Thoughts on JTBD, User Stories and Persona

Let’s talk about JTBD (Jobs To Be Done), User Stories and Persona:

JTBD, User Stories and Persona are representations of capabilities, behaviours and purposes.

Thee assumptions:

  • All models are wrong, but some are useful.” Those three concepts often overlap in one way or another in practice, so this is not a clear-cut theory of them.
  • This is an extended response to this tweet and is not meant to be a fully formed theory about them.
  • The premise of the diagram lies in what each of user stories, JTBD (Jobs To Be Done) and Persona does NOT practically focus on.

Behaviour, Capability and Purpose

Firstly, JTBD rarely cares about how things are being, or can/should be, done, a.k.a. behaviours. It only tries to articulate what capabilities (and capacities) are within consideration from the perspective of a user’s purpose.

Secondly, user stories rarely cares about the user’s “cause” — purposes and intentions in achieving some goals. It only tries to articulate what capabilities (and capacities) are within consideration from the perspective of a user’s behaviour.

In other words, user story is kind of a Skinnerian tool. User stories are not where we describe a user’s emotions and inner landscapes. Its focus is on observable behaviours and the capabilities that afford them.

The implication is that, if we’d like to explore the user’s emotions and inner landscapes, we probably should just use persona (or any kind of people profiling tool), as long as emotions and inner landscapes are proven to have statistical or judgemental significance during the research.

Thirdly, persona rarely cares about capabilities — definitely not those of the potential product, or anything that bridges a user’s capabilities to a product’s. Capacity is often a more useful constraint to articulate for a persona.

That doesn’t mean we don’t care about a user’s capability through our empathy-based approach. That merely means capability is often not a core concern in trying to understand people, maybe especially because people are not just mechanical compositions of capabilities, but beings with emotions and thoughts.

Three Implications

There are three major implications out of all those.

The first implication is that user stories and JTBD are not really human-centric thinking tools.

Instead, both are capability-centric, each approaching capability from a different angle — the former from a behavioural angle, and the latter from a purposeful one.

Persona is the only human-centric tool out those three, because more often than not, it’s an objectified representation of empathy towards user.

By comparison, user stories and JTBD are merely subjectified representations of capabilities, albeit from two different angles (behavioural and purposeful).

The second implication is that not everything needs to be human-centric in design. In service design, things, people and their relations are equally important.

A service inevitably needs a mechanical analysis for use: its input, output, outcome and effect. Only the outcome and the effect are relevant to human affairs such as emotions.

Service is an entity that takes input, produces output, accomplishes an outcome and creates an effect in the environment.

We can even say that service design is both capability-centric and human-centric — capability-centric for its bridging and synthesizing of people, things and their relationships; human-centric for its concern not only of its ends, but also of its means.


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