Can jobs-to-be-done replace "Front End Developer"?


The “front end” is pretty nebulous. What makes a good front end developer? Its definitions, and so its answers, are all over the place. It’s not just the introduction of new front end frameworks that have changed how we talk about it, but in terms of the discipline of designing websites we have begun to think differently: in components, in services. We can see front end in flux in Ernie Hsiung’s “A fictitious, somewhat farcical conversation between me and the JavaScript programming language,” where Ernie as a front end developer — a successful front ender, look at his resume — imagines having an existential crisis because the front end changed while he was busy being a boss (a good one).

Our understanding of the front end as a place no longer holds up to scrutiny. We cannot define it by a specific suite of tools, a kind of user expertise, or even that — if anything — front end development requires a browser.

If we talk about the front end in terms of distance from a user, the “front” specifically being the interface between the user and the service provided, then we ought to accept that voice user interfaces (among other examples) challenge the notion that the front end has any tangible component at all.

Even here, we are cherry-picking a particular kind of user, one that is at the tail-end of a complex service provision - presumably outside the “provision” circle of the Venn Diagram altogether. We’ll call this person “end user.” But again, using “front end” as a descriptor of that distance from a user — while accepting there are no constraints on technology or medium (like a browser) — should be applicable to the RESTful API that I design for consumption by a variety of user interfaces. The consumer is my end user. When I design the interface for that user, am I performing “front end development?”

What I am trying to illustrate is that when we are thinking about user experience and service design, paradigms like “front end” and “back end” no longer align with an understanding of service clusters, ecosystems, or - frankly - users. These kind of identifiers are ephemeral and, as such, pose a problem to companies who organize themselves around these concepts.

You long time Metric readers and listeners — “Metricians?” — might find this latter concern familiar. The practice of thinking in services reveals that same ephemeral nature around the product itself, given that the product is just a tool in a larger service provision, it is thus — like a tool — replaceable. Choosing to design organizations around products will shape the way in which said organizations develop, which is probably against the grain of good service design. Hot take, I know.

So, practically, as service providers who make products that require engineers, how do we hire after we thought-spiral ourselves away from terms like “front end developer?”

I think there is an implied solution. In 2017, Rob Schade at Strategyn suggested a new kind of role called the “Job Manager” in “Product Managers are Obsolete; focus on the Job-to-be-Done.” As an alternative to a Product Manager, the Job Manager focused on the design and development of solutions for a given job-to-be-done.

If you need a refresher, a job-to-be-done describes a task where the user has a demonstrable need for the solution you provide. That is, if I need talk shop and further develop my own thinking about service design, a company like Substack provides a solution for my shop-talking need. The product — the newsletter editor and mailer that Substack provides — is a means to an end, not the end, and not necessarily crucial to my job to be done.

In this example, rather than there being a Product Manager in charge of the newsletter editor, there would be a Job Manager overseeing the entire service Substack provides that connects me to you. These circles overlap, but the lens is very different.

I think there is room then for “Job Designers” and “Job Developers.” These are the design workers who, alongside the Job Manager, provide the company’s solution for a specific job to be done.

A huge benefit, you argue, for “front end” is that even if the definition is super loose it implies some kind of big umbrella of skills around which people can identify. Maybe that is, regardless of which framework compiles them, something to do with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. There is nothing about “Job Developer” that implies what that person does.

I agree. While I think it’s liberating to disassociate the technology from the service provided, it makes this shit hard in a different way.

Rather, I think there’s room for specialization, in the way that “front end” and “back end” are technically specializations of just “developer.” This specialization is also implied by jobs to be done.

A job to be done is composed of jobs to be done. In the job that is “understand the civic role I have in my community,” there is a subsequent job that is “see the agenda for upcoming city council meetings in my email.” There are jobs that imply the interface, so there is a role in the service provision to provide that service to that interface. Make up a title that works. Surely “interface developer” — or, even, “civic interface developer” — has more semantic meaning that “front end.”

That’s sort of about the point where I stop caring and let you all figure it out. Titles. Some projects need only one developer, others need one hundred. Few job titles really hold up to the scrutiny — I’m looking at you, Business Analyst 1 — and “front end” or “back end” won’t solve that.

