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5 Steps To Building The Mobile App Customers Want

Patrick Leddy | Whiteboard Strategies | 08 April , 2016

In the next few minutes, I’m going to teach you how to completely avoid feature bloat, how to stop being influenced by competitors and my top five strategies for building exceptional mobile apps that customers really want. Let’s do it!



5 Steps To Building The Mobile App Customers Want

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Exceptional mobile experiences are laser focused on customer outcomes.


The Broken Product Mindset

How many features do we need?

So mobile is important right? You are either going mobile first or maybe even mobile only. I don’t need to convince you that it’s time for your company to launch or revamp that app. But maybe you’re dreading the thoughts of kickstarting the project, the endless feature and scoping debate, maybe you're wondering if there is a better way you can approach this?

All too often what happens is that senior stakeholders get around a table, everyone wants to give their input into what the mobile product should do, how it should work or what it should look like. Things quickly spiral into an uncontrollable debate.

How do we beat competitors?

Maybe you take a look at what the competition are doing, they must have done their research, right? The old school thought process is that you should cram as many features as possible into the initial build, if our competitors have 5 features, we need 10. If they have feature A, B and C we probably need something similar. Just to be sure we’re beating, them lets dream up feature D, E and F that we’re sure customer are going to love. How do we get people to use this thing?

As part of this feature panic attack, you’ve probably missed the mark entirely in terms of the core outcome the customer actually needs. It’s far easier to build products that people want to use, rather than building something and trying to make people use it.


Successful Products Peeps: The 4 Types

Geniuses and Visionaries

Geniuses have a strong internalized sense of customer outcomes. These people are few-and-far between. They are the Steve Jobs of the world. Through an incredibly prescient vision, drive, and experience, these individuals are focused on building things that solve important jobs-to-be-done.

People Scratching their own Itch

People who have identified a problem they have and decide to create a better solution, first-and-foremost for themselves. By focusing on their own problems, they remain focused on what matters and have an easier time identifying other people who might share this problem and hire their solution.


Chancers create a product and, by chance, stumble upon a compelling job-to-be-done that creates initial success.


People who understand the importance of creating products that solve real customer problems, and have a set of tools and frameworks like jobs-to-be-done that they use to identify and validate the real human problems they’re trying to solve in the market.


Intentional Products are Outcome Focused

Focusing on outcomes

The big opportunity here is to focus on the outcomes or jobs a customer is hiring our product to do.

Under-doing Competitors

We are actually under-doing the competition, standing out by doing less. Accelerating our time to market, delivering a set of more minimal features that are very closely aligned with what customers actually want.

Building, Measuring and Learning

This speeds up the build, measure, learn product feedback cycle, bringing us closer to customers than ever before. As a result nudging our business closer to the success we desire.

Talking to customers

How do we actually know what customers want, we can just ask them right? They’ll list off all the various attributes that make up a great product in their minds. Maybe you already have a list of feature requests as long as your arm. The trap is to directly ask customers in terms of features, attributes. In truth customers, don’t really know what they want.

The Homer

This is a brilliant example from an episode of The Simpsons when Homer’s half brother, Herb, gives him the job of designing a car (this is a parody of Edsel, a similar disaster product designed by Ford). Homer describes his ideal car, in terms of features and attributes, to Herb’s engineering team They build Homer’s ideal car and the company goes out of business.


Jobs To Be Done

What is JTBD?

We’re all trying to make some kind of progress in our lives with regards to problems or jobs that we have and we hire various solutions to solve them for us.

Theodore Levit from Harvard Business School stated People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole. Drill companies that understand the real job customers hire them to do build better “hole makers” – not necessarily better drills. This, ultimately, creates better products for customers.

Contexts and Outcomes, Not Personas?

JTBD also focuses in on the fact that people hire these products not because of who they are, but because they have specific jobs that need to get done. A lot of product development in companies is too focused on user stories and personas. While personas do have their uses, they often contain a lot of irrelevant information that distract from creating great products. For example, you have Michelle, she’s 25 enjoys yoga, has an iPhone. You stare at Michelle but she tells you nothing you can actually use to improve the product.

The Milkshake?

Let me give you an example, I’ll leave a link in the post so you can watch this yourself on YouTube. Clay Christensen, a world authority on disruptive innovation and JTBD, gives the example of a milkshake. What jobs to people hire a milkshake to do for them? This sounds kind of funny but bare with me for moment.

A fast food chain brought in customers that fit the profile or persona of milkshake drinkers. They asked them how could they improve their milkshake products, did they want them sweeter, chewier or chunkier. Customers said, oh yes it would be great if it was chunkier, sweeter and so on. The fast food chain took all of this feedback onboard, improved the product and it had absolutely no impact on sales whatsoever. Customers unknowingly told the fast food chain what they wanted to hear. By only asking for feedback across a number of product attributes, the chain could never really get to the real intended outcome or hire the customer had in mind for the milkshake.

After their initial failed research attempt, Clay’s consultancy was hired by the chain to help them understand how they could really improve the product and impact sales as a result.

Clay and his team found out that most milkshakes were being purchased before 8AM, and in language customers could understand they interviewed them, inquiring about why customers were buying milkshakes at 8AM. They asked them in the days they did not hire a milkshake, what other products did they hire for the same purpose.

Customers mentioned they sometimes hire a banana but it leaves them feeling hungry. A snickers on occasion got the job but left customers feeling guilty. If a bagel was hired it crumbed up on their laps while driving and they needed another hand to butter it. Doughnuts were also hired but got sugar on the steering wheel and the customer’s hands.

“But when I hire this milkshake”, customers exclaimed “I have one free hand I can use to easily drink it. It’s so thick it takes me 45 mins to suck it up through the straw so it keeps me occupied and it kind of just sits down in my stomach keeping me full all morning”.

Customers were hiring milkshakes to keep them occupied on the long morning commute in a way that staved off morning hunger without any mess or fuss.

As a result the fast food chain now knew who they were marketing milkshakes to, and how to improve the product. As a result of this research, they actually created two milkshake products, the adult commuter shake (they made it thicker so it took longer to drink, and added more real fruit bits to make it healthier).

They also launched a second shake aimed at Children which was less viscous, meaning that when a parent purchased one as a treat, they wouldn’t have to sit there all day waiting for their children to finish it.


Finding the JTBD

Focus on Hiring and Firing

Find people who have recently hired or fired a relevant product. It’s the switching behaviour that we’re most interested in.

Interview based on Forces and Factors

Interview them to investigate what forces and factors have led to this event. This process feels more like detective work than conventional marketing research in large part because most of us have low self-awareness of why we ‘hire’ things.

Avoid Feature Talk

Don’t spend any time talking about what they like or didn’t like about the product, what features they want to see in the future, etc. These are huge traps.

Analyze the Forces and Factors

Analyze these forces and factors to pull out and prioritise the jobs-to-be-done.

Build out the jobs

Once you have extracted the jobs, you could create some job boards to hang around the office to keep the product team laser focused everyday on innovating around customer outcomes. JTBD can also be used to inform marketing and other elements of the business to build more innovative, more disruptive models.

References and Resources:

Hiring a Milkshake:

Required Reading on JTBD:

How to conduct JTBD interviews: