Defining the Customer’s Core Functional Job-To-Be-Done 

Tony Ulwick | Nov 3, 2016 582 views No Comments

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Image Source: Strategyn

Image Source: Strategyn

Making the core functional job the unit of analysis is the cornerstone of successful innovation. The core functional job is the stable, long-term focal point around which all other needs are defined and around which value creation should be centered. (See Strategyn’s Jobs to be Done Page)

Defining the core functional Job-to-be-Done correctly is a prerequisite to predictable success. Getting it wrong is a big problem, and getting it right is not that easy. Defining the job too narrowly will limit the discovery of growth opportunities. Defining the job too broadly will result in non-actionable insights.

From our experience, most products only get part of a job done. The goal is to discover the entire job the customer is trying to accomplish. This is why it is incorrect to ask a customer, “What job did you hire that product to do?” as this may not reveal the entire job. Asking this question is a common mistake. It is indicative of a product-centric mindset. It will get you in trouble as you proceed through the rest of the innovation process.

To avoid defining the job to narrowly, work directly with customers to understand not why they bought your product, but how your product fits into what they are trying to accomplish. Ask, “Why are you using that product, what job are you ultimately trying to get done”.

For example, if a stove-top kettle maker were to ask its users “what job did you hire that product to do”, it is likely they would tell you they hired it to “boil water”. That may be correct, but boiling water is just a step in the job the customer is ultimately trying to get done—which is to ”prepare a hot beverage for consumption”. If the stove top kettle maker defines the job too narrowly, then it is at risk of a competitor coming along (like Nespresso or Keurig) with a solution that gets the entire job done on a single platform.

It is not uncommon for a new competitor to overtake a market by finding the capabilities, resources, funding, technology, and know how to create an offering that gets the entire job done.


On the other hand, defining the job too broadly can make it difficult, if not impossible, for the company to tackle the job in its entirety. To avoid this from happening, think about the company, its products and its capabilities and ask, “Can and will the company address this job from beginning to end over time?” If the company does not have or is not willing to acquire the capabilities, resources, funding, and technology and know how to tackle the broader job then the job is defined too broadly from a practical standpoint.

Take the customer’s perspective: When defining the core functional job, think about the job from the customer’s perspective, not the company’s. For example, a company that supplies herbicides to farmers may conclude that growers are trying to “kill weeds,” while the growers might say the Job-to-be-Done is to “prevent weeds from impacting crop yields.”

Don’t overcomplicate it: While the Jobs-to-be-Done Needs Framework is multilayered and complex, a functional job statement is not. It is important to emphasize that a well-defined functional job statement, and all the need statements we describe, are one-dimensional and mutually exclusive. Cramming everything into one complicated statement or a “job story” makes it impossible to later quantify exactly where the customer is underserved. The goal is to separately define all the causal factors that contribute variability to getting the job done. This is accomplished though 100 or more separate statements, not just one.

Leave emotion and other needs out of it: When defining the core functional job make sure it is defined as a functional job, not as a hybrid functional/emotional/social job. A functional job does not have social and emotional dimensions. The emotional and social jobs related to the core functional job are defined in a series of separate emotional job statements.

Also do not include desired outcomes in the functional job statement. They too must be stated separately. So if the job is to “cut a piece of wood in a straight line”, don’t say “accurately, safely and quickly cut a piece of wood in a straight line”. Accurately, safely and quickly vaguely describe outcomes associated with getting the job done. A statement like “stay awake and occupied while I make my morning commute more fun” also fails this test. Here the functional job may be more like, “stay awake during my morning commute”. A possible solution may be a good shot of espresso, but probably not a milkshake.

Define the job, not the situation: Do not define the Job-to-be-Done as a situation that a customer finds himself or herself in. Rather define the job around what the customer decides to do in that situation. For example, commuters may find themselves “on a long, boring commute”, but “having a long and boring ride to work” is not a job—it is a situation commuters find themselves in. You cannot study the job of “overcoming boredom” because it is not a functional job.

Rather, consider what commuters choose to do when they are on a long, boring commute. What they may do is stop at a quick service restaurant to “get breakfast while commuting to work” (the actual functional Job-to-be-Done).

Similarly, you may find yourself bored waiting in line at a doctor’s office, but again, overcoming boredom is not the job, nor is the job to “fill my time while waiting.” Rather, what the customer chooses to do when she/he is bored is the real Job-to-be-Done. For example, when you are standing there in line waiting to see the doctor, you may choose to use your smartphone to “stay informed on topics of interest”, “check your credit score”, “pay bills”, or execute other jobs that can be accomplished through a smartphone application. They are the Jobs-to-be-Done.

Define the job statement in the correct format: A job statement always begins with a verb and is followed by the object of the verb (a noun). The statement should also include a contextual clarifier. In the job statement “listen to music while on the go”, the contextual clarification is made by adding “while on the go” to the job statement. Commuters who stop at quick service restaurant on the way to work are trying to “get breakfast while commuting to work” where “while commuting to work” brings needed context to the statement. Keep this format in mind:

Job statement = verb + object of the verb (noun) + contextual clarifier

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