The Ultimate Guide to Jobs To Be Done Theory

Jul 30, 2021
Diana Porumboiu Diana Porumboiu

Like a fine-tuned instrument, successful innovation needs perfect calibration and careful adjustments, over and over again. Maybe you’ve already tried recalibrating your innovation efforts but to no avail. What went wrong and what to improve next?

Successful companies are usually customer-centric, focusing on the real needs of the customers and the experience they have. But how to do that? How to discover their underlying needs? Jobs To Be Done theory (JTBD) is the answer.

In this post we’ll share an extensive guide to the widely discussed JTBD theory which will help you look into customer needs, motivators and behaviours through a new lens. We’ll also provide a toolkit to help you get started with JTBD.

ultimate guide jobs to be done theory

What is Jobs To Be Done Theory?

Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) has generated much controversy among innovators and for good reason. Just like other theories out there, before reaching its current shape, it has been tested, refined and adapted so it’s only normal to lead to so much debate. JTBD has been influenced by various theories and principles from both psychology and management fields.

It’s understandable why some might disagree on some nuances. That being said, our goal in this article is to focus on the most relevant information around the Jobs to be Done theory, so you can take the most out of it.

Where does it come from? One of the most prominent names linked to JTBD, who also had a major contribution in popularizing it is Clay Christensen, academic, business consultant and author of several books on innovation. Tony Ulwick, Bob Moesta and Chris Spiek are also some of the names that have been very active in promoting and developing Jobs to be Done through their businesses and publications.

But without further ado, let’s see what Jobs To Be Done is really about. In short, JTBD explains how and why customers “hire” or pull certain products or services into their life. It’s not about a specific task or activity that triggers their action, but it uncovers the customers’ desire to make progress, in given circumstances.

This approach also provides a new perspective on who your competition is and how to break away from the industry standards and differentiate yourself using unique customer insights. JTBD is meant to help you better understand customer behaviour and reframe competition.Simply put, Jobs To Be Done supports innovation by looking into why and how someone decided to hire a product or service and sets the scene so you can create better fitted, value adding solutions.

Jobs To Be Done supports innovation by looking into why and how someone decided to hire a product or service and sets the scene so you can create better fitted, value adding solutions.


The guiding principles of Jobs To Be Done

As a theory, Jobs to be Done is complex and if we look at it from different perspectives and angles, it becomes even more complicated.

One of the easiest ways of explaining JTBD theory is to think of Theodore Levitt's famous saying "people don't want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole".  We see this all around us and in our lives. We buy products or services to get things done, to fulfil a job or satisfy a need. We buy a drill or we hire a person to have that hole in the wall. In the end, it's all about the progress we want to make and the outcome. But more on that, later in this article.

Now let’s go back to the guiding principle on which Jobs To Be Done theory has been built. You can use these as a stepping-stone to pursue innovation through the Jobs to be Done framework. At the same time, it’s also good to keep in mind that the JTBD theory is not a silver bullet, it has its limitations and can’t work for any innovation endeavours you might imagine.

  1. Products and services are hired to make progress. In order to understand people’s underlying motivation for buying or using certain products you have to look at the progress they want to achieve in the future, and the adjacent circumstances. Services and products have value when people use them to make progress.
  2. A Job is stable and persistent. While products or services might come and go, the underlying job is the same. Customers simply decide to fire the old product and hire a new one that does the job better.
  3. The three dimensions of JTBD. Jobs have functional, social and emotional dimensions that a solution can meet simultaneously.
  4. The three layers of JTBD. Uncover the job --> Create the desired experiences --> Integrate around the jobs. This will help you create a competitive advantage as you can solve a job in a way competitors can’t copy.
  5. Processes are the source of competitive advantage. Processes need to be organized and aligned with a compelling customer’s Job and optimized for progress.
  6. Define metrics that are most critical to the customer’s job. To measure the results and adjust accordingly, you need the right metrics in place. They should reveal whether you are helping customers make progress in their life.
  7. JTBD can be applied throughout organizations and disciplines. Because it provides a systematic way of understanding people’s motivators, different teams can leverage the theory.


Why is Jobs To Be Done theory important & what are the benefits?

Implementing JTBD theory takes time. Organizations have to slowly shift towards a jobs-centric approach by creating and integrating flexible processes and measuring the right things. Ensuring that all critical decisions in an organization are guided by a customer’s job, from product development to marketing and customer service, is not easy but it’s definitely worth it. Here are some of the benefits you can reap along the way.


1. Understand how demand is created

In "Competing Against Luck", Christensen extends The Jobs to Be Done Theory to include the Forces of Progress model. This states that in order to create demand, you have to pull customers away from competing solutions. Many companies make the mistake of assuming that significant improvements to a solution are enough to motivate customers to switch. Since the job is not the one that changes, organizations should look into what determines customers to change solution. More on the forces of progress, later in this article.


2. Gives a shift in perspective and helps you redefine your business.

With this new approach you can see customers where there were none and spot opportunities where there used to be problems.

For example, when you think of Netflix, you could immediately assume that their competitors are other streaming services like Disney, HBO or Amazon Prime. However, Netflix understood very well the Jobs their customers needed done and worked to solve them. When their customers look for entertainment, the competitors also become video games, nights out with friends, outdoor games and so on.


3. Long-term competitive advantage

Successful job-based innovations are hard to copy because they focus not just on what is called the “big hire”, when the purchase happens, but also on the “little hire”, what happens when they start using the product. The level of detail to these touch-points is what makes job-based innovations difficult to copy. Customers decide what products are better than others based on the experience they have after their purchase.

This is why Amazon reviews are so important and can make or break a business and why IKEA, while it has no hidden business secrets, hasn’t been successfully copied or outperformed by other furniture companies. IKEA is not just about furnishing your room easy and fast, it’s also about the experience, the layout of the stores and the way they are packaged.


4. Enables autonomy and innovation

Job-focused organizations empower employees to have clarity in their purpose and decisions. Jobs to be Done can act as focal points for employees, so the better they understand the job they solve, the easier it is for them to make the right decisions, be autonomous and creative.


5. Enables lean operations

When the organization’s goals are aligned around the Job, you systematically minimize waste, expenses and time. The impact on the productivity can also be dramatic because once everyone understands what progress a consumer is trying to make, it’s easier to deploy human capital according to processes and priorities.

when and where to use JTBD

When and where to use JTBD

No matter where and how you decide to use Jobs to drive more innovation, it’s important to first do the hard work of identifying the right jobs your customers need to do.

JTBD has a broad application, and it has been used by hundreds of companies and in there are numerous examples of successful stories from different industries.

  • In the nonprofit sector, SNHU pursued JTBD and grew their online learning program, their revenue and a 34% compound annual growth for 6 years.
  • Videoconferencing software Zoom has now become the most used online collaboration tool. In the light of the coronavirus pandemic, Zoom has seen a 354 percent increase in customer growth.
  • Deseret News publication used the JTBD theory to build their strategy around communities that have common interests and values. Using a new perspective and looking at their audience through the social, emotional and functional lens they could find a discrepancy between what media was offering and what consumers wanted.
  • Snickers realized their competitors are not other candy bars but anything that holds back your hunger. Their communication and marketing are all about the job their product does: it satisfies the hunger.

In what other areas can we use JTBD?

  • Positioning and Messaging

How you communicate the value you bring to consumers and the way you position your products and services makes a huge difference. Miscommunicating your offer and why someone should choose you also comes with the risk of getting hired for the wrong reasons. When this happens it’s almost impossible not to disappoint someone.

Companies like Uber, Google, Disney, LinkedIn etc. have become “purpose brands” because their names have become a reflection of the jobs they help you get done. They are successful because they perform a job well and they can also articulate the job they solve.

Remember to frame you messaging around the jobs, not around the product. How much do we usually care for a product’s feature? We’re actually interested in the progress we can achieve thanks to those features.

  • Customer development

Demographic segmentation based on gender, age, income and so on, doesn’t reveal much about customer needs. This traditional method, mostly known as creating “buyer personas” has been used by most marketers to identify the groups of people who are most likely to use your products or services. Sometimes they take into account customer behaviour too, but often times these approaches are limiting and don't reveal the real needs and why customers choose a specific solution.

With JTBD you can create a needs-based segmentation which can help you understand customer struggles, gaps in the market or identify new opportunities.

With Jobs to be Done you can create a needs-based segmentation which can help you understand customer struggles, gaps in the market or identify new opportunities.



3 steps to get started with JTBD

Before getting started with JTBD it’s worth pointing out that like any other theory, method or process out there, this one has its time and place as well as limitations and boundaries. Finding and defining the right jobs that explain your organization’s existence is not easy. Even though it is about the progress customers want to achieve, it doesn’t mean that every motivator is automatically a job to be done.

