How to probe during customer interviews
  2. Discovery Interviews (Step 2)
  3. How to probe during customer interviews

7. Seven Discovery Interview gambits to uncover more outcomes

Learn seven moves of the professional moderator

As a new practitioner is learning the Moderator role, they will want to stick closely to the Problems, Ideal State, and Triggered Ideas questions. However, as they become more comfortable, they may want to expand their tool set of interviewing gambits. Here are seven moves to uncover more customer outcomes.

1. Outcome-Driven Innovation Probing: Speed-Stability-Output

The first method is Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI) probing, as created by Anthony Ulwick, the prime architect of jobs-to-be-done. With the ODI method, we begin with the premise that a customer seeks to improve their ability to accomplish a job-to-be-done.

And, when considering a job as a process, there are three ways to improve. We can make the job go faster. We can make it more stable. Or finally, we can increase the output. 

As an illustration, let's imagine that we have selected the scope of apple farmers who are performing the job-to-be-done (JTBD) of growing apples. We can create questions within each category of speed, stability, and output. 

For speed, we ask:

  • What makes growing apples slow?
  • What makes growing apples time consuming?

For stability, we're interested in the errors that arise. And so, we might ask:

  • What can go wrong when growing apples?
  • What makes growing apples problematic?
  • How might you get inconsistent results when growing apples?

Finally, for output, we ask:

  • What limits apple growing production?
  • What keeps you from growing more apples each season?

When used within Blueprinting, it's probably clear that these are variations on the Problems section. In which we might ask, "What problems do you have when growing apples?" Therefore, consider bringing out the speed/stability/output probes during this phase of the interview. 

2. Chronology

For Chronology, we want a customer to guide us through their process. We might say, "Take us through a year on your apple farm. When does the process begin?"  And, you'd continue with the customer until we get to the end of the process. 

You can use this to create a jobs (outcomes) map with a customer. You can also pause along the way with each process step, exploring for problems as you go. 

Additionally, you can use this to go deeper into an area of suspected unmet needs. For example, "Let's talk about the process of harvesting apples. When does this begin? And what happens next?"  

For Blueprinting, you could use this at the very beginning of the Problems section. A discussion of the customer's process gives perspective as to what to probe about later. This is particularly useful if you, as the moderator, have limited understanding about the process itself. 

Alternatively, you might also use the Chronology tactic within the Problems section if the customer is struggling to think of anything to say. A discussion of the process will likely spark some ideas.  

3. Experiences

Probes about "Experiences" begin with "Tell me about a time that you..." In this case, you're inviting the customer to tell a story. We might ask, "Tell me about the last time that you planted new trees?" Or, "Tell me about a time when that your crop was threatened by dry weather."

When using this tactic, we want to be deliberate about what follows "Tell me about..." because we're taking the customer to a narrower topic. Therefore, this is a good one to use after you have already done quite a few Discovery Interviews, and you have good evidence, for example, that dry weather is a pervasive issue. And therefore, you want to use some of your later interviews to go deeper within that topic. 

4. Extremes

Generally, in life, we tend to think in terms of normal times. However, we need products that help us in the longtail events of life. Even if something is infrequent, that doesn't mean that we don't need to prepare for it. For example, this is why we purchase insurance. It's also why we have many things, from generators to first aid kits. 

In our interview, we can use the Extremes gambit to reveal these infrequent challenges. We might ask questions like:

  • What was the worst year you ever had in the apple business? (What happened, how did this impact you, etc.)
  • What was the best year you ever had in the apple business?

Of the two, asking about the "worst" will generally be more enlightening that asking about the best. But feel free to mix it up. 

5. Magic Ring

In the Magic Ring gambit, we ask customers, "If I could give you a Magic Ring, how would that help you to accomplish your job-to-be-done better? How would it help you?" 

We, therefore, ask our farmer, "If I could give you a Magic Ring, how would that help you to better grow apples?" They might say that they want the apples to be smaller, bigger, more tart, or sweeter. Or, they might want to eliminate bouts of extreme heat, cold, rain or drought. 

Blueprinting practitioners should recognize the similarity to the "Ideal State" phase. And in fact, you could even consider this to be alternate phrasing for "What would you like to see in your ideal world?"

