Augmenting the Design Thinking Process with Jobs to Be Done Research

Sanjna Kirtikar

Design thinking has garnered a fair share of attention in the past decade as a means for companies to foster creativity and promote innovation. Several firms now include design thinking workshops as part of their corporate training programs in order to introduce employees to this new approach to problem solving. However, despite using this process, potential gaps can still exist that can be filled with the use of Jobs to Be Done research.

So where did design thinking originate and why is it so popular?

The concept and method associated with Design thinking were first made popular by design firm IDEO and are centered around two core beliefs:

Design can be used to solve any problem regardless of industry or topic

You don’t need to be a designer to use this technique, you must simply begin to think like one

Over time design thinking has evolved to encompass an amalgamation of human-centric approaches that follow an iterative process to understand the user. Design thinking promotes the process of questioning the problem, assumptions, and implications in order to build deeper empathy with users, and ultimately creating a better solution.

So what are the steps?

Design thinking is a human-centric process for developing creative solutions that put human needs at the forefront. This process is made up of sequential steps to get to the root of a problem, brainstorm ideas, and test prototypes. 

The first two steps of the process involve the semantic activities of 

1. Empathize

2. Define

These are then followed by the physical activities of

3. Ideate

4. Prototype

5. Test

This process can be incorporated into a wide range of roles and industries.

Example: UberEats

The food delivery company has built a quarterly program in which employees travel to different cities to better understand the transportation infrastructure, delivery procedures, restaurant industry, and culture. They set up interviews with the delivery drivers, restaurant workers, and customers to gather insights and get to the bottom of why certain trends exist. Innovation workshops are often held in order to brainstorm new ways of doing things and present opportunities for specialists from different fields to bring their expertise about food technology, supply chain, cuisine trends, etc.

Image courtesy of Uber

This sounds great but can it be made better?

While the steps advocated by the design thinking process are a good guide to begin thinking in a human-centric way, there are ways the implementation can be improved. The first two steps of the design thinking process: empathize and define, are the most likely areas where ambiguity can surface. 

Let's think of an example of a scenario in which interviews are to be conducted with restaurant owners and customers. In order for the interviews to truly be valuable, it is important that the questions are framed in a way that effectively captures insights that may be hidden. 

During these research oriented phases, an unstructured research process is used, which can leave too much room for individual interpretation. The most common example is asking participants to share their thoughts using anonymous post-its. While this can help stimulate discussion, it doesn’t always allow each participant to share in detail what factors have shaped their viewpoints or ideas. This type of research often focuses on WHAT customers do or want and does not deeply understand WHY customers prioritize or choose certain actions. Many design thinking workshops skip in-depth exploratory interviews, especially since many times companies think in terms of solutions rather than in terms of problems.

As design thinking is more closely associated with hands-on activities, the first two steps which are more exploratory can be rushed especially as they require more time and planning. One such activity can be talking to subject matter experts about their experiences. While these inputs can be very valuable, it is crucial that the discussion is structured in a way that relates back to problems customers may be facing in a particular field, rather than surface level questions that do not fully decipher the whole picture.

Additionally, design thinking is often framed in terms of innovative ‘solution’ building, rather than focusing on the problem that precedes it. This can lead to gaps in understanding the customer and what has led to the need for a solution in the first place.

There is an opportunity to better understand the customer and adjust the process to ensure insights are fully developed. 

Where can Jobs to Be Done fit in?

The design thinking process can be greatly improved when JTBD concepts are included in the empathize phase. JTBD can give a deeper look into not just WHAT people want to accomplish, but WHY these goals exist for them.This promises a deeper understanding of the customer and their true needs. 

JTBD thinking embraces an interview process that drives customers to identify the metrics for job success by asking the right questions. This helps to get to the root of the problem they are trying to fix, rather than brainstorming ambiguous solutions without context regarding the nature of the problem itself.

By using a solution-free discussion to understand customer needs, confirmation bias is reduced and customers are provided a space to give an unfiltered perspective of their experience.

Adopting the JTBD approach would also help:

Let's take the classic design thinking activities used during the empathize phase and see how they can be augmented with JTBD.

Field studies are a popular means to explore how people function in a real world environment. For example, a field study could be conducted to see how customers react to different products in a beauty shop. This would be useful to understand which products are most popular, or how customers react to different in store marketing. However if the study is conducted with a JTBD approach, careful consideration would be taken to understand what needs a customer is looking to fulfill and how their in store behavior reflects these jobs.

By establishing the JTBD, it is then more clear to see what products and marketing best speak to these needs and also identify where opportunities lie to better align with the customer jobs. Instead of innovating a completely new product,this approach can help modify current offerings in a more precise way. The JTBD approach is able to transform descriptive data into real customer insights that lead to more comprehensive decisions, instead of only collecting data without translating it. In conclusion, the design thinking process can be augmented by incorporating JTBD as a complementary tool to more deeply dig into the data and uncover hidden insights.

Learn more

Untold has helped countless clients navigate customer behaviour in a digital world. We offer strategic customer advisory for product marketers including JTBD identification, competitive mapping and buyer’s journey analysis.

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