So how to get started? First thing first, set your goals, what you want to achieve and what resources and time you’re willing to allocate. As this is a long-term endeavour, you have to be prepared for change and also to prepare your organization for it.

It’s important to be intentional about your JTBD efforts and let everyone know what’s coming next, what is their role, how they will be involved and so on. If you want to read more about how to communicate the launching of a new project, we wrote a detailed guide on the topic, and it comes with a set of useful templates.

Building trust and awareness are the first steps. You can expect to face some resistance so be prepared to alleviate the fears and concerns without dismissing them as irrelevant. Don’t get discouraged, so start small, with individual JTBD projects that can be a success story the organization will want to replicate and scale. Once you have your plan go ahead with these three big steps:


1. Understand the customer’s job

Customers are at the heart of the JTBD theory and if you want to understand their needs, or what we now call the “Jobs”, you have to get to know your customers better. Interviews are essential when applying Jobs theory because they reveal previously unseen patterns and motivations.

A first step in conducting the interviews is choosing the customers you’ll talk to according to specific criteria, like those who have bought your product recently, those who have left you for the competition or those who have been with you the longest. These criteria can help you narrow down the list of people to interview.

Interviews are a big step in understanding the jobs so take your time to develop and analyze the information you gather. Interviews should last at least 30 minutes and they should cover all aspects of a job: the social, functional and emotional dimensions. It’s good to start with a well thought strategy, but knowing what to ask and how is crucial.

Ask indirectly and with open-ended questions about anxieties, frustrations, behaviours, hiring criteria, benefits or motivators. Conversations should flow naturally and even though it’s best to prepare a plan and a strategy, it’s also good to get off track shortly and see where things are going. Taking notes and preparing in advance will help you remember all the touch-points you want to go through in your interview.

map your interviewTo help you in this step, we’ve put together a comprehensive Jobs To Be Done toolkit that also includes additional tips, templates for interview scripts, questions and email invitations.


2. Map the Job

Once you’re done with the interviews start mapping and analyzing the information. How you piece together the answers plays a big role in the success of uncovering the right jobs. Ideally you start noticing some patterns like shared experiences, similar behaviours, channels they used to find new solutions, criteria they consider when making their choice, anxieties or fears related to what stopped them from making a specific decision.

Don’t overlook important information about your competitors and filter out the adjectives and verbs used to describe them. When you’re done with this step you should have at least a few interviews where many of the answers are recurrent.

You might uncover more than one job so you should prioritize them based on which ones present a bigger opportunity. In the following section we provide more details on the tools that will help you through this step.


3. Work on the solution

At this stage you should have identified the job(s) your customers need to do. With all this knowledge under your belt you should be ready to start developing a solution or improving on the existing one.

Now that you know what progress they are seeking, your solution should speak to their motivation and should also consider the emotional, social and functional dimensions that define this progress. The solution you’ll develop should be as complex as the job itself. Having defined all the specifics of the job will help create a blueprint for the solution. This should serve as an actionable guide to innovation.

 Defining all the specifics of a job helps you create a blueprint for the solution which you can use as an actionable guide to innovation.


Don’t start improving your products or services before answering the big “why”. Why would customers go for your new or improved products and what triggers their decisions? Instead of breaking the information into individual information clusters, it’s best to bring everything together into stories.

Storyboarding helps you place the progress in a set of circumstances and on a timeline. Using the answers from the interview, build on the functional, emotional and social aspects and bring together the elements that make up the story of your customer’s job.

For example, Airbnb pieced together 45 different emotional moments that their hosts and guests can experience. Creating this storyboard makes it easier to pin-point the triggers that lead to specific decision for purchasing or taking an action. How well you prepare and lead the interview will dictate how much information you have to put together on your storyboard.

Each of these steps can include even more steps, but those are up to you to decide and uncover according to your specific process, goals and organizational structure. For the sake of brevity and clarity, we haven’t gone into too much detail, but these 3 main steps should be the starting point for new opportunities to innovate with JTBD.

Tools and methods to apply Jobs to be Done

In “Competing against luck”, the authors are not advocating for a specific tool or method to practice JTBD. Rather they emphasize the importance of understanding the theory, what a Job is and isn’t and the focus on processes that support a wholistic approach to JTBD. On the other hand, Tony Ulwick, author of “Jobs to Be Done” has a complex, practical approach and provides various resources and tools to put the theory into practice.