More importantly, a jobs-to-be-done approach to role-making is still fundamentally about spatial relationship to the user. These kinds of roles are user centric - all of them. Whereas “front end” and “back end” might describe distance from a user, all job-to-be-done style roles imply the user in their very description. Each job solution has a userbase, and so fundamental skills like empathy, data-driven decision making, and user advocacy (privacy, accessibility, usability) are part of each job - regardless of where they are in the stack.

Liking (❤) this issue of Metric is a super way to brighten my day. It helps signal to the great algorithms in the sky that this writeup is worth a few minutes of your time.

Metric is a podcast, too, which includes audio versions of these writeups and other chats. Look for “Metric UX” in your favorite podcatcher.

Remember that the user experience is a metric.

Michael Schofield

The Temporal Midpoint of the Sprint


The two-week sprint is totally arbitrary. We adopt the convention without really questioning the wisdom, but by such dogma of what’s-good-for-the-gander bake someone else’s practice into our organizational infrastructure. The thinking is that two weeks is just about the right time to prototype, test, scrutinize, and deliver a feature. But, is it?

All it took was David Grant raising that question as part of the Facebook Journalism Accelerator about this time last year for those of us at WhereBy.Us to concede the point and, within a week or two, consolidate to one-week sprints. Basecamp, just being Basecamp, shrugs the sprint convention all together, and just published a book that largely makes it clear we’re all just navel-gazing guppies trying to emulate other startups.

Shape Up, that book ☝️, made me question what practical reason do we actually need backlogs, or sprints, which was a refreshing reality check. I admit I find doing away with the backlog compelling - but that’s another writeup. Sprints, though?

While reading about Basecamp’s six-week cycles, it dawned on me that the key feature of the sprint is its temporal midpoint. That is, given any deadline, your activity declines until you’re midway through a milestone before climbing. Why? You realize time is running out.

This is described by Daniel H. Pink as the “Uh-oh Effect” in When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing:

After the first meeting there is a period of prolonged inertia, then a sudden transition followed by a new, more productive direction.

Human culture is organized around temporal milestones — the beginnings, middles, and ends of things — and so, subsequently, are our moods, hopes, productivity, and the like.

The sprint is an arbitrary division of time we tend to conflate with the timeline of a deliverable, but after about a year of one-week sprints I argue the deliverable is the least important aspect. Rather, the sprint is a structure for sustainably pacing our team’s movement through a service provision by placing temporal milestones at advantageous points.

  • Beginning: the beginning of the sprint is a fresh start. It’s like New Year’s Day. We make good initial progress keeping our resolutions. We’re hopeful.

  • Midpoint: the midpoint of the sprint is the ticking clock. It is, no lie, a stressor. It’s designed to make you go oh, shoot, and be honest with yourself and your squad about your progress.

  • Ending: the ending of the sprint is the dropping of the curtain. Time’s up, we touch base, we fist bump, we move on.

Temporal milestones have different emotional tones and the midpoint tends to be the more anxious. Knowing this, however, allows you to design for those emotions, providing another project management tool for templating a mentally healthy sprint.

For instance, if the anxiety of the temporal midpoint is related to the build-up of to-do items you scramble get on top of, what if we just reduce the number of to-do items? Without reducing velocity, if you cut the sprint in half — from two weeks to one week — you move-up the temporal midpoint significantly, which not only reduces the number of to-do items that got away, but literally reduces the stress period between midpoint and temporal ending.

This is anecdotal but I’ll make a note to check the numbers, but I believe the temporal boon of the one-week sprint is a factor behind the increased “greenness” of the company’s team health. At a glance this feels counter intuitive, because surely one-week sprints equate to higher stress, but the reality is that in that same two-week period we have twice the emotional highs (beginning and ending milestones), and our milestone-related emotional lows are much briefer.

Liking (❤) this issue of Metric is a super way to brighten my day. It helps signal to the great algorithms in the sky that this writeup is worth a few minutes of your time.

Metric is a podcast, too, which includes audio versions of these writeups and other chats. Look for “Metric UX” in your favorite podcatcher.

Remember that the user experience is a metric.

