David Wu is currently a product manager at Google. Prior to Google, he worked at Meetup.com as a product manager. In this interview, David shares with Handsome his thoughts and approach to product management, in particular around the Jobs To Be Done theory and framework.
How did you get involved in product management?
So I started as a developer, also as an entrepreneur. I had a startup company during the first .com boom. Then, eventually I ended up developing for one of the largest private healthcare consultancies in the US, where my clients were federal and state government and large healthcare companies. They would come to us and say ’We have this much money, here is our charter, what should we do?’
So, our role quickly became much more about defining the product opportunity, answering them with: here are your objectives, here are the goals and charters you need to account for and here’s why we think you should create this product. That is how I transitioned into product management. I discovered I enjoyed defining how the product would act, what it can do, and how it can meet particular objectives. Later I moved over to Meetup for a couple years, and was a product manager for multiple teams here.
You’re actively involved in the Jobs To Be Done NY Meetup group. Can you tell us more about Jobs To be Done (JTBD), what it is and how you apply it to your line of work?
One of the great things about meetup.com was that we had a very strong user testing culture and user testing lab. Every day we would bring in 2-3 people to do usability tests in our usability lab. Over time I had heard about JTBD mostly through Clay Christensen, who gave a talk about how he used Jobs To Be Done to discover the job that milkshakes did for daily commuters. I like to think of Jobs To Be Done as a theory and a framework. I will describe both.
It is a theory in that it describes how customers relate to your product. It helps show how there are causal reasons to why people buy products or don’t consume or switch to other products. The theory has a lot to do with thinking about a product as a solution to a job that someone is trying to do. As a result, it leads you to new things to think about. You widen the scope of the product, and you start to think beyond what typically you consider as competitors.
For example, the Snickers bar, we’ve all seen the commercials with the ads centered around hunger. However, if you go back, 10 or 20 years, the ads were all about how it’s a creamy and delicious candy bar with peanuts. By applying Jobs To Be Done, you start to think about why people are ‘hiring’ Snickers bars. What are they using Snickers bars for? People were buying a Snickers bar because it is a meal replacement. So, Snickers was really competing against things like a sandwich, fruit, and other types of food on the go. Normally, you would think it competes with a Milky Way. This helps clarify why it’s a powerful way to think about your product.
The other half of that is that Jobs to be Done is a framework – a set of procedures and artifacts you use to uncover the jobs. One important tool is interviewing users around past purchases, and building a timeline of that purchase. The problem with traditional focus group interviews is that they tend to be aspirational: Do you like this? Do you like these kind of things? Would you buy this? But when push comes to shove, the interviewee is not really thinking about the tradeoffs they need to make to purchase in the future – they’re not in the buying situation. By interviewing about past purchases or switches you are capturing the context of their decisions.
You also build a list of forces by interviewing them and understanding what is influencing them at the point of purchase. What were you thinking during the purchase consideration process? The four forces we look at in Jobs are: Push – Why is the current situation intolerable? Magnetism – Why is the solution out there attractive? Anxiety – What makes you nervous about a new solution? And similarly, Habits – What commitments to the current situation are keeping you from making progress?
Can you tell us more about the user testing environment at Meetup.com?
We would bring in 2-3 users a day, sometimes in-person, sometimes remote users. We would bring in people on and off the platform and people who were using the platform to organize groups. The idea is we wanted to shorten the time from when someone at Meetup was wondering about how someone will react to something to seeing how a user would react. So the goal of usability lab was to find the big boulders in the path, and find them quickly.
We would talk a lot about the Malkovich bias – that you think that everyone uses technology the way that you use technology. You need to counter that bias by putting it in front of other people. Prototyping in any form, as basic as a 3-slide powerpoint with 3 buttons on it, can help identify confusion, or create any kind of emotional response from a user. It’s all about having an idea, testing it in front of real people and see if they can understand, and then putting this in front of a lot of people. We wanted volume, we wanted to have a lot of people look at our ideas so we could eliminate edge cases.
What is super exciting about what’s going on at Meetup.com?
Definitely a lot of people at Meetup are driven by the vision of Meetup.com. It’s about building communities, both offline and online. The vision is a Meetup everywhere about almost everything. There’s something definitely valuable about real face-to-face community. Both are good. There are benefits to online communities as much as there are benefits to meeting in person. Both can be powerful communities. It was an incredible work environment where we could bring people together who have similar interests who otherwise might ever be able to form a community around what they care about.
What’s next for you in your product management career?
I’m excited about moving on to product management at Google. Google has the size and scope to do really cool and amazing things. I plan on continuing exploring Jobs To Be Done as well and using it wherever I can.