What do Product Managers and Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) professionals have in common? In my ten-year career in the EHS industry I have worked as a consultant, as an EHS Manager (in both a field and corporate role) and most recently as a product manager for an EHS software provider. At first glance, it may seem like the job of an EHS Manager is miles apart from that of a Product Manager. However, in my experience there are many similarities. In this article I’ll outline a popular product management tool called the “Jobs-To-Be-Done” framework and describe how the components of this framework can help EHS Managers improve their understanding of how work gets done, identify critical problems to solve to reduce risk in the workplace and accelerate the continuous improvement process.
Both Product Managers and Environmental, Health and Safety Professionals are on an endless hunt to understand the work processes of their customers or their organizations. Both are looking to identify problems to solve for their customers or their workers and both are focused on iterative continuous improvement of their product or their process. Product Managers iterate on products based on user feedback and market trends. EHS professionals implement measures to enhance workplace safety and environmental sustainability over time. As I’ve gotten familiar with popular product management tools and frameworks, I started to see how these frameworks could be extremely impactful for EHS Professionals.
Using the “jobs-to-be done” framework to understand how work is done
Product Managers use the “jobs-to-be-done” framework to empathize with their customers to better understand their customer’s needs. But what is a “job” in a “job-to-be-done”? A “job” in this framework references what the individual seeks to achieve given the current circumstances. The intent is to better understand the customer from a needs view not a solutions view. The needs view outlines what the customer is trying to get done, while the solutions view focuses on what the customer is doing. In his book: Jobs To Be Done, Anthony Ulwick outlines the difference between a needs view and a solutions view with an example from the healthcare industry. In the solution view, you would say that while in the operating room an anesthesiologist is looking at the display. In the needs view, you would say that while in the operating room an anesthesiologist is monitoring the patient’s vital signs. While it may sound like semantics at first, the difference is critical. When we identify jobs through a needs lens we are able to better understand the underlying goals or outcomes that the customer is trying to achieve. This in turn helps us better identify innovative ways to address those needs.
How can this help Environmental, Health and Safety practitioners today? The better EHS practitioners understand how work gets done, the more impactful they can be in helping to drive meaningful safety improvements for their organization. However, I would argue most of the time we only have a surface level understanding of how work gets done. We too often get stuck in the solutions view of work (i.e. focusing on what the worker is doing). Looking at work processes through the solutions lens blinds us to the underlying goals and in turn the needs of our workers.
Many of our commonly used EHS tools today make it easy to fall into the linear fallacy of the solutions view lens. For example, if we are going to conduct a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) in a warehouse and logistics operation, we might title the JSA with the job: “Using the Pallet Wrapper.” While that does accurately depict what the worker is doing, it doesn’t accurately describe the underlying goal of the worker. Their goal is not to use the pallet wrapper, their goal is to “secure the product prior to shipment”. This matters because when we look at the job from the needs view, we can see that their job might not be as straightforward as simply “using the pallet wrapper.” Their underlying goal for that job is more broad, indicating that there is potentially a good deal of variability in their effort to “secure a pallet of product prior to shipment”. Understanding variability is paramount to identifying areas of robustness and vulnerability in our operational processes. The “jobs-to-be-done” framework tells us to not simply ask “what is the worker doing” but instead ask “what the worker seeks to achieve given the current circumstances”. Analyzing work processes through this framing helps us to better understand the goals and outcomes that our workers are trying to achieve, and in turn improves our understanding of how work gets done. Now that we have outlined the “jobs-to-be-done” framework, let’s look at three key components for putting the “jobs-to-be-done” framework to work in your organization.
Identifying core functional jobs
The first step in implementing the “jobs-to-be-done” framework is to identify the “core jobs” that workers are trying to get done. Remember from above, we should look at the “core job” from the needs lens, not the solutions lens. This will allow us to identify core jobs that are stable, and unchanging, meaning that even if the circumstances around the job change, the worker still must accomplish the same core job outcome. From the example above, we see that “Using the Pallet Wrapper” doesn’t meet the criteria. If the pallet wrapper is gone tomorrow, is broken tomorrow, is malfunctioning tomorrow, the worker is still going to have to find a way to secure the product prior to shipment. When we look at the job from the worker’s perspective we can see that the core job that this worker is trying to get done is “securing the product prior to shipment”. Once we have identified a core job that describes what the worker is trying to get done given the current circumstance and is stable and unchanging overtime, we can start to map the job steps of the core job.
Mapping the “jobs” journey
Once you have identified the core job, you can start to put together the journey map for that job. The job map is a visual depiction of the core job. The job map allows you to break the core job down into individual smaller steps. Again, when you are putting together the journey map, it is important that the steps are framed in the “needs view” not the “solution view”. Once the job map is completed you will have a representation of the ideal process flow through the job. However, rarely does the ideal happen. This is why it is important that you listen and inquire about different challenges, pain points or roadblocks that cause the employee to be thrown off of the ideal job map path during the job mapping. This is where you will find your potential areas for improvement in the process, or as Human and Organizational Performance advocates call your black line (work as planned) versus blue line (work as completed) deviations. The information you gather while mapping out the core job will set you up to identify and improve the most pressing problems worth solving in the process.
Problems worth solving
Through the job mapping process you have worked directly with the worker to identify a number of roadblocks, pain points, and challenges that come up in daily work and hinder the worker from staying on the “black line” of their job map. In many cases, these roadblocks and challenges can cause deviations that result in hazards, risks and ultimately injuries in the work environment. But how do you know what problems are worth solving, and in what order? This is where prioritization using the Intensity-Frequency-Density (IFD) methodology can help. When assessing problems, look for the Intensity (how big is the problem), Frequency (how often does the problem occur) and Density (how many people are affected) of each problem. This will help you get more clarity on which problem to solve first or if the problem is even worth solving at all. Solving every problem in the work environment would be nice, but it is not a feasible goal. Using your journey map to document problems, and then prioritizing those problems using the IFD methodology will help you determine the problems that are really worth solving to improve workplace safety.
Using this framework to view jobs through a needs lens, rather than a solutions lens, will help organizations create targeted, effective, and meaningful interventions that not only improve safety and health but also foster a culture of care, trust, and well-being inside of the organization. Identifying core jobs, breaking those jobs into job maps, and outlining problems worth solving helps EHS practitioners focus on the outcomes that their workers are trying to achieve, and in turn enhances the understanding of the difference between how work is planned and how work gets done. Ultimately, accelerating the innovation and continuous improvement process for your safety management system.
If you have any questions/comments or would like to discuss putting this framework to use in your organization, please contact me at email@example.com.