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The Fundamentals of Jobs-to-be-Done Theory 

Tony Ulwick | Dec 1, 2017 395 views No Comments

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With decades of scrutiny and validation in both academic and practitioner settings, the fundamentals of Jobs Theory have withstood the test of time.

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After being introduced to Outcome-Driven Innovation® (ODI) in 1999, Clayton Christensen went on to popularize the underlying ODI theory in his best seller, The Innovator’s Solution, labeling it “jobs-to-be-done theory”. Since that time, we have independently worked to advance the theory — Clay through the lens of a well-respected Harvard Business School professor, and I through the lens of an overworked practitioner with 26 years experience in the field.

Jobs-to-be-Done Theory is best defined as a group of principles that explain how to make marketing more effective and innovation more predictable by focusing on the customer’s job-to-be-done. The theory is based on the notion that people buy products and services to get a “job” done. The theory goes on to say that by understanding in detail what that “job” is, companies are far more likely to create and market solutions that will win in the marketplace.

Our collective efforts have produced five fundamentals of Jobs-to-be-Done Theory — 5 tenets that we have hypothesized, tested and validated separately over time. The fact that they have undergone heavy scrutiny and validation in both academic and practitioner settings is testament to their power.

Consequently, when companies put Jobs Theory into practice, they can confidently count on these fundamentals as truths:

  1. People buy products and services to get a “job” done.
  2. Jobs are functional, with emotional and social components.
  3. A Job-to-be-Done is stable over time.
  4. Success comes from making the “job”, rather than the product or the customer, the unit of analysis.
  5. A deep understanding of the customer’s “job” makes marketing more effective and innovation far more predictable.

The implications of each of these basic principles on a company’s efforts to create and market breakthrough products and services are far-reaching. Each tenet brings new insight into a company’s business practices.

1: People buy products and services to get a “job” done

People have underlying problems they are trying to resolve. They have goals they are trying to achieve and tasks and activities they are trying to complete. They may be faced with situations they are trying to avoid. In each of these cases, people often turn to products and services to help them get a “job” done.

A “job” is not a description of what the customer is doing, the solution they are using, or the steps they are taking to get a job done. Rather, the “job” statement embodies what the customer is ultimately trying to accomplish.

The way we (the team at Strategyn and I) put this tenet of the theory into practice is to define the customer and the job as a market: a group of people and the functional job they are trying to get done. For example, parents (a group of people) who are trying to “pass on life lessons to children” (the functional job-to-be-done) constitute a market. Surgeons (a group of people) who are trying to “repair a torn rotator cuff” (the functional job-to-be-done) constitute a market. When a company defines a market in this manner, it clarifies its target customer and the job it is going to help the customer accomplish with a product or service offering it creates.

2: Jobs are functional with emotional and social components

As a customer uses a product to get a functional job done, they often want to feel a certain way and be perceived in a certain light by their peers and/or friends and others. The way they want to feel and be perceived constitutes their emotional and social jobs-to-be-done. For example, when parents are trying to pass on life lessons to children (the functional job-to-be-done), they may also want to feel like they are contributing to the advancement of society and/or want to be perceived as good parents by their peers. These are the emotional and social components they attach to the functional job, respectively. Understanding the emotional and social components of the functional job brings companies rich insights that can lead to the creation of a value proposition that resonates with customers at both a functional and emotional level.

The way we put this tenet into practice is to first work with customers to define the market, and then work with them to define the emotional and social jobs associated with the functional job-to-be-done. When conducting qualitative research with a cross section of job executors, it is common for people to express 20 to 30 emotional and social jobs. The job statements can be captured, quantified and used to inform a variety of marketing and development decisions.

3: A Job-to-be-Done is stable over time

A functional job-to-be-done is often a job that customers have been trying to accomplish for years, decades and in some cases even centuries. Parents, for example, have been trying to pass on life lessons to children since the beginning of humanity. A functional job is stable over time. What changes over time are the products and services that companies offer to help get the job done better.

