Creating a compelling user experience – an innovative way to analyse customer needs

A difficult economic climate and disruptive competition mean that many organisations including libraries will benefit from a fresh look at their services. At the heart of this is getting a better understanding of customer needs. We provide some creative approaches to help understand customer needs in order to redefine or create new products and services. Ken Chad’s short article  ‘Focus on the user’ outlines some of the issues and approaches.

The ‘jobs’-to-be done’ (JTBD) methodology has a good track record in the business world and we have found it effective in Higher Education, the NHS and the public sector more generally.  We have run a number of successful JTBD workshops and Ken Chad has described some of his user experience (Ux) and JTBD work at conferences. For example:

AI and library discovery. Presentation at the Society of Scholarly Publishing (SSP) Conference 26-28th May 2021. It describes an innovative project that explored the potential of artificial intelligence to improve knowledge discovery in a National Health Service (NHS) library services context. It brings to life the voices of real users – students, researchers, clinicians and academics as they describe the ‘problems they need to solve in a context of resource discovery. 

Don’t ask customers what they want: Ken presented at the Designing for Digital conference, Austin Tx April 2016.Key to a successful user experience (Ux) is meeting the needs of the customer. While this sounds obvious the way organisations go about understanding needs is often flawed. Anthony Ulwick who helped develop the ‘Jobs-To-Be-Done’ (JTBD) method says: “Paradoxically the literal voice of the customer does not translate into meaningful inputs”. In contrast the JTBD method focuses on the ‘job’ the user needs to get done –the problem they need to solve. JTBD is a highly structured approach and outputs lend themselves to be more easily translated into practical deliverables. 

The JTBD approach is neatly encapsulated by a well known quote from Theodore Levitt of the Harvard Business School: ‘People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.’  In  his book ‘What Customers Want‘ Anthony Ulwick suggests that conventional  ‘customer driven’ approaches often fail:  “the literal voice of the customer does not translate into meaningful inputs”. A focus on the ‘job’  -the problem that the user is trying to solve- contrasts with more conventional ways of ‘segmenting’ customers by age, gender, income or social group, (or in academic libraries by undergraduate, postgraduate etc) .  The  JTBD approach  delivers outputs that are meaningful and actionable.

The ‘jobs-to-be-done’ methodology is widely used where organisations are looking for new /innovative ways to understand customer ‘needs’. The underlying assumption is that users (staff, students, researchers etc) ‘hire’ (not always with money but rather in terms of time and effort) products and services to get jobs done. This approach is practical and very focussed on looking at the world from a user’s/customer’s perspective.

  • What is the problem that needs to be solved? What is the ‘job’ that needs to be done?
  • Who needs to solve the problem
  • What are the particular circumstances  (i.e. I’m on the train with a smart phone)?
  • How does the user judge that the job has been successfully completed? These are *measurable* outcomes
  • What are the barriers-‘pain point’ that need to be overcome

These are then analysed in more depth and various solutions ‘tested’ to see how well they contribute to ‘solving’ the job-to-be-done. The ‘grammar’ of JTBD also aligns well with Agile development approaches to enable new solutions to be developed quickly.


Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) Methodology