Last thursday, I popped over to Meetup’s HQ to talk to Anna Howell and Brenna Lynch, two researchers on their team. They have been using the “Jobs To Be Done” framework, from Clayton Christensen, to organize their qualitative research.
Currently, they are studying two critical moments in their customers’ lives: “first joining meetup.com” and “creating a new group”. Behind their method is the belief that there is no such thing as an impulse purchase. Rather a customer goes through a journey, (see link below for an illustration), full of trigger points which lead up to action (and beyond).
They don’t use a formal interview script, but they know their area of interest and keep their timeline document in mind. In their conversations with customers, Brenna and Anna roll the timeframe back to the point where the customer first heard of meetup, and get the customer telling stories about their journey.
They use an interesting psychological technique. They set a context: “Imagine you are filming the documentary of your life. Pretend you are filming the scene, watching the actor playing you. At this moment, what is their emotion, what are they feeling?”
I love this framing, especially for things that have emotional complexity. I plan to try it on for size, and suspect it helps interview subjects talk about sensitive things without getting as tense or defensive. But we also spoke about the need to dig for truth — you can’t let an interview subject get away with the easy but non-meaningful answer. Sometimes you have to push them (what I call “going down the motivation rabbit hole”).
After the interviews, Anna and Brenna map the stories against the timeline. Not every conversation fits perfectly, but they have found the process to be very useful. By breaking down the stories into similar structures, they find it easier to make comparisons and spot real patterns. Instead of focusing on, say, the three most interesting stories, they are able to both parse and explain the overall research findings better.
Once they have done the primary research and filled out their timelines, they use the “two forces” diagram to summarize patterns.
The two researchers walked me through some examples with this quadrant approach and my initial skepticism of this diagram started to change. One clear win: it forces you to think through existing behaviors and habits that would block adoption. This category often represents huge risk for a new product, and one continually underestimated.
By understanding the trigger points in the customer lifecycle, and the “jobs” Meetup is hired to do, they feel like the entire product team is able to make better decisions around features and prioritization.
I asked about flaws in the framework. Anna and Brenna spoke about needing to be flexible — not every customer journey maps neatly onto the timeline. They also said that nailing down the “jobs to be done” can be difficult if the context is highly emotional or product use cases vary widely (which you see with general-use products like Meetup and Twitter).
Net-net, the “jobs to be done” framing resonates with me. I plan to start using it more overtly. Thank you to Anna and Brenna for sharing their thoughts with me. I would love to hear more stories from folks who are putting it into practice.