Find the real “jobs to be done” by analyzing what prospects do

Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash

Why do people buy a new solution? They are often dissatisfied with an existing way of solving their problem, need to solve a new problem, or see something brand new that looks cool. Clayton Christensen calls this search to find a substitute product “looking for a job to be done.”

People don’t simply buy products or services; they pull them into their lives to make progress. We call this progress the “job” they are trying to get done, and understanding this opens a world of innovation possibilities. (Christensen Institute)

The Jobs To Be Done framework is a way to enable the buyer to explain the purpose that caused them to buy new software. It also lets the selling company better align the underlying work required to match the capabilities that the company offers through its software to the real work the buyer needs to be done. We call it a “Job to Be Done” because like a person you would hire to do this work, you have specific requirements and a way to fulfill them to feel satisfied that this software is a good fit to solve this problem for your organization.

The “job” in the case of software often spans the needs of multiple people:

  1. the person who immediately needs the job to be done (and who would otherwise be using some other substitute to finish the work)
  2. the other people in the organization who work closely with that person and supply inputs and receive outputs from that person
  3. the economic buyer who is deciding whether or not to purchase

On the surface, this software buying process seems relatively straightforward. It’s often messy because it’s informed by people indicating what they want to do, not always duplicating what they’ve done in the past. The “software” is really a stand-in for the match between the buyer’s idea of the capability needed and the seller’s assessment of how to match the software to that result.

The team at Intercom created this buyer journey diagram to track the experience of a prospect from initial awareness through consideration to buying and beyond. It does an excellent job of summarizing the timeline for that journey in terms of the stages the customer transits.

Intercom on “Jobs to be Done”, p.18

What’s missing from this diagram? The process the customer is using today to get the work done, or their description of the process they propose to get the work done. The critical path to deciding what will be good enough to “hire” your product for the Job to be Done is not always described by the job to be done.

Challenges with the Jobs to Be Done Framework

Frameworks are tools and are not complete playbooks for every situation. We know this to be true because the results are not consistent across the board among teams that are trying to innovate. For example, “84% of global executives reported that innovation was extremely important to their growth strategies, but a staggering 94% were dissatisfied with their organizations’ innovation performance.” (“Know Your Customers’ ‘Jobs to Be Done’”, Harvard Business Review, Sept 2016)

What’s the real driver of innovation? Some combination of a good frame, willing and effective facilitators, and people in the organization who want to change. John Cutler, a product evangelist at Amplitude, writes: “You want a framework that describes what people should do when they should do it, and how they should do it.” But that doesn’t usually work, as Cutler describes in this article.

TBM 39B/52: Crawl, Walk, Run, and the Fragility of Frameworks(opens in a new tab)

What’s really going on here?

Change management (the selection of a new product) requires people, process, and technology to be coordinated to select the right job to be done and the product to do it.

People overweight the benefits of the solution they have. Innovators overweight the value of their solution. Multiplying these factors gives you a need to produce a really big change to nullify these effects. Gourville’s “Eager Buyers, Stony Sellers” explains it this way:

Gourville’s “Stony Buyers, Eager Sellers” from Intercom’s Jobs to Be Done

The process that you follow works when you focus both on breaking through the resistance of the existing solution and identifying the results you need to call the job done. These results are not usually bound by technology, but by the prospect’s belief that you can solve the problem better than they are doing today. To build this trust, you need a safe place for people to explore while getting fast feedback.

This is hard because it’s a leap of faith. For people who want to get their hands dirty and do the work themselves, it means giving them enough access and skill in the platform to prototype a solution and make it work. For people who are not going to do the work themselves, they need to gain confidence that the proof of concept you are building during consideration.

Buyers need to know why the new thing is better. They need to know they can solve the problem they set out to resolve. And they need to stop worrying about the things that could go wrong.

How to find the real Jobs to be Done

Given the constraints that make it hard to follow a framework perfectly, what should you do to enable your prospect (and your sales team)? The prospect needs the space to explain how they want the problem to be solved. You need to know how to translate these requirements into tangible tasks that you get done in your software.

To find the real Jobs to be Done, you need to remove barriers and objections from the prospect.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Prototype a proof of concept similar to the desired solution: if possible, use something that already exists as a model
  2. Build in a low-stress environment: don’t write changes to any production system
  3. Prove that you can deliver the result as a proof of concept: produce the result you want to see in production, and do it in a sandbox

When you demonstrate a solution to the buyer that uses their data, looks like a solution they would use, and delivers a favorable result? That’s the Job they want Done.