Even though there might be small differences in how they frame the theory, it’s important to first understand the basics. This way it becomes easier to mix and match the tools and resources that will help you discover Jobs to be Done, apply them throughout your organization and combine this with further research and methods to drive innovation.


1. The Job map

A job map reflects what a customer is trying to accomplish, and it shouldn’t be confused with a customer journey experience or a process map. The Job map includes eight steps that layout what customers are trying to get done.
This tool helps you point to all the areas where a customer might want help or support.

Job MapDeconstructing any job into these eight steps should make it easier for organizations to uncover further opportunities to innovate and differentiate themselves. The goal is to identify what customers want to accomplish in each step, not what they are already doing or how they are doing it.

  1. Define – what aspects of the job to be done should be defined by the customer in order to proceed. Look into how to help customers understand their objectives and make their planning easier.
  2. Locate – the inputs that need to be located for the job to be done
  3. Prepare – how can the inputs be prepared for the job? In this step you can look into ways of making it easier to prepare the setup, to organize, to automate.
  4. Confirm – making sure the preparation was done right, validating and confirming readiness.
  5. Execute – what has to be done to execute the job successfully? Look into how you can support customers by providing real time feedback or make sure the execution is correct.
  6. Monitor – what has to be monitored to support the execution? This is vital as the execution might need adjustments. Solutions that provide automated and accurate monitorization are highly valuable.
  7. Modify – sometimes customers might need help altering, updating or adjusting the job. They might need help to identify or decide what needs adjusting, but also when and how.
  8. Conclude – this should not be misleading because even though it is the ending of the job, it’s not less important. If the job to be done is cyclical you can find an opportunity in helping with a smooth transition from the end of the cycle to the beginning of the next one.

The Job map can be used as a framework to predict and understand future growth, but also as a guide for interviews to discover the jobs.


2. The Forces of Progress

Developed by Bob Moesta and Chris Spiek, the Forcess of Progress is an adaptation of Lewin’s Force Field Analysis. Christensen also included it in his Jobs to be Done theory to explain the dynamics behind customers hiring or firing solutions.

the forces of progressHow to get more customers? The question every manager, salesperson, or marketer out there is asking. The answer to this question is in the understanding of what determines a customer to fire or hire a solution and the forces at play. So what are the forces that make them switch?

  • The Pull forces (moving away from an old solution to a new one)
- The struggles or limitations associated with a current solution
- They might be attracted by something new, other benefits or they are early adopters
  • The Push forces (what makes customer stick to their old solution and what pushes them away from you)
- Force of habit – being used with the old ways
- Resistance to change and anxiety when facing the unknown

Keep the forces of progress in mind when you plan your interviews. Ask questions that can reveal the reasons for potential resistance, the struggles, habits or limitations.

To help you work through this, you can use a tool like the Customer Forces Canvas from Ash Mauraya that we adapted and included in the JTBD Toolkit.


3. Discovery driven planning

In simple words, discovery-driven planning is a technique that can be used to develop new ventures with lower risk. Developed by Rita Gunther McGrath and Ian MacMillan, this approach influenced Steve Blank and Eric Ries in creating their lean startup movement.

Described in detail in an HBR article from 1995, the tool is even more valuable today as it’s used by new ventures working with a lot of uncertainty and assumptions. Christensen saw the discovery drive planning as a complementary tool that can be used along JTBD to articulate what assumptions have to be proven true for a strategy to succeed.

discovery driven planningDiscovery-driven planning includes the following steps:

  1. Define success – what success will look like for you in concrete terms. At this step you create a reverse income statement.
  2. Benchmark to assess if your plan is realistic.
  3. Define operational requirements. Lay out required resources and be critical about what it takes to realize the goals.
  4. Document assumptions. List all the assumptions behind your profit, revenue and costs calculations.
  5. Plan according to key checkpoints. Layout your plan and include checkpoints where you’ll determine if assumptions are holding or have to be redefined.

With discovery-driven planning you have to accept that you will be proven wrong many times and you have to be comfortable with adjusting your assumptions and checkpoints over and over again.

Jobs to be Done Best Practices

When done well, JTBD can be a powerful tool to drive innovation in your organization, but to get it right you need to find the correct jobs. We chose three of the most important best practices that can go a long way.

inspiration best practices jtbd

1. Get inspired by the reality surrounding you

Many of the most successful products have come from personal jobs to be done. Market research plays an important role, but sometimes we forget to look in the most obvious places. Whether it’s your own life or someone else’s, observe and look for opportunities in the things people try to achieve or in their struggles.

