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Use ‘Jobs, Outcomes, and Constraints’ To Exploit the Pause Between Research and Ideation

(This post is based on the video, “Jobs, Outcomes, and Constraints” in the Design Defined: Design Principles Explained series.)

Product designers are familiar with this scenario: Your project team gets back from field research and contextual inquiries, having discovered a pile of unmet user needs. You’re eager to dive into ideation. In fact, you might have already started sketching ideas in your head. Don’t do it!

Ultimately the solution will be better if you take a step back to analyze the opportunities hidden in all those great research insights. Jobs, Outcomes, and Constraints (JOC) is a method that will help you exploit this critical pause between research and ideation. It’s a framework for evaluating the needs observed during research and ranking them in terms of importance. (Creative Matrix is another tool we like to use to help bridge this gap between looking and making.)

Though it might sound counterintuitive, imposing rigor and structure on your creative process will always yield the best results. Jobs, Outcomes, and Constraints helps ensure you’re solving the problems that matter most to users and to your business.

Will Customers “Hire” Your Product?

The “J” in JOC refers to Jobs To Be Done (JTBD), a theory developed by Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School. It advises designers to use “job to be done” as the unit of analysis when coming up with product solutions.

In a 2016 article Christensen wrote for Harvard Business Review, he defines a “job” as “shorthand for what an individual really seeks to accomplish in a given circumstance.” He explains that a job is about more than a product’s function. It also includes the experience surrounding the task and the social and emotional dimensions of the job to be done.

A Job is what customers “hire” a product to perform. Jobs are multi-dimensional:
A functional Job describes how the consumer gets a specific task done or a achieves a personal goal.
An emotional Job describes how the customer feels or wants to feel.
A social Job describes how the customer wants to be perceived by others.

Hiring Milkshakes

If you already know about Jobs To Be Done, you’ve probably heard of the case study about McDonald’s wanting to improve its milkshake sales. When using JTBD as the unit of analysis, those researchers found that forty percent of the chain’s milkshakes were purchased early in the morning by people who consumed them in their cars.

It turned out these customers were hiring milkshakes for jobs the chain had never considered. These included, “will satisfy my hunger,” “won’t spill or get crumbs all over me or my car,” and “can be consumed one-handed while driving.”

This framework gave them the insights they needed to improve the product to gain share against the competition.

Using Jobs, Outcomes, Constraints

Here’s how JOC works: After we complete our initial research, we bring our team and client together for a collaborative workshop. Our goal is to decide which jobs to focus on in ideation.

We plot the different jobs on an opportunity matrix to see where they land regarding their importance to the customer and whether they’re already being addressed by current products. We also categorize each job according to its functional, emotional, or social dimension. The matrix lets us visualize how the jobs rank against their value to the end-user and how they align with business priorities.

Jobs, outcomes, and constraints opportunity matrix

A JOC Opportunity Matrix

Next we consider Constraints — any factors that might keep a user from getting a job done. Some examples are market factors or the limitations of current technology.

A Constraint is an imposed restriction or limitation that keeps the customer from using a given solution, or the business from delivering a solution.

Your team might have two great ideas but realize that the technology for one isn’t affordable yet. In this way, considering constraints helps you decide between top contenders and prevent you from going too far down a dead-end path.

When we’re done with this ranking process, we take a subset of the higher value jobs into ideation. Because we’ve used jobs as the unit of analysis along the way, it’s easy to develop Outcome metrics to assess our concepts.

An Outcome is a metric (measurable statement) that the customer uses to define success in accomplishing a job. If the job is “what the customer wants accomplished,” then the outcomes are “how the customer measures whether the job is getting done satisfactorily.”

When outcomes are tied directly to needs, we’re able to remove bias and eliminate the influence of preconceived notions.

Benefits of the JOC Framework

Jobs, Outcomes, and Constraints is a great way to synthesize research and move into ideation with the confidence that you’re working from something more reliable than a hunch. JOC lets you gauge the benefits of particular solutions scientifically, as opposed to going with your gut or being swayed by personal preferences.

It also brings the team together around a shared understanding of where to go next.

Most importantly, it will help ensure you’re solving the problems that matter most to your users and to your business.

Give It a Shot!

The next time you come back from the field with a pile of unmet needs, give Jobs, Outcomes, and Constraints a try. We’re confident that you’ll see benefits and that it will help your team move forward together.

Download our Design Defined ebooks to learn about more product design principles!