Product teams must get out of the “jobs to be done” mentality

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


Speaking to Jason Jedlinski and Erik Bursch on a recent Webinar, I realised that to get really good at product, we need to get out of the JTBD (jobs to be done) mentality. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time for it because we need to get things done. But that simply can’t be the status quo to be effective. 

If we work in isolation we build bricks, not a house. 

It’s one of the subtle nuances between project management and product management. Project is about delivering on a specific goal. Product is about pulling the pieces together for an overall outcome. 

Sometimes I have knowingly pulled a pin on a proverbial grenade and thrown it over the wall to another team. Not out of spite. I see something wrong and flag it, but it’s simply not in my purview (our Earl jokes that I permanently have my hand raised on Zoom).

This isn’t a tag race. Teams have to work together. So how do we work together? 

  • Cross-functional teams: Squads, pods, triads — there are many different names for bringing cross-discipline teams together to solve specific issues. Some organisations such as The New York Times are entirely organised in this way. Others do it to solve specific issues, such as a Norwegian publisher ring fencing a team to look at reducing churn. 

  • Lunch and learn: This is one of my favourites and something Jason also bought up. When I was at The New York Times, I often asked people to come in and speak to our team. It’s fascinating, creates links with other teams, and gives everyone exposure.  

  • Speaking to different people/departments: You can meet without specific structure. Set yourself a goal of meeting someone new every week or month. Grab a coffee, maybe even lunch. You’ll be amazed what you can learn about someone else’s role/frustrations/opportunities in a 30 to 60 minutes of free-flowing conversation. If this kind of thing makes you nervous, prepare yourself with open-ended questions and find someone you both respect and find interesting.  

  • Ask questions: This is something a good product manager is always doing: Why are we doing this? Who will it affect? What impact will it have on other parts of the product/company? Jason also pointed out that to foster working relations, we may not want to fire questions at people but create unity by asking “how might we?” to look at solving issues together. 

  • Understand the organisation/department goals: The single most important indicator of a product team’s success is whether people can articulate the overall goals and how their individual work ladders up to that. 

Leaders need to be comfortable with the idea that there will be some skills overlap: If jobs specs are siloed, then the individuals and teams also will be. A leader may be uncomfortable when people overlap — is that wasted resource?? — but they have to get comfortable with these grey areas because that’s where the magic happens.

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About Jodie Hopperton

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