Capturing Customer Jobs Using a Mental Model Diagram

Recently, my client asked for my help facilitating a series of strategic planning workshops. In order to secure funding for the next fiscal year, they needed to develop and present a strategy for their platform for the next ten years describing where to invest. To create that strategy, each workshop in the series would focus on developing new features to meet the needs of the different personas they developed. This workshop created an opportunity to introduce a technique called Mental Model Diagrams and language around customer jobs, taken from Jobs Theory, aka Jobs to be Done.

The team organizing this workshop developed personas with demographic characteristics, goals and activities and even identified what they called “Key Customer Journeys.” It sounded risky that the larger group would take all that information about their customers as a given, so the primary assumption guiding my approach to facilitating these sessions was that they would benefit from dedicating more time to exploring customer needs.

To give the team dedicated time to explore customer needs, I organized the workshop around creating a Mental Diagram to split the discussion about customer needs from the discussion on features and solutions.

Creating the Mental Model Diagram

I first learned about Mental Model Diagrams form Indy Young’s book, Mental Models. The technique uses data from qualitative research, like customer interviews, and extracts all the goals users are trying to accomplish in a particular situation, scenario or domain. After categorizing these goals and tasks into structures called Towers and Mental Spaces, you draw a line across the diagram. Under that line go all of the solutions, features, or capabilities that might support users in accomplishing those goals.

Mental model diagrams offer us a unique way of structuring experiences. For example, customer journey maps revolve around solutions. Their focus is to “understand the myriad possibilities and paths a customer may take to complete his or her ‘job’”.

On the other hand, mental model diagrams offer a broader and more in-depth understanding of people independent of an organisation. Focus and depth come mostly from having a detailed account of what happens in the problem space.

– Tiago Camacho, Designing With Mental Model Diagrams — An Introduction

Focusing only on customer needs without slipping into solutioning mode can be different and sometimes difficult for people. I sometimes had to interject and point out when they posted a feature pretending to be a customer need or when they were talking about activities customers would spend time doing without calling out what customer need was driving those activities.

To help describe customer needs without describing solutions, I also casually introduced the language of customer jobs.

The concept of jobs to be done provides a lens through which to understand value creation. The framework looks at customer motivations in business settings.

– Jim Kalbach, Mapping Experiences

When someone identified a customer need, I’d ask them, “What’s the customer trying to get done when they do this?” This clarifying question helped to identify and capture the customer job in a consistent format:

  • “Preview a design”
  • “Import product details”
  • “See the results of a sale”

As the session progressed, the participants tended to gravitate toward only the persona’s functional goals. To encourage capturing a wider range of jobs, I listened for times when the discussion touched on or mentioned a customer’s aspirational goals and captured them on the Mental Model Diagram:

  • “Setup my business”
  • “Run my business”

Aspirational goals are the key motivators for all other customer jobs. Identifying these aspirational goals helps people think more broadly and discover other customer jobs. They also help add structure to the Mental Model Diagram in the form of Towers and Mental Spaces.

After the workshop

We time-boxed the workshop, with the first half dedicated to identifying customer jobs, and the second half to identifying either existing or new solutions that would support those jobs. By the end of the two-hour session, our output for one persona looked something like the following:

For comparison, here’s what a fully formatted Mental Model Diagram might look like: 

At this point, I had completed the series of workshops I was asked to facilitate. But what could we do next to achieve the team’s ultimate goal of developing a strategy for their platform for the next ten years?

At this point, we had a collection of customer jobs for different personas. But where do we go from here?

  • What level of granularity of customer jobs should we focus on?
  • How do we determine which jobs are important?
  • Which customer jobs should be the focus of the strategy?

We also had a list of features, some existing but many more that were just ideas and had to be built.

  • Which features should we prioritize?
  • What features should we build in-house, which should we outsource, and which should we acquire?

Lastly, the strategy the client was trying to develop was supposed to articulate the vision for their business for the next ten years.

  • What’s the company going to look like in ten years?
  • What will technology enable in ten years?
  • What trends affect the business, and how are things changing?
  • What will our competitors be doing?

These questions will be addressed in part 2.

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