Moderating Focus Groups with Jobs-to-be-Done


Let’s learn to moderate focus groups with jobs-to-be-done. Focus groups are a cornerstone of market research, providing valuable insights into consumer behaviors, preferences, and perceptions. Jobs-to-be-done is our primary methodology to understand customer behavior and decision-making. It’s natural to consider the interplay of moderation skills, the special context of the focus group, and the mental model of jobs-to-be-done.

Product managers, marketers, and of course market researchers will all benefit from both skills of focus group moderation and jobs-to-be-done.

Jobs-to-be-done provides us with our discussion topic along with natural probing questions, but it’s not enough. In addition, skilled moderation ensures that discussions remain on track, participants feel comfortable expressing their opinions, and meaningful data is collected. Let’s explore the best practices for moderating a focus group using JTBD, covering preparation, facilitation techniques, and post-session analysis.

Moderating Focus Groups with Jobs-to-be-Done

Moderating Focus Groups with Jobs-to-be-Done: Preparation

Preparation is key to conducting a successful focus group. Before the session begins, moderators should:

Define Objectives:

Clearly outline the focus group’s objectives, beginning with who are the job executors, and what jobs you hope to explore with them. At a higher level, define your project’s broader objectives, such as how it will be used to inform decision-making.

Recruit Respondents:

Select respondents who represent the target demographic or customer segment. In traditional VOC methods, you’d ensure diversity in age, gender, income level, and other relevant factors to capture a broad range of perspectives. With a JTBD project, ensure that your diversity characteristics include different contexts in which they perform the job. In particular, it can be useful to include a variation in job frequency. For example, for the JTBD of “prepare a meal,” a chef who prepares hundreds of meals per day can have different needs than a college student on a budget.

Create a Discussion Guide:

If you are using New Product Blueprinting, you can generally avoid this step since Blueprinter® software contains an agenda template. Otherwise, develop a structured discussion guide that outlines the topics to be covered and the questions to be asked. This guide should be flexible enough to allow for spontaneous discussion but structured enough to keep the conversation focused. Organize it around the customer’s JTBD. Often, a job map is a great tool for this organization.


Choose the Right Setting:

Select a comfortable and neutral location free from distractions for the focus group. Consider factors such as seating arrangement, lighting, and room temperature to ensure participants feel at ease.

Arrange Logistics and Set Expectations:

Confirm the date, time, and duration of the focus group with participants. In advance, provide any necessary instructions or materials to ensure a smooth session. Refrain from mentioning “jobs-to-be-done” or any phrases about your methodology. But do refer to their job. Again, if we’re studying the job of “preparing a meal,” tell them something similar to, “We want to understand the challenges that customers have when preparing meals.”

Moderating Focus Groups with Jobs-to-be-Done

Test Equipment:

If technology such as audio or video recording devices will be used, test them beforehand to ensure they are functioning properly.

By investing time in thorough preparation, moderators can set the stage for a productive focus group session.

Moderating Focus Groups with Jobs-to-be-Done: Techniques

During the focus group session, moderators play a crucial role in guiding the discussion and eliciting valuable insights from participants. To effectively facilitate a focus group, moderators should:

Establish Ground Rules:

Begin the session by establishing ground rules for participation, such as respecting others’ opinions, avoiding interruptions, and staying on topic. This helps create a supportive and respectful environment conducive to open dialogue. Be sure and reiterate the purpose, which will be to explore a JTBD such as “prepare a meal.”

Build Rapport:

Take time to introduce yourself and build rapport with participants before diving into the discussion. Icebreaker questions or activities can help break the ice and put participants at ease. The more talkative they are, the better. During this rapport time, avoid going into any detail about challenges they have when performing the JTBD of interest. However, feel free to ask some easy questions about the job’s context.

For example, you would not ask, “What challenges do you have when preparing a meal,” but you could say, “Describe your kitchen” or “Tell me a little bit about how you learned to cook.”

Moderating Focus Groups with Jobs-to-be-Done

Encourage Participation:

Actively encourage participation from all participants, spending some effort to give quieter individuals an opportunity to speak. However, at the end of the day, your goal is not to be “fair,” but instead, it’s to learn as much as you can. Quite simply, some respondents are better than others at providing information. Don’t feel guilty about giving them the floor more often. However, if they begin to repeat themselves so that you’re not learning new things, then transition to other folks.