Because the job-to-be-done is stable over time, it is an attractive focal point around which to create customer value. It provides a stable target for market insights, strategy formulation, innovation, R&D and M&A investment, and growth. It offers insights that can help prevent disruption.

In practice, we leverage this tenet by recognizing that a company’s short- and long-term strategy should never change: the strategy should always be to help customers get the entire job done better and more cheaply on a single product platform. This is the long-term strategy that Amazon has pursued since its inception. A stable target and a stable vision bring focus and purpose to an organization.

4: Success comes from making the “job” the unit of analysis

Making the job-to-be-done the unit of analysis means it is the job — not the product, the customer or customer demographics — that is to be studied, dissected and understood. This means that companies should not define customer needs around the product, but should instead define customer needs around getting the job done.

In addition, with the job-to-be-done as the unit of analysis, measurement systems can and should be created to help companies determine which new product ideas will help its customers get their jobs done best.

We have put this tenet into practice by defining customer “needs” as the metrics customers use to measure success when getting a job done. We call these statements the customer’s desired outcomes. The desired outcome statement, which we created over 25 years ago, is a specially constructed need statement that has a unique set of characteristics: desired outcomes are devoid of solutions, stable over time, measureable, controllable, structured for reliable prioritization in a quantitative customer survey, and tied to the underlying job the customer is trying to get done (see Inventing the Perfect Customer Need Statement and Giving Customers a Fair Hearing).

Desired outcome statements describe customer metrics for getting the job done faster, more predictably (without variation) and with high throughput/output. They form the foundation for the Outcome-Driven Innovation process and have many downstream applications. Knowing the customer’s desired outcomes, for example, companies are able to: (1) identify where and why customers are struggling to get the job done, (2) brainstorm ideas for new offerings, and (3) determine in advance of development which ideas will help customers get the job done best.

5: A deep understanding of the customer’s job makes marketing more effective and innovation far more predictable

In Clayton Christensen’s latest book, Competing Against Luck, he says:

“Innovation becomes much more predictable — and far more profitable — when it begins with a deep understanding of the job the customer is trying to get done.”

Here’s why: a deep understanding of the customer’s desired outcomes for a given job enables companies to know, often for the first time, all the customers needs. Companies are able to transition from a place where a cross-functional team can’t agree on what a “need” is to a place where they not only agree on what a need is, but they also agree on what all the customer’s needs are (the 100+ desired outcomes tied to the job-to-be-done). This is truly transformational as most companies (and most VoC practitioners) don’t even agree on what a need is (learn more here) and end up using customer inputs that derail the innovation process.

The fundamentals of marketing and innovation are straight forward: if a team can agree on what a need is, what the customer’s needs are and which are unmet, they are able to (1) better position and sell more of the company’s existing products, (2) improve existing products and services, (3) create new products and services. Jobs-to-be-Done Theory makes this possible.

In practice we leverage this tenet by conducting quantitative research that is specifically designed to reveal under- and overserved customer desired outcomes and segments of customers with different unmet outcomes. This unique research, which we have perfected over 2 decades, overcomes the issues associated with traditional market research methods (see Reinventing Market Research To Put Jobs-to-be-Done Theory Into Practice).

In the spirit of advancing Jobs Theory, I’d like to recommend that thought leaders in the space consider adding a new tenet to the list. That tenet is:

People want products that will help them get a job done better and/or more cheaply.

We have learned that people aren’t loyal to companies or brands. They are loyal to getting a job done better and/or more cheaply. They replace existing products and services with those that help them achieve these goals. We have learned that some people are willing to pay more to get a job done better, while others are willing to pay less to get a job done worse. These insights form the foundation for a new way to think about growth strategy.

With a focus on this tenet, we have created the Jobs-to-be-Done Growth Strategy Matrix — a powerful framework that helps to explain the dynamics of disruptive innovation and 4 other growth strategies. A webinar detailing this tenet and the matrix can be found here.

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