. While I correctly predicted what the customer’s ultimate action, I potentially missed parts of the customer’s story that could have yielded valuable insights.

After my first interview, the simple question “What happened next?” became my best friend.  Even if the customer’s next step seemed obvious, when I used neutral questions that allowed interviewee to tell her story, I surfaced important moments that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Conclusion: Solving the job starts with the interview

I’ve used the job to be done framework to clarify for other members of our team the problem we’re solving for customer. But to make sure you’re solving for the right job, your analysis needs to be rooted in customer feedback gathered through jobs to be done interviews. Good luck with your interviews, and I encourage you to dig through the resources below for more!

Great JTBD resources for beginners:


About John Kresse

John KresseJohn Kresse is a mobile product manager at Barnes & Noble. John started in sales, transitioned to B2B product marketing, and now manages the mobile website for the largest bookstore in the world. He lives in New York City with his wife, Lori, and beautiful new daughter, Camille.




More About The Product Mentor

TPM-Short3-Logo4The Product Mentor is a program designed to pair Product Management Mentors and Mentees around the World, across all industries, from start-up to enterprise, guided by the fundamental goals…

Better Decisions. Better Products. Better Product People.

Each Session of the program runs for 6 months with paired individuals…

  • Conducting regular 1-on-1 mentor-mentee chats
  • Sharing experiences with the larger Product community
  • Participating in live-streamed product management lessons and Q&A
  • Mentors and Mentees sharing their product management knowledge with the broader community

Sign up to be a Mentor today & join an elite group of product management leaders!

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Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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