Skip to content

6 Tips to Help You Identify JTBD Over a Long Period of Time

How to keep JTBD lean when addressing complex questions

A person standing at an elevated peak, looking down at a winding road between lush trees.

Photo by Vlad Bagacian on Unsplash

When I first learned Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) interview methodology, I was a bit of a perfectionist. In the traditional JTBD method, CX researchers are supposed to focus on one hire and really unpack the nuances of the forces on the timeline.

But our clients needed help solving problems that were more complex. They needed to understand the JTBD of their customers over long spans of time — sometimes an entire lifetime. There was value in hearing one person’s story to understand how jobs changed for that person over time, the themes or patterns related to different life stages, and the different hires they made. We couldn’t just interview people in different life stages, we needed to talk to people and hear their whole story from start to finish. Suddenly, traditional JTBD methodology didn’t seem to cut it.

Adapting our approach to traditional JTBD meant keeping our research lean without sacrificing quality or impact. To do this, we utilized the research principles of Erika Hall in Just Enough Research. We worked hard to identify our most important research questions to answer, defined our target personas accordingly, and crafted our interview script until we felt we had the most compelling and critically-thoughtful questions. As Erika Hall advocates, we framed up our research approach in an effort “to understand a small set of people very deeply.”

We used this research method to study relationships with money over time and the forces that inspire people to volunteer. Other CX researchers could use this method for similar kinds of life-long journeys, such as professional journeys, personal relationships, and buying patterns.

After almost a year of putting this approach into practice, here are 6 tips to help you identify JTBD over a longer timeline with multiple hires.

1. Get really clear on your “switch” moments.

JTBD is built upon the understanding that people fire a thing and hire another in order to help them make progress in their life. These hires and fires create a “switch” moment. People could switch products (i.e. mixed nuts after working out to a Snickers bar after working out), switch perspectives (i.e. yoga is overrated to everyone should practice yoga), or switch behavior (i.e. from hands-off parenting to more active parenting).

Before your interview, think through the possible switches you may need to be listening for. What switches are people experiencing? What examples of switching do you think you’ll hear?

In traditional JTBD, you’re focusing on one specific switch moment. When researching JTBD over time, you have to practice sharper listening skills to hear when the switch moments happen in the interviewee’s story because you don’t know exactly what they’ll be going into the interview. After the interview, you want to be able to reflect on how the switch moments relate to one another and what the overall jobs were in their journey.

2. Imagine you’re filming a documentary.

At the start of any JTBD interview, I invite the participant to imagine I’m creating a documentary film about their experience. With the traditional jobs approach, this metaphor makes you sound less ridiculous later when asking spatial or temporal questions to help enhance their memory recall (see tip 5). With the adapted approach, it has the additional benefit of helping the participant frame up their experience around key “scenes” in their journey (see step 3) so you can better identify the switch moments.

3. Set the stage with an overview of the timeline.

Jumping right into someone’s story over a long period of time without establishing anchor points makes it much harder to use your time effectively. Give your interviewee the chance to tell you what they think are the important moments where they experienced a change or shift in their journey. You could ask: “Looking back, what might be the key scenes along your journey?”

Your job is to keep the overall timeline in mind, guide them through the story of their experience, and listen for significant switches or big hires in their journey.

4. Prioritize and “zoom in” on key scenes in their journey.

Having set the stage, guide the participant through their journey. Use your judgement to focus the conversation on the biggest hires you heard that align with your learning goals. (Usually, this is the first time they did a new thing). You will have to rein them in or move them forward at times. While you want to be curious about them, prioritize your commitment to your learning goals.

5. Use enhancing memory recall question techniques.

Just like with traditional JTDB research, enhancing memory recall is an essential technique that helps the participant remember important details about the forces that influenced their decision (see step 6).

With each switch scene, ask spatial and temporal questions to help them remember details of what happened, such as:

  • What time of year was it?
  • Who was with you?
  • What was the weather like?

Spatial and temporal questions help unlock implicit memory which usually leads to a flood of insights the participant forgot. For this to work though, avoid “yes” or “no” questions like the plague.

6. Listen for the forces impacting their decisions.

Surrounding every hire and fire is a cluster of forces which are each fighting for the person to either make a change or stay where they are. This is where we have adapted JTBD methodology the most. This is also the meat of your research.

Building off the traditional JTBD timeline, capture broader contours of the timeline around each switch moment. Ask thoughtful, open-ended questions until you feel like you have a good sense of the key forces which influenced them. When they struggle to remember, ask questions to enhance memory recall (refer to step 5).

Use the following categories to frame up the timeline for each hire:

  • First Thought: When did they first think about a change?
  • Life Context: What about their situation seemed to influence them?
  • Research: Who or what influenced them? What were their options?
  • Inner Process: What thoughts and feelings impacted them?
  • Deciding: Why did they decide when they did? What sealed the deal?
  • Satisfaction: How did their decision compare with expectations?

Once you understand the basic timeline around their hire and the forces influencing them, move to the next switch moment. If you’re not sure about the next big hire, ask the interviewee when they experienced their next significant change. If it doesn’t sound like an important switch moment for your research, move forward and ask about their next change.

In the end, you should have a good understanding of the interviewee’s journey and an initial understanding of the JTBD along the way. Once you have a few interviews under your belt, you’ll be ready to analyze JTBD patterns (but we’ll save those tips for another blog post.)


My hope is that this approach to researching JTBD over time gives you:

  • A different perspective on how traditional JTBD can be used
  • Instruction for keeping JTBD lean when addressing complex questions
  • Inspiration to try new things and adapt research techniques

This approach is challenging because there’s always so much more you can learn when interviewing someone about a long journey (especially a life-long journey!). But using these 6 tips, you should end up with a really good understanding of the themes and patterns of peoples’ JTBD over time that can inform innovation, design, business strategy, marketing, and more.