Jobs to Be Done

September 28, 2021

I'm sure you've experienced this while shopping online. You find a product at an attractive price and decide to purchase it, using internet banking for the payment. However, an error message appears that says, "Sorry, something went wrong; the transaction failed. Please try again later." It's quite annoying, right? Maybe you've had enough and decide to let it go. But before you do, consider the "task at hand" when you're using a service or a product. This issue is crucial not only for the vendor but also for you.

2021 09 29

In the past, I worked as a technical lead in a bank and realized that the financial industry is full of acronyms. HSBC, the bank where I used to work, has a rather cynical acronym of its own: "How Simple Becomes Complicated." If you think that pressing a button on an internet banking site is simple, you're mistaken. The process is incredibly complex. The business team gathers requirements, the design team creates the layout, and the development team writes, tests, and deploys the software. On average, it takes two weeks just to alter a single character on a webpage.

I was part of the ASD-ASP team, which stands for Accelerated Scaled Delivery in the Asia Pacific, and my responsibility was to create regional features. If you're from Malaysia, you've undoubtedly used PayNet's FPX (Financial Process Exchange) service. In Singapore, a similar service is known as PayNow.

After months of hard work, I built the feature and released it into production. I thought, "Finally, my job is done!" Now, you can choose FPX as a payment option when purchasing earphones on Shopee. You complete the purchase after clicking the "pay" button, and I felt pleased with my work.

However, imagine being visually impaired and relying on an accessibility tool to navigate the website. You'd be unaware that you have only 10 minutes to complete the transaction. The accessibility tool would read aloud every second, counting down and leaving you no time to complete your task. This was a real pain point that I hadn't considered. I didn't receive feedback from actual users until much later.

I tried to address this issue, but it was nearly impossible in such a large company. When I spoke to business analysts, they said their job was done, as they were mainly concerned with profits. The designers claimed their job was done, preferring to create flashy animations rather than focus on accessibility. The engineers also insisted their job was done; they wanted to move on to machine learning and blockchain technologies.

I couldn't persuade my colleagues, partly because I wasn't aware of Aristotle's three modes of persuasion: Ethos, Logos, and Pathos. But now, I'd like to hear your thoughts. Before you use a product or service, consider what job it is meant to accomplish.

Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor, has articulated this approach. His thesis poses the question, "What task does a person hire a product to do?" Understanding this job makes it easier to identify ways to improve the product.

So when I use online banking, my job is to complete the transaction. I don't care about fancy animations or whether the system uses AI or cryptocurrencies. The product team had been asking the wrong questions and trying to solve the wrong problems. We must outperform our competitors and ensure successful transactions for everyone, including those who are visually impaired. The Malaysian government even has a regulatory requirement that FPX transactions must be successful 70% of the time, with penalties for non-compliance.

The job isn't done, and there's an elephant in the room. The next time you encounter a problem with online banking, ask yourself: What is the "job to be done?" Empathize with others who face the same issue, especially those with visual impairments. As a customer, communicate your needs to the bank. Help bring about change by voicing your concerns. This matter is not to be taken lightly. Be the change you wish to see in the world.

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Victor Leung, who blog about business, technology and personal development. Happy to connect on LinkedIn