What’s the takeaway? Jobs to Be Done is a helpful framework to think about delivering results for the prospect while making software selection a buyer-centric process. The framework alone won’t do the trick: you need to align the prospect’s needs with the solution to overcome the 9x effect.

What is Data Operations and why should I care?

How do you define the world of Data Operations or more broadly, the importance of data in a revenue organization?

Most people start by looking at the data points itself (e.g. data quality), then the coordination of data between teams (e.g. data compliance and governance) and don’t always mention what I think is a key element: the motion created by people in different departments using shared data to drive shared goals.

Data operations is the intersection of these different actions and the role of activating, aligning, and shaping this data to facilitate the rest of the organization’s work. Most of the time it’s only noticed when it’s not working.

Here’s a sample visual of how data operations relates to the rest of the business:

You Need Data To Run Your Business

You need to identify key data points to run your business. These markers are going to be different in each business, but they need to provide a North Star that everyone looks at to see how things are going. Is it 12-month trailing Revenue? Is it the New Customer Count? Is it churn rate? Is it initial signups?

It’s probably going to be some combination of the above that forms the basis of weekly, monthly, and quarterly conversations to see how you’re doing. These ought to be things that can be easily tracked, are relevant to the business, are specific enough to act on, and not too hard to create.

Once you have the “North Star” metrics, each department has sub metrics (inputs) that they track to control the part of the business they influence.

Examples of these include:

  • Sales Development Representatives track new meetings
  • Customer Service reps track happy and sad customers
  • Product teams track shipped features
  • and Salespeople track closed-won deals

Making these inputs work together to tell the story is the reason we align data between systems. If you can’t compare the outputs from one department to another, it’s a bit hard to make sense of how the business is doing.

Activity != Communication

Have you ever seen a situation where one department is hitting metrics and another department wonders what they are doing?

This could be the result of activity without communication.

A good metric measures activity and suggests progress toward a shared goal. A great metric is understood by the whole company because it is either easily matched with a shared goal or is accompanied by continued communication about the achievements of that team.

Activity on its own can look like a rocking chair: measuring energy and movement but not going anywhere in reality.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

The Traffic Light Theory of Communication

If you’re familiar with this problem, you are likely the person who knows the most about your data and what it means on a microscopic level. You also intuit that your boss knows somewhat less detail about the data, and their boss a bit less.

So how do you make this information relevant? You need to have a shared understanding, something like “this measurement means we’re green, this one means we’re yellow, and this means we’re red” to help the rest of the business orient to the information you know in detail.

Think of this as a A/B testing of your message to other departments within your company. If they don’t understand the importance of things you think are important, they literally can’t speak to you (and you to them) on the same level on business data where you need to collaborate.

If your idea is not simple, make it simpler. It needs to be a 30 second pitch – 1 to 2 sentences that almost anyone in the company will comprehend and then have an idea how to relate what they are doing to the data you’re sharing.

The Company Needs You to be Right … When Asked

Activity + Communication = the potential to be right. Now, which problem are you solving? Hopefully it’s one the company needs you to solve. Urgent and important problems are the ones to focus on here, not just the loudest or the biggest problems. This might mean keeping a list of the “things to solve next” to avoid getting distracted from the things you need to solve right now. By the way, the things you need to solve right now might not be the most interesting. But they are probably the most important.

When you get asked? That’s the time to shine. Take your metrics, your activity, the relevance to the situation, and the demonstration that the effort will make a difference to the company’s bottom line. That’s the recipe for a winning project.

What’s the takeaway? It doesn’t matter if you have a great metric if no one knows what it means or how it will help your company.

Every data picture tells a story

Recently, an image about data went viral on Linkedin. This grouping of LEGOs, organized by Mónica Rosales Ascencio, uses these colorful bricks to remind us that data itself is not all that useful until we explain it.

from @rskudesia on Twitter

That Lego meme has been going around as a way to explain why data or story alone do not tell a good data-driven story. Here’s another version from Reddit that reminds us that the story itself needs to have a hook or a reason for the reader to believe to make it meaningful.

Designing your story so that it conveys a “why” is even more important than writing the story. Who’s the intended audience? What do they want to learn? Why should they be paying attention to what you have to offer?


Where is this evident almost every day? In slides, visuals, decks, presentations, and whatever we call them these days.

What you want to do in slides

In slides that you are building to share ideas, have one idea per slide. Really. That it’s it. Everything should flow from the idea and be immediately obvious to the person you’re asking to review it.

One way to do this is to have a single thought accompanied by a beautiful image. Yes, a great image is worth a thousand words, partly because we process visual information so much faster than hearing or reading and translating words into feeling and action.