What workarounds or compensating behaviours they display? Maybe someone is unhappy with the available solutions to a job they want to solve. This is how ING Direct came to be.

A father came up with a DIY solution to teach his son about savings and the value of money. I response, ING Direct created an online bank service that offered savings accounts, mutual funds and certificates of deposit. They addressed emotional aspects like lack of trust or fear of change by creating local offices in the form of cafes where customers could interact with the bank.


2. Study how customers use your product

There’s great opportunity in unusual uses of certain products. Take the example of baking soda. When Arm & Hammer identified through their research that customers were using baking soda as laundry detergent, toothpaste mix, carpet cleaners or odour absorbent, they saw the opportunity in the new jobs that needed to be done.

Based on their findings, the company developed new products that solved those specific jobs and used a new marketing strategy to communicate all the things their product could be used for.


3. Understand what is a job and what is not

An easy trick for this is to keep in mind that adjectives or adverbs usually don’t describe real jobs. Instead, a real job is defined at a more abstract level. Another tip is that if a solution to your problem comes from the same category of products, it’s not solving for a job.

If someone says they want to drink a milkshake, you don’t have a different solution besides other similar drinks. If someone says they need to keep occupied on their way to work and not getting hungry for a few hours, then the solution can come from a whole different category of products.


Key challenges in Jobs to be Done

If you’ve got to this point, you must be prepared to put some work in identifying and applying jobs to be done. Just like other theories or methods out there, this is not a one-size-fits all approach so it’s good to be aware of the challenges and risks that come with it.


1. Identifying the wrong competition

As previously mentioned, if you only think of competition as products or services from the same category, you might be on the wrong track. As we already established, JTBD theory is about the progress people want to achieve and it’s not strictly linked to a specific product or service. The same job can be done with products that are in completely different categories.

Ask yourself what will customers stop using or buying if they chose your solution. This way you can avoid creating a solution no one is interested in. Do research outside of your market and look for competition in less obvious places.


2. Misuse of data

Data can easily become a double-edged sword. Traditionally, market research looks into quantitative data because it’s believed to be the only objective source that provides accurate information. This approach can be misleading because it’s focused on the “big hire” (the purchase moment). Most often, subjective data related to “little hires” (what happens after the purchase, when and how they use a solution) is neglected.

In order to avoid this, pay equal attention to qualitative data: observations and insights that don’t normally fit in a spreadsheet.


3. Losing focus of the job

Once companies identify an important job and find a way to solve it, they start growing. That’s when some are led into the “growth temptation” and start losing focus on the job that made everything happen. With this, comes the desire to sell more, to expand and to reach more customers.

However, trying to solve for many jobs at once and for more customers can backfire. Focusing on a single job and doing that well it’s challenging but it’s what made so many organizations succeed. You should always ask yourself: are you solely focused on driving growth or are you also considering the progress customers are trying to make in their lives?

To avoid losing focus from the job you’re solving, give it a voice and a champion. Good management prevents day to day organizational systems to veer you off an initial job. A Job-centric organization has to build processes around the job and embed it in the culture.


4. Unclear job

JTBDchallenge unclear jobIf you can’t provide clarity and define the job you might fall in the trap of providing a one size fits all solution and that tends to end in failure. When you decide to use the Jobs theory as one of the methods to drive more innovation, you have to consider organizing around that job.

It doesn’t come naturally to focus on the job or to clearly explain it to everyone in the company. However, it’s an important step and the organizational culture plays an important role in how you communicate change and how everyone is playing their part.


Conclusion

You can’t expect to be a successful innovator if you play it by ear so it’s important to understand how innovation works, what causes it to succeed and how to make it happen. That’s why Jobs To Be Done theory can be so powerful. It reveals the why behind customer choices, it gives you a framework to build your solution around their needs for progress and allows you to look at your business and the market through a new lens.

Jobs to be Done is just one of the many methods used by successful innovators. There are other methods to drive innovation but it’s up to you to look into the best options for your organization and create your personalized toolkit.

To help you get started with Jobs to be Done theory, we’ve put together all the relevant information in a toolkit. We’ve also included a set of practical tools and templates that will make your job easier. Enjoy and happy job hunting!

Cover- Complete Toolkit to Jobs to be Done

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