Demystifying Jobs-to-be-Done: Four Applications 

Tony Ulwick | Feb 2, 2017 323 views No Comments

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Newcomers to “Jobs-to-be-Done” are getting confused. With all that has been written on the subject recently, those just getting introduced to the theory are wondering: Do multiple versions of the theory exist? Why do those out there who are talking about Jobs-to-be-Done think about it so differently? Why are there so many different methods being touted as the best way to apply the theory?

Here is the good news: there is only one Jobs-to-be-Done Theory. I believe that the established thought leaders in this space can all agree on these 6 basic tenants of the theory:

  1. People buy products and services to get a “job” done.
  2. Products that win in the marketplace help customers get a job done better and/or more cheaply.
  3. A job-to-be-done is stable over time, making it an attractive unit of analysis.
  4. Understanding the job-to-be-done provides a new avenue for understanding customer needs.
  5. A job-to-be-done is functional and has emotional and social jobs associated with it.
  6. A job-to-be-done is always a process (to make progress).

Given these basic tenants, Jobs-to-be-Done Theory can be explained as follows:

Situations arise in people’s lives where they turn to products and services to help them get a job done. By understanding in detail what that job is, companies are better informed to create solutions that will help customers get the job done better and/or more cheaply.

The confusion that surrounds this subject results from the fact that Jobs-to-be-Done Theory is applicable along many fronts and those using it have different perspectives depending on the application. Understanding these applications and the differences between them explains much of the confusion that surrounds the subject.

To delve into this in more detail, let’s start by asking, “Who are the users of Jobs-to-be-Done Theory and what are the jobs they are trying to get done?” Four applications are of particular interest and the cause for most of the confusion: market selection, innovation, development and understanding the customer purchase decision.

Market Selection

First, Jobs-to-be-Done Theory is being embraced by entrepreneurs in startups and managers in corporations and corporate venturing units (the job executors) who are trying to discover, evaluate and select markets that are attractive for them to enter/pursue (their job-to-be-done).

As entrepreneurs and managers engage in this process, they start by trying to discover a number of unique jobs that customers are struggling to get done. Their goal is to discover and define the jobs at a level of abstraction that makes the job a uniquely attractive target. To accomplish this goal practitioners have been creating tools to assist with this exercise. Strategyn’s Jobs-to-be-Done Market Discovery Template is the tool our clients use to assist with market discovery and definition (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Jobs-to-be-Done Market Discovery Template

Figure 1: Jobs-to-be-Done Market Discovery Template

Once a number of markets are identified, the next step in the market selection process is to determine which is the most attractive to pursue. A job, for example, that is executed by many people, frequently, and is highly under-served would be a more attractive target than one that is executed by fewer people, infrequently and is already appropriately served. Strategyn’s clients use a market evaluation tool that includes 42 criteria to help make the market selection decision (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Jobs-to-be-Done Market Evaluation and Selection Template

Figure 2: Jobs-to-be-Done Market Evaluation and Selection Template


Second, Jobs-to-be-Done Theory has been embraced by product, marketing and innovation managers (job executors) in established companies who are trying to grow and expand their core markets (their job-to-be-done). Their goals are to typically (i) create a value proposition that resonates with customers, (ii) improve existing products, and (iii) conceptualize altogether new products that will address core or adjacent market opportunities. These activities comprise the innovation process.

To apply Jobs-to-be-Done Theory to assist in the innovation process, Strategyn developed Outcome-Driven Innovation® (ODI). The process originated in 1991 and has been simplified and improved through hundreds of applications within Fortune 500 companies since. Strategyn introduced ODI to Clayton Christensen in 1999. Six successes arising from the process are described in detail in a book recently released, JOBS TO BE DONE: Theory to Practice (Ulwick, 2016). The original book on the subject, What Customers Want (Ulwick, 2005), offers foundational insights into the ODI process and additional case studies.

The ODI process is comprised of the following 6 steps (Figure 3):

Figure 3: The Outcome-Driven Innovation Process

Figure 3: The Outcome-Driven Innovation Process

While the first step overlaps a step in the market selection process (market discovery and definition) the remaining steps in the process are different and so are the tools required to execute them.

To win at innovation a company must know what a customer need is, what the customer’s needs are, which are unmet and if segments of customers exist with unique sets of unmet needs. With the target well defined, creating a winning solution becomes far more likely.

ODI reveals the required insights using unconventional qualitative and quantitative market research techniques. The process uniquely employs predictive data and a sophisticated market segmentation methodology that helps companies discover and prioritize hidden market opportunities. Strategyn has developed a comprehensive set of tools to help its clients execute each step in the process. Additional information on the ODI innovation process can be found here.


The third application involves developers and UI and UX designers (job executors) who are trying to develop products that have been approved for development (their job-to-be-done). These developers may work in lean or agile environments. Their goal is to ensure that the products they create and the code they write not only delivers on the product specifications, but also guarantees a positive user experience.

Those trying to apply Jobs-to-be-Done Theory to the product development process typically have the benefit of knowing what product they are trying to create: the product is already conceptualized and defined as part of the innovation process. What developers and UI and UX designers struggle with are design issues and understanding the customer’s needs that relate to what we call consumption chain jobs, such as learning how to use and interfacing with the product.

As an extension of the ODI process, our clients apply steps 2 and 3 of the ODI process (outcome gathering and prioritization) to better understand the outcomes of users as they learn how to use, interface with the product and engage in the remaining consumption chain jobs that must be considered in the design phase. We have collected outcomes in all consumption chain jobs multiple times over the years.

If a company uses ODI for the innovation process, developers will have the prioritized outcomes associated with the core functional job to be done. These inputs are needed for design as well.

If a developer does not have access to the customer outcomes associated with the core functional job-to-be-done, then they tend to want to execute the innovation process in conjunction with the development process — learning more about the required product function as they create the product. Combining the development process with the innovation process creates confusion when using and implementing Jobs-to-be-Done Theory. A product concept should be well defined and proven to win in the marketplace before it is approved for development. The ODI process makes this possible.

Understanding the Customer Purchase Decision.

The forth application of the theory involves marketing team members (job executors) who are trying to understand the process that customer’s go through when buying a product so they can enhance the customer’s buying experience (their job-to-be-done). Confusion over Jobs-to-be-Done theory results from thinking that understanding the customer purchase decision will somehow inform the innovation and development processes as well, but it does not. The purchase “process” is an altogether unique job the customer is trying to get done, and is best studied as a separate job.

We have studied the purchase “job” on a number of occasions over the years, most recently with Harte Hanks where we studied customers of retailers who were engaged in the purchase process. The results of that work can be seen in this article: Can Bricks and Mortar Compete With On-Line Retailing.

The article shows that the purchase process involves the customer working to understand the problem they are trying to solve and then researching and evaluating possible solutions, selecting the best solution, deciding where to buy it, and finally, engaging in the physical transaction required to acquire the product. Gaining customer insights across this job at the desired outcome level can lead to improvements in the customer’s purchase experience.

While each of these four jobs is clearly different, they can all benefit from Jobs-to-be-Done Theory. It’s just a matter of picking the right tool for the job. You can obtain additional resources at Strategyn.

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