Michael Schofield

The Service Reactor


We pitch this idea of operational user research as a means to scale and democratize user experience design practice across an organization. For decision makers already familiar with our user-centric-business gospel — reminder: aggregation theory demonstrates how the user experience is the differentiator for services that have no cost of distribution (because the internet is free); or: good UX is good business — but are concerned about costs, then all they need to hear is how a few tweaks to the workflow and a Google spreadsheet can get the wheels turning with little to no overhead.

It’s easyish to imagine how making the tools to curate feedback you’re already intercepting (emails, reviews, comments on Facebook) easy to use will over time aggregate a robust catalog of that feedback, which decision makers can use to gut-check their ideas.

That hot return on a small investment is why no-frills ResearchOps is hard to argue against. We often stop our evangelizing there.

The long game is interesting, though. Spin something like this up then take a gander at your organization’s RPG skill tree, where a few experience points and a snowball-effect leads you to the service reactor.

The service reactor is this work-in-progress model to demonstrate how a virtuous user research cycle and a commitment to discovery-validated delivery will generate enough proven insights to power a small city.

That’s a lot of made-up vocabulary designed to just consolidate this shit to a single sentence, so let’s break this down.

  • A “virtuous user research cycle” describes a system where your effort to make sense of some data results in the design of the next test to perform, the results of which return to the system.

  • “Discovery-validated delivery” is a requirement that end-user facing features of a product or service won’t be pursued until their demonstrable need and solution can be proven by existing user research.

A chain reaction beginning by cataloging raw data — survey answers, interview transcripts, a/b results, and so on — creates tactical and strategic insights, some aspects of which require more validation thus foreshadowing the next round of tests. Like a nuclear reactor, discovery-validated delivery creates pressure to perform those tests, which continues the chain reaction.

The chief product of the service reactor are insights that we use to validate our business decisions. At small scales, examples of these insights are:

  • evidence we need to rethink our menu structure because it’s confusing users,

  • indication that users need a way to opt-in to plain-text emails,

  • validation that this call-to-action works better than that one.

But as the catalog grows over time, new patterns emerge among unrelated sets of data, and that compounding value directly correlates to the scale of new insights. These are demonstrable proof that there is need among the userbase for entirely new services, let alone features. What’s more, because the service reactor creates insights as the byproduct of a process rather than insights that are specifically sought-out, the resulting service ideas may be orthogonal to your existing service provisions.

This is the drill maker getting into the business of designing entertainment units*. A service reactor powers the “innovation mill.”

The most important ethic I’m trying to convey with the service reactor is that while it is a vision to motivate an organization’s investment in ResearchOps, it is fundamentally user centric. Over time, there is no part of a service or product that is not derived from user research. The reactor ionizes the air with user centricity. You can’t help but breathe.

Note: The drill metaphor is one of the core fables to the jobs-to-be-done approach to design thinking. It basically explains how the drill-maker that is most successful when their drill is an aisle filled with other drills is the one who realizes that people aren’t buying a drill but the mounted television on the wall. The drill is a means to the end. What I’m saying is that an orthogonal business for the drill-maker is in entertainment units: both drill and furniture are means to an end when the job-to-be-done is to relax in a finished living room.

Liking (❤) this issue of Metric is a super way to brighten my day. It helps signal to the great algorithms in the sky that this writeup is worth a few minutes of your day.

Metric is a podcast, too, which includes audio versions of these writeups and other chats. You’ll find it in your favorite podcatcher.

Remember that the user experience is a metric.

Michael Schofield

Spark Joy


In this episode of Metric: the UX Podcast, we talk about how we deal with signal overload and notification fatigue in our design work (and in life), and our strategies for staying sane in a super neurotic discipline.

Follow Metric: the UX Podcast on Twitter @metricpodcast Follow Michael on Twitter @schoeyfield Follow Tim on Twitter @uxbear

What UX Can Learn from Ouija Boards


In this episode of Metric: the UX Podcast, we investigate what ouija boards and World War 1 teach us about design solutions, that innovation lies in not immediately thinking that the problem can be solved by an app.

Follow Metric: the UX Podcast on Twitter @metricpodcast Follow Michael on Twitter @schoeyfield Follow Tim on Twitter @uxbear

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