Product Management and JTBD

Today I met a young MBA candidate of a reputed school who wanted to “get into” technology product management upon graduation. He wanted advice on how he could manage that. Upon inquiring further about his motivation, it turned out, he felt that Product Management was a safe bet, as it did not require coding, it had “scope” in the future, and he didn’t fancy his chances in consulting, marketing, or finance.

Other questions followed – Which skills should he acquire? Should he learn about analytics or the latest technology? What would enable him to break into this wonderful world of product management?

There was no mention of users, the desire to understand their problems or what they were trying to accomplish in their lives. Product management as a career choice was made purely as a matter of landing a job, without the necessary introspection about one’s strengths, abilities, and passion, or, I might add, without entirely understanding what the job entailed. Though admittedly, he was meeting me to discuss it, the decision had already been made, I was only to show him a way to find a job.

First of all I disabused him of the notion that landing a product manager job is easy in the least, MBA or not. Then I had my job cut out for me (pun intended) clearing up his understanding of what it means to be a product manager. Where would I even begin?

Sometimes I think that a modern product manager almost needs to be superhuman. There are a just so many facets to cover during new product development, it is easy to be overwhelmed. Product managers are involved in building a product, launching it, and ensuring that it is successful. They interact with almost every function in an organization, they are like a hub in a wheel, keeping things together and moving.

However, it all begins with the user, and all the activities that a company carries out are ultimately about the user, and delivering value to the user. Without users – customers, everything ceases to exist. Innovation is about the user, and execution is about the user. In my opinion, product management is a misnomer, because the function is less about the product, and more about the user. There is ultimately but one objective – to ensure that the customer is understood; products, services, and experiences are built that allow the user to accomplish the progress she wants to in her life.

I began to think of how JTBD is not only the perfect tool for product management, but also vital and integral. I cannot imagine one without the other. JTBD encourages understanding the complete user experience and the various components that make up the situation surrounding the hiring and consumption of a product. By recognizing and making explicit why a product is bought and how it is used, the product manager can make decisions on what to build: the features of a product, the finer points of a service, that make up the entire user experience. Moreover, the organization has to alter its internal processes and functions to align with the demands of the user. That is why jobs-to-be-done based innovation can be transformational, if done correctly, it can energize and invigorate and unite a business.

A product manager with holistic JTBD thinking can create a force within an organization that can be truly dramatic. It is certainly not easy, and there are hundreds of hurdles to overcome, with naysayers around every corner. Senior leadership has to be brought on board, colleagues and co-workers, developers and support staff, partners and distributors, suppliers and vendors, everyone needs to be convinced of the value of changing their way of thinking. It can get overwhelming, this constant evangelizing. Because if there is one thing that JTBD teaches us, then it is that people are rooted in their ways. The forces of habit, and anxiety of the new are very powerful indeed. However, the payoffs bringing this about can be extraordinary. The product manager then ceases to be a product manager, and metamorphoses into a Leader.

My young visitor seemed visibly shaken after my exposition and a bit inspired too. Maybe he started to visualize what success would look like one day. I gave him some practical tips too, about trying to question why certain products and services were built in certain ways and how they could be improved. About why certain products and services were bought and consumed in certain ways. To always question, to always have an open mind, and to always be learning. But given his heavy coursework and extracurricular activities, and the pressure to find a job, I’m not sure to what extent he will be able to follow my recommendations. My best wishes are with him in his pursuit of his dream in whatever form he can, for I believe that there could be no career more fulfilling than becoming a product manager.