Understanding Jobs to Be Done
IN THIS CHAPTER, YOU WILL LEARN:
• How definitions of JTBD vary
• The origins of JTBD theory and practice
• What divergent schools of thought exist
• The core principles of JTBD
I’ve done a fair number of field interviews over the years—enough that I don’t remember them all. But one stands out that I’ll never forget. It wasn’t what happened during the session that was memorable, but what happened afterward.
I went with the head of marketing for the company where I was consulting to interview a professional in our domain at
her workplace. There she was, buried in a pile of folders, with calculators and calendars all around. I focused the discussion not on our product, but on understanding how she worked in general. By all accounts, it was a normal interview, or so I thought.
However, once we left the office building, the marketing person turned to me and said in a dry tone, “Our customers don’t need our product.” For all of the market research he’d done, he never had received that kind of firsthand insight. He hadn’t considered what actually happened on the other end of his offering nor asked people how they thought about their process or needs.
From one single interview, my colleague was already thinking differently. And that was just a start. Imagine what we were able to uncover after a dozen more interviews. It turned out that our offering wasn’t as important to our customers’ needs as we thought. We weren’t in their critical path. The company eventually learned that they had to find new ways to serve customers.
My experience reflects a key challenge: Had our head of marketing not witnessed the customer’s problem firsthand, he wouldn’t have had the same revelation he did about their needs. But not everyone in a company will get that chance. Indeed, most won’t. So how, then, can we consistently translate insights about human needs into actionable intelligence?
Imprecise concepts like desires and emotions are hard to measure and quantify. Seeking to gain empathy, while well intended, lacks a clear beginning or end. It’s no wonder that companies gravitate toward predictable and reliable research on market size and customer demographics. But traditional methods miss important, qualitative insight into why people act as they do.
JTBD provides a way to understand, classify, and organize otherwise irregular feedback. It not only directs you to look at your markets differently, but it also provides a clear and stable unit of analysis: the job.
JTBD lets you find the patterns that matter the most, taking the fuzziness out of the fuzzy front end of innovation.
Think of JTBD as an engine of inquiry that informs capabilities across departments—from innovation and strategy to product design and development to marketing and customer support. Having a common aim—understanding the core job and its related emotions and aspirations—is a necessary precursor to having aligned teams and efforts.
Every day, you have dozens of objectives that you strive to accomplish. You drink coffee to get energy in the morning. Then you might drive to a park-and-ride to take the train while you commute to work. At the office, you collaborate with colleagues to complete a project or deliver a pitch to a new client. Back home, you might eat a piece of chocolate to reward yourself after work and then prepare a meal to enjoy with your family.
These are all jobs to be done (JTBD).
The JTBD approach offers a unique lens for viewing the people you serve. Instead of looking at the demographic and psychographic factors of consumption, JTBD focuses on what people seek to achieve in a given circumstance. People don’t “hire” products and services because of the demographic they belong to (e.g., 25–31-year-olds, have a college degree, earn a certain salary); instead, they employ solutions to get a job done.
JTBD is not about your product, service, or brand. Instead of focusing on your own solution, you must first understand what people want and why that’s important to them. Accordingly, JTBD deliberately avoids mention of particular solutions in order to first comprehend the process that people go through to solve a problem. Only then can a company align its offerings to meet people’s goals and needs.
Early origins of JTBD thinking point to Theodore Levitt. The famous business professor was known for telling students, “People don’t want
a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”1
This quote captures the essence of JTBD: focus on the outcome, not the technology. The drill is a means to an end, not the result.
Peter Drucker, a contemporary of Levitt and father of modern management, first used the phrase “jobs to be done” in relation to customer needs. In his 1985 book Innovation and Entrepreneurship
, Drucker wrote:2
Some innovations based on process need exploit incongruities, others demographics. Indeed, process need, unlike the other sources of innovation, does not start out with an event in the environment, whether internal or external. It starts out with the job to be done.
But neither Drucker nor Levitt used the label “job to be done” in any consequential way to refer to their ideas or approaches to solving business problems. It wasn’t until Clayton Christensen popularized the term in The Innovator’s Solution, the follow-up to his landmark work, The Innovator’s Dilemma, that the concept became widespread.
Although modern references of JTBD point back to Christensen, definitions of JTBD vary in practice. Table 1.1
at the end of this chapter presents how a “job” is defined by thought leaders in the field. Comparing them side-by-side shows variation in approach, but also reveals commonalities.
Overall, JTBD is about understanding the goals that people want to accomplish, and achieving those goals amounts to progress in their lives. Jobs are also the motivators and drivers of behavior: they predict why people behave the way they do. This moves beyond mere correlation and strives to find causality.
My definition of a job is simple and broad:
The process of reaching objectives under given circumstances
My use of the word “objectives” is deliberate. It better reflects the functional nature of JTBD. I don’t use the word “goals” in my definition in order to avoid associations with broader aspirations, e.g., “life goals.” This isn’t to say that aspirations and emotions aren’t important in JTBD. Instead, my interpretation of JTBD sequences the steps for creating offerings that people desire: first, meet the functional objectives and then layer the aspirational and emotional aspects onto the solution.
My definition of JTBD also includes an explicit mention of a process, highlighting the dynamic nature of getting a job done. In other words, an “objective” isn’t just about an end point, rather an objective itself is a process that unfolds over time. The goal across the above definitions is the same: leverage a deeper understanding of how people make choices to create products they truly demand.
Perspectives of JTBD
Despite some common terminology and desired end results, the field of JTBD has unfortunately split into different schools of thought. Newcomers to JTBD may find an array of approaches and opinions on the topic, leading to confusion and discouragement. Contentious debates exacerbate the divide.
JTBD falls broadly into two camps. On the one side, there is the so-called “Switch” school of thought, pioneered by Bob Moesta. Through qualitative interviews, the Switch technique seeks to reverse engineer the underlying motivation for changing from one solution to another. The researcher can then deduce why people “hire” a solution to get a job done and analyze the forces of change. The aim is to increase demand for a given product or service.
On the other side is Tony Ulwick’s Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI), a strategy and innovation approach focused on pinpointing customer-centered opportunities. In qualitative interviews, ODI uncovers all of the desired outcomes that people want from getting a job done in a given domain. In a separate step, these desired outcomes are prioritized
with a quantitative survey. ODI increases the adoption of innovation by creating products that address unmet needs.