This tactic is effective because customers may only tell us problems they believe to be solvable. Perhaps the farmer doesn't mention the rain, or instability of apple prices, because they just accept them as part of their environment. Of course, we don't want customers applying these judgment filters. We want to hear all the problems, whether solvable or not. 

6. A vs. B

The A vs. B probe is deadly in its efficiency. The answer to this question will always be a customer outcome. For this, you ask customer about product references they use when executing a job-to-be-done. Specifically, you ask them why they prefer one over another. For example:

Moderator: When harvesting apples, why would you prefer human labor over machines?

Customer: The apples aren't damaged nearly as much. We can cull out bad ones right on the spot, saving time later. And the farm workers won't damage the trees like the harvesters will. 

Moderator: Ok, how about the other way? Why would you prefer machines over human labor?

Customer: Machines show up for work everyday. They don't get tired or need breaks. They just process apples faster that people ever could. 

Blueprinting practitioners will recognize the richness of those customer answers as fertile ground for additional probing. Note that in the example above the two product references are different solutions altogether for harvesting apples. Another common way, and a great one for B2B, is to use natural competitors as the A and B. For example, "When harvesting Apples, why would your prefer John Deere tractors over Kubota? ... Why would you prefer Kubota over John Deere?" This illustrates another point. When using the A vs. B, always ask the questions both ways, "Why would you prefer A over B? ... AND ALSO ... Why would you prefer B over A?"

A vs. B is great when customers are struggling during the Problems section of a Blueprinting interview. And as long as you are still referencing their JTBD (harvesting apples), you really haven't influenced their answer much. 

7. Vague Perfectus

A perfectus is a customer's job, perfectly executed. The Vague Perfectus gambit is a judo move. It's a probing technique that uses the customer's energy to uncover their outcomes. Use it when a customer gives a vague positive attribute, such as:

  • Attractive
  • Comfortable
  • Durable
  • Efficient
  • Easy-to-use

Here's how it works. Imagine that our apple farmer says, "I wish that apple production in my newer orchards was more reliable.

With this positive, vague concept of "reliability" on the table, the moderator asks, "What makes an orchard not reliable?"

Perhaps the customer says something like:

  • Some newer trees produce almost no apples for several years
  • It's harder to predict the fertilizer additions for newer trees
  • Newer trees are more vulnerable to drought in summer, and some will die
  • Trees don't start growing predictably until they're at least 4-5 years old

All of these are radically different outcomes from the customer's claim that newer orchards are not reliable. The trick is to ask about, "What makes it not reliable?" Similarly, for other terms we would probe as follows:

  • Customer: "I wish the apples were more attractive."

  • Moderator: "What can make them unattractive?"


  • Customer: "I wish the tractor seats were more comfortable."
  • Moderator: "What makes them uncomfortable?"


  • Customer: "I wish it was easier to apply the fertilizer."
  • Moderator: "What makes it difficult to apply the fertilizer." 

BONUS: SQLA - Short Question - Long Answer

This "bonus" gambit is less gambit, and more of a guideline to think about when asking questions. If planning questions in advance, remember "SQLA", which stands for "Short Question, Long Answer". This will apply whether within the Current State, Problems, Ideal State, or Triggered Ideas section of the interview. 

It is so tempting for inexperienced interviewers to ask long, unwieldy questions. The longer the question, the more the interviewer will bias the conversation. Challenge yourself to ask short questions that invite long answers. 

Applying a Gambit

As you grow in your experience, begin working these into your approach. Begin with one, get comfortable with it, and then incorporate others. An easy one to begin with is the A vs. B. It only requires that you spend a little bit of preparation time to determine which competitors to use. From there, customers find this one particularly easy to answer. 



Of course, we begin with New Product Blueprinting, by Dan Adams, as our guiding framework.

All of the techniques above are covered in more detail within The Statue in the Stone: Decoding Customer Motivation with the 48 Laws of Jobs-to-be-Done Philosophy

Anthony Ulwick, creator of Outcome-Driven Innovation, created the probing method of Speed-Stability-Output, which is described within his book What Customers Want

The SQLA technique, along with many others, is detailed within Secrets of a Master Moderator, by Naomi Henderson.