Consensus is Not Necessary:

Be mindful of group dynamics and if the conversation is providing good insights, feel free to let respondents talk and carry the conversation. However, if they begin to argue, make sure that you understand all the positions but then move on. It’s a waste of time to continue a dialogue while you’re not learning new things. Again, while it’s desirable to achieve balanced participation, it’s not necessary.

Check Your Own Bias is key when Moderating Focus Groups with Jobs-to-be-Done:

Remain neutral and objective throughout the discussion, avoiding bias or leading questions that could influence participants’ responses. Keep the focus on understanding their challenges while trying to accomplish their jobs-to-be-done. At the end of the session, respondents should have no idea what your opinion is on any topic.

Keep focused on the Job-to-be-done:

Keep the customer’s job-to-be-done as the focus. Use the discussion guide as a roadmap to keep the conversation focused on predetermined topics, such as those outlined in a job map. Generally, you want to stick to your discussion points with your first interviews. Later, once you feel you’ve explored the JTBD well, you can let the conversation veer a bit to see if a relevant tangent might be revealing.

Manage Time Wisely:

Be mindful of the time. While it’s nice to cover each topic and ensure that all key points are addressed, remember that you have other interviews as well. Don’t cut short a productive conversation just to cover all your points. You can cover missed areas with your next session. Some moderators use timekeeping techniques such as setting timers or signaling when it’s time to move on to the next topic.

Moderating Focus Groups with Jobs-to-be-Done: Post-Session Analysis

After the focus group session concludes, the work of the moderator is not yet finished. In many ways, your work has just begun to moderate the focus group with jobs-to-be-done.


Take time to debrief with any co-moderators or observers who may have been present during the session. Discuss key takeaways, notable observations, and any unexpected insights that emerged during the discussion. Debrief immediately after the session.  Keep it focused on the bigger issues and themes around the customer’s JTBD.

Moderating Focus Groups with Jobs-to-be-Done
After your focus group, meet immediately for a debrief.

Review Notes and Recordings:

Review any notes or recordings from the focus group session to ensure that all important points are captured accurately. Note recurring themes, patterns, or outliers that may warrant further analysis.

Transcribe and Analyze Data:

If the focus group discussion was not recorded verbatim, transcribe it and analyze the data to identify trends, commonalities, and areas of divergence among participants’ responses. Look for actionable insights that can inform marketing strategies or product development efforts.

Organize Your Results using Jobs-to-be-Done:

Use either a document or a spreadsheet to organize your results. Use the jobs-to-be-done schema to house the findings. With the precision of JTBD language, categorize your results by job executor, job type (functional/emotional, core/consumption, etc).

Compare the focus group’s findings with those of other market research data sources, such as surveys, interviews, or observational studies. Identifying consistency or discrepancies across multiple data sources can provide a more comprehensive understanding of consumer behavior.


Create a Report:

It’s not enough to moderate a focus group with jobs-to-be-done if we do not communicate our findings well. Prepare a comprehensive report summarizing the focus group’s findings, including key themes, insights, and recommendations. Clearly communicate how the insights gathered will inform business decisions or marketing strategies. Begin this report after your first session, and add to it as you go.


Consider conducting follow-up research or additional focus groups to delve deeper into specific topics or validate findings from the initial session. Maintaining an ongoing dialogue with participants can also help build rapport and loyalty over time.

By conducting thorough post-session analysis, moderators can ensure that the insights gleaned from the focus group are translated into actionable recommendations that drive business success.

Moderating Focus Groups with Jobs-to-be-Done: Final Thoughts

Jobs-to-be-done is a systemic method for understanding customer behavior. When we learn to moderate focus groups with jobs-to-be-done, we expedite learning and can keep our innovation and marketing machines moving along.

For more reading on moderation techniques, read “New Product Blueprinting,” by Dan Adams. For more insight into Jobs-to-be-Done, read “The Statue in the Stone: Decoding Customer Motivation with the 48 Laws of Jobs-to-be-Done.”