Jobs to be done

I am sure you had this experience: you were doing online shopping, saw a great deal and clicked the “Pay” button with internet banking. But then, oops, an error popped up, it said: “Sorry, something went wrong, the transaction failed, please try again later”. “Haiya!” It’s so frustrating. Maybe you are fed up already and just leave it. But hold on, I urge you to think about it, “what’s the job to be done” when you’re using a product or service. This is an important question.

In my past life, I was working in the bank as a technical lead. And I realised, the world of banking is full of acronyms. The bank I used to work at is an acronym as well, it’s called HSBC, which stands for How Simple Becomes Complicated. If you think a button on the internet banking is simple, then you are wrong. You have no idea how complicated the process is. It includes the business team to gather the requirements, the designer team to make the design and the development team to write the software, test it and deploy it to production. It usually takes two weeks, just to change one single character on the website.

I was in a team called ASD-ASP, which means Accelerated Scaled Delivery in the Asia Pacific. And my job was to build regional features. For those of you from Malaysia, probably you used a service called FPX, the Financial Process Exchange from PayNet. A similar service in Singapore is called PayNow.

After months of hard work, I built the feature and launched it to production, and I thought, “Finally! my job is done.” When you buy an earphone on Shopee, you can select FPX as a payment method. Once you click the “pay” button, and the transaction is successful. I feel proud of my work.

Until, later on, I receive feedback from real customers. Imagine you are visually impaired, you can’t see the website, and you need to use your ear to listen to the accessibility tool. You have no idea there are only 10 minutes for you to complete the transaction. And when you navigate the page, find the timer and it read out loud: “10 minutes left, 9 minutes 59 seconds, 9 minutes 58 seconds…” and it keeps read aloud every second to drive you crazy, so you have no time to complete the transaction. This is a real pain point for a customer, and I realised, my job was not done.

I was trying to rectify the problem, but it was nearly impossible in a large organisation. When I talked to the business analysts, they said “no, my job was done”, they only care about making a profit from the majority, while the minority is not the priority. When I talked to the designers, they said “no, my job was done”, they want to design fancy animations to attract more customers instead of caring about those who are blind. When I talked to the engineers, they said “no, my job was done”. They delivered the software and now they want to move on with cutting edge technology, in machine learning and blockchain.

I wasn’t able to persuade my colleagues because I didn’t know Aristotle’s three appeals: Ethos, Logos and Pathos at that time. But now, I would like to ask you for your help, from every one of you, you are the customer. When you hire a product or service, think about it for a second: “What is the job to be done?”

This is the framework proposed by Clayton Christensen, who is a Harvard Business School professor. His theory is built around a central question: “ what is the job a person is hiring a product to do?” Once you understand the job, how to improve the product becomes obvious.

Let me tell you the job when I use online banking, I just want to make a successful transaction. Who cares about the fancy animation or if it’s using AI or cryptocurrency — I don’t care. It turns out the product team was asking the wrong questions and solving the wrong problem. We need to do our job better than any of the competitors. Make successful transactions for everyone, including those who are visually impaired. In fact, every transaction counts, and the Malaysian government has a regulatory requirement with a 70% success rate on FPX transactions. Otherwise, the bank would get a penalty.

There is an elephant in the room, and the job was not done. Next time, when you do online banking and hit an error, what should you do? Think about it, what’s the “job to be done?” Show your empathy to those people who shared the same frustration, including those visually impaired. Tell the bank what you want as a customer. Tell the bank the outcomes that you want to see. Tell the bank to get their job done. You can make a change happen by voicing out your feedback. Don’t underestimate it. Be the change that you want to see.

Originally published at on September 28, 2021.



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Victor Leung

I’m a keen traveler to see every country in the world, passionate about cutting edge technologies.