For your next slide presentation, think very mechanically at first on every slide about the following:

  1. What’s the point of this slide (the one thing you need them to take away
  2. What is your supporting evidence (yes, the #data.)
  3. How are you illustrating that data to prove your point?
  4. Now, think of a one line elevator pitch you would give if you were in the room with someone reviewing your slide. That’s probably your title.
  5. Next, think of any reasons the person reading the title of your slide might see something else on that slide and not feel the information is congruent. Fix those things.

Of course excellent grammar and consistent tone and voice are important. But also avoid font crimes (you only need one or two fonts and two or three point settings in most illustrations).

(A bonus pet peeve: align your objects. Left aligning, center aligning, horizontal or vertical – just make it all align to a grid. Future you will thank you.)

Need some great examples?

What you don’t want to do in slides

There are many negative examples of what not to do in Powerpoint. This is one of my favorites, exhibiting what Lincoln might have used to share the Gettysburg Address.

The Gettysburg Address as Slides, by Peter Norvig

Here are a few rules to avoid in your slides.

Don’t tell everything in a single slide. Don’t provide endless detail in a slide. Don’t use a million fonts, colors, and sizes in a slide. Just the facts, presented in a clear and concise way, with one idea per slide.

Telling the story of your data

What’s the one thing you want someone to get from your slide? Does your data back that up and bolster it, while staying easy to understand?

Telling the story of your data is not always straightforward, even if the data seems like it makes sense to you at the time. Start with the idea, then point to the information.

If your data is contradictory, lead with questions that you want to resolve to move forward. Ultimately, the goal of using data in a story is to drive a decision.

What’s the takeaway? Stay simple when you make slides. Focus on one idea that you want to bring home, and align your data (or call out inconsistencies in your data) to bolster that idea.

A modest proposal for Slack Overload

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

How do you keep up with these Slack communities that are out there?

For many of us, opening Slack creates an overwhelming feeling of “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out). When all of the channels light up with notifications, you collapse the channel view, mute the channel, or just close Slack altogether. But wait! You’re missing out!

You could read everything. That’s not very effective, especially if you belong to multiple communities that post a lot.

What are some potential solutions to keep in touch with a community and avoid information overload? Closing Slack is one option and leaves you out of the loop. Setting up notifications to message you on certain topics is a blunt force instrument. Customizing the settings on each Slack community you join is too much work.

Why is Slack difficult to use? Here are a few reasons.

  • It all looks like a text “waterfall”. When you log in to a Slack community with lots of members, you often see many messages and need to choose whether to skip reading or “backscroll” and read them all.
  • What are people talking about? Because there’s no topic clustering, it’s hard to determine the larger themes in a group of messages. 
  • Channels have no inherent context. There may be a channel topic but people tend to talk about anything. The topic doesn’t limit the messaging or provide suggested guardrails.
  • Search is, at best, minimal. Good luck searching that message you remembered from a few days ago. If you limit your search to a particular channel, you will also limit your ability to search for it elsewhere.
  • All Slack instances look the same. The good news is that if you’ve used Slack before, you know how to use Slack. The bad news is that you might not remember which instance you’re using. The only clear differentiator by default is the logo, the url, and the channel names. This can get even more confusing if you know people in multiple slack communities and communicate with them in more than one place.

The cognitive overflow of using multiple channels and messaging services is real. So what could we do to make communities like Slack easier to use?

Solutions to this problem would increase the signal for interesting messages but boosting them somehow in your feed. It would also be great if Slack made it easier to find relevant information and related topics to your posts.

Slack has the API to make this happen. What could we address with a bot that aggregated information to help message overload?

Here are a few suggestions to make community involvement more effective in a noisy Slack community. These solutions could be addressed with an aggregator bot in Slack – I’m not as familiar with technology in other community services like WhatsApp or Microsoft Teams, but don’t think they are quite as open as Slack’s API.

I’d like to solve these problems that occur in busy communities:

  • What were the active conversations I missed? A feature might review conversations and Identify the “most active conversations” in a time period from the channels where you are a member, linking you the top 3 in the last 24 hours or a larger time frame if the community is quiet.
  • What did these conversations reference? Identifying the relevant topics from active conversations would be very useful. Also, it would neat to have a topic map of all of the public channel conversations in a community. Think of what Roam Research is doing to identify entities in individual documents and you’ll have an idea of what you could do to auto-tag conversations or channels with topics.
  • Is the conversation changing over time, and how are the relevant topics changing? If you tracked the most active topics in conversations and channels over time you’ll have a map of topic change in a channel and start to see the things that matter to a community
  • How do I find a complicated answer without using exact text, like “when was the last time we talked about pricing” – mapping topics will help search by adding context to the conversation
  • Is there a way to flag information for curation in real time? If you have a simple bot that is a member of of a public channel, you could use emoji signalling to mark “this post is great” or “this post is making me angry” or simply analyze the map of reactions that happen to a post
  • Can I make search work better? Because search is fragmented, use the user’s credentials to search multiple channels and return by active conversation or by topic map
  • What happened this week? Because all instances look the same, make it memorable. Send an opt-in daily or weekly digest with a way to the day’s or week’s news. If you gave admins the ability to add content to the summary before it’s sent, this would give you another place to curate news.

Slack isn’t the only place where this happens, and it is one of the most accessible to automate. 

Here are a few teams working on this problem today (August 2020)

  • Get Lowdown is building daily digests of Slack;
  • Obsidian is creating a local graph database for notetaking and building a plug-in architecture for other apps as well;
  • Roam Research is creating auto-linking discovery and entity matching based on your notetaking; 
  • Scorebot is a Slackbot that measures and tallys emoji reactions to posts using a point total 

Look up a list of items and return matches in Google Sheets

Anyone who’s spent time in spreadsheets dreads receiving that request to match a random list of things with another of list of things. Right? Except when you are used to using VLOOKUP. That tried-and-true method is very good at finding a match in a list against a another (usually longer) list.

But what happens when you need to do multiple VLOOKUP-like requests at the same time, say when you have a list of Student IDs and need to look up a list of corresponding names?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could do that in only a single step instead of multiple columns, tabs, and a long process?

Luckily, there’s a trick you can use in Google Sheets to take those multiple lookups and turn them into a single formula.

TL;dr – Matching each item in a list against another list

the answer in case you don’t want to keep reading – get the Google Sheets example here.

Why does this matter, anyway?

Looking up a list one item at a time is slow. Looking up all of the terms in a list is really useful, especially when you have a long list of IDs and a long list of values that might or might not match that list. Also, this method works for comma-delimited lists of different lengths in adjacent rows (e.g. cell 1 listing attendance for course 1 has two students, and cell 2 listing attendance for course 2 has five students, and only two of the students overlap both courses.)

Look up a list of ID values in Google Sheets, returning a new comma-delimited string with the results of your lookupTransform a list in a single step

Recipe for building our formula

Given a comma delimited list of items you want to look up where the mapped value is not obvious, e.g. “ID123,ID456,ID567”, look each item up against a table of other information about that item where the lookup key is each item in the first list.

For example, you might have a list of Unique IDs and want to find out and return the corresponding mapped value, e.g. the name of people in a class. To do this you need to take the peopleID and return a name.

Each item in the list is the key you want to lookup in another list. One way to do this in multiple steps is to use VLOOKUP where you would run a vlookup to get a different value, e.g. to find that ID123 has the student name “Tony Schmidt”.

To do this lookup, you need to use the QUERY function in Google sheets to match multiple simultaneous conditions.

Using the matches keyword in QUERY, transform your comma-delimited list into a pipe-delimited list, then transpose and join the result to get a returned comma-delimited string from your QUERY function.

(fun fact: the QUERY function returns an Array which makes this possible.)

How does the formula work?

First, get the list items from our original list into a format that QUERY understands. The QUERY function in Google Sheets uses the term “matches” to look up one or more terms in the QUERY action. Using the the SPLIT function, we find each item in the comma-delimited list and then JOIN to replace commas with a “|” character, indicating item 1 OR item 2 so that the QUERY uses multiple terms to match.

After transforming our original list into a pipe-delimited list, we write a QUERY against the list we’re trying to match.

The goal is to select a term from column A (the one in the list with the keys matching our original list) with the corresponding value we want from column B (the ID value for each list item).

This table contains the steps to transform our original list into the comma-delimited result of looking up each term

What does it look like when you’re done?

When finished, we took the original list of ID123, ID456, ID457 and turned into the keys (names) that matched these ids in our lookup table:

  • ID123 matches “Tony Schmidt”
  • ID456 matches “Leroy Kuhn”
  • ID567 matches “Connie Wright”

Concatenating these and returning them yields the result “Tony Schmidt, Leroy Kuhn, Connie Wright.” If you wanted to make this fancier, you could use a string e.g.

="STUDENT NAMES:" & CHAR(10) & join(", ",transpose(query(Sheet1!A2:B3,"Select B where A matches '"&join("|",split(A2,","))&"'",0)))

To format your string further:

Tony Schmidt, Leroy Kuhn, Connie Wright

Using the “&” to concatenate a string and the CHAR function to add a line break.

Now that you’ve seen the steps, go ahead and copy this original sheet to try it yourself. Happy Matching!

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: