This was written as part of the rough draft for Deploy Empathy, a practical guide to interviewing customers.
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One of the most memorable lessons I had in elementary school was about how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
(Humor me for a second.)
The teacher put a loaf a bread, a knife, a jar of peanut butter, and a jar of jelly on a table.
She then told us she wanted us to show her how to make a PBJ.
Smirking and confused, the group of 11 and 12 year olds gamely said “alright.”
We told her told her to pick up the bread.
She picked up the whole loaf of bread. In the packaging.
“Noooo, we meant you should get a slice of bread,” we clarified, laughing.
She poked at the packaging, trying to pull the slices out of the sealed bag.
Starting to get the idea, we told her to put the bag down. To take her right hand and untwist the tie. To then hold the bag with her left hand and use the other hand to take out two slices (skipping the heel of the bread).
We told her to place them on a plate.
She put them down, stacked on the plate.
We then told her to put peanut butter on it.
…so she took the entire jar of peanut butter, still sealed, and put it squarely on top of the two pieces of bread.
(I think you can see where this is going, so I’ll stop here.)
My point is that a lot of daily tasks are really packages of tasks. They are processes.
Understanding that all tasks are processes is key to creating something that solves something for someone else.
Sometimes people think they need to solve the entire process in order to create something worth using. This is sometimes the case, but due to the complexity that goes into even “simple” tasks, solving just one step can make a huge difference for people.
They didn’t try to solve the whole process of “making mashed potatoes” for people. They solved just one step, and that led it it being sold for $273 million in 2004. Yet they deeply understood that particular step, allowing them to build a fervent following among home cooks.
I want you to think about some common tasks for a moment:
- Doing laundry
- Filing taxes
- Making coffee or tea in the morning
Chances are, these things show up on your mental to-do list as one item, but like making a sandwich, they’re really a combination of tasks rolled up together. Each one is a process. And those sub-tasks take different amounts of time, require different tools, and have different amounts of complexity.
Compared to each other, those tasks all have different frequencies too. Doing laundry is much more frequent than doing taxes. Making coffee is more frequent than doing laundry.
Bringing this around to analyzing interviews, what I’m getting at here is something called the Pain and Frequency matrix. It’s a mental model for understanding the how much someone might be willing to use a new solution for something based on how frequent and painful something is for them.
It’s based on a framework promoted by Des Traynor, co-founder of Intercom and Jobs To Be Done advocate. His blog post
on it is one of my most-recommended blog posts. I’ve probably sent it to people thousands of times over the last few years.
It’s similar to charts you may have seen from the Lean UX world.
He graphs problems by Big vs Frequency, but I prefer to use “pain.” I generally call it the Pain and Frequency matrix, and you can also think about it as a Complexity and Frequency, or Time and Frequency matrix – whichever clicks with you.