What job are people hiring your product to do?

I am a product guy, dating back to my days as a design student at Stanford.

I’ve been a fan of Clay Christensen ever since “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” and even interviewed him for the student newspaper when I was a Harvard Business School student.

Which is why I’m shocked that I hadn’t heard of Clay’s “Jobs Framework” for designing products until tonight.

I ran across this framework in a post on the Intercom blog:

This was a popular post that made the front page of Hacker News, but I suspect that most people didn’t drill down and learn the details of Clay’s framework.  Here’s what the post had to say:

“At Intercom, we’re working with Clay Christensen’s Jobs framework for product design. We frame every design problem in a Job, focusing on the triggering event or situation, the motivation and goal, and the intended outcome:

When _____ , I want to _____ , so I can _____ .

For example: When an important new customer signs up, I want to be notified, so I can start a conversation with them.

This gives us clarity.”

This is a pretty cool summary, but it doesn’t capture the real magic of Clay’s thinking.  Instead, you should watch this 4-minute YouTube video of Clay explaining:

It seems that a fast food chain had spent a lot of money researching their milkshake buyers, had done surveys, and made a bunch of changes…which had zero effect on sales.

Clay’s insight is that we “hire” products to do certain jobs. The researchers found that 40% of the milkshakes were bought before 8 AM, by solo customers, who immediately drove off in their cars. When they questioned the customers, they realized that the milkshakes were being hired to do two things: 1) Give the customers something fun to do during a boring morning commute, 2) Keep them from getting hungry mid-morning, and 3) Accomplish this while letting the customer keep one hand on the wheel at all times.

The alternate foods (bananas, bagels, candy bars, donuts) were all harder to eat, didn’t last as long, and often didn’t prevent mid-morning hunger.  The answer was to focus on making the milkshakes more entertaining (e.g. with various mixed in fruits and treats).

As Clay puts it in Harvard Business Review:

“Pierre Omidyar did not design eBay for the “auction psychographic.” He
founded it to help people sell personal items. Google was designed for
the job of finding information, not for a “search demographic.” The unit
of analysis in the work that led to Procter & Gamble’s stunningly
successful Swiffer was the job of cleaning floors, not a demographic or
psychographic study of people who mop.”

What job are people hiring your product to do?

1 thought on “What job are people hiring your product to do?

  1. Agreed. It's such a powerful way of thinking.

    Thanks for the video link. Had read the HBR article but hadn't seen the video.

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