The Job of Hitting a Nail on the Head

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I just read a post on HBR that hit the nail on the head when the author critiqued Whole Food’s treatment of the millennial age cohort as a market segment – requiring a separate chain of stores. Since this was written by a jobs-to-be-done consultant, I thought for a moment that we may get some insight into how to properly define markets and market segments using jobs-to-be-done as a focal point. As she began to point out, some consider grocery stores to be a market and various demographics to be segments.

Jobs-to-be-done professionals know that markets are not defined by product categories because that would be solution-centric and prone to missing market opportunities. We also know that using convenient measures, such as age groups, is not the proper way to define segments because they don’t have a similar set of needs across the group. The danger of this thinking is revealed in Whole Food’s belief that a) physical stores are the solution and b) Millennials are special.

On her second swing of the hammer, unfortunately, she bent the nail when she failed to define the job properly (and also began offering solutions!). This is the same trap that we saw in this Milkshake Marketing critique. What she was really doing was expressing needs that outcome-based practitioners would expect to see at a specific step in a deconstructed job-to-be-done. And since clusters of needs define market segments, it’s critical that we get that right. “Give me good value” is not a job-to-be-done. It sounds like a need; but doesn’t have a context; such as a job.



There are many fundamental problems with this approach which were all well-articulated in the Milkshake Marketing critique (see above). From Whole Food’s perspective they need a way to visualize what markets really look like, how large they are, how they are segmented and ultimately, where the real growth opportunities are for their business given their capabilities. New stores may, or may not be, the future of Whole Foods.

I recently spoke to a friend who consults in the analytics world; but he works for a real estate oriented company. He told me a story about being in front of a major personality/clothing brand (selling a real estate deal) and telling them that their future was selling data! And they agreed!

I don’t think Whole Foods is quite there yet so let’s try to identify one of the jobs that people might hire Whole Foods (today) to help them accomplish (at least a part of):

“Prepare Healthy Meals”

I feel it’s a more properly structured job/focal point than…

“Give me convenient access to healthy food!”

The thing about a properly defined job is that there is a step at its core that relates to job execution; but there are steps that must be done before and after that step to ensure the whole job gets done. While people may think “going to the grocery store” is a job, it’s really an inconvenient solution aligned with a step in a bigger job; such as preparing healthy meals for my family. If a company only focuses on the current solution (the store), they will miss opportunities to help customers further.

Depending on who you are, you might define a healthy diet completely differently than I do. We may also define convenience differently. That’s why it is so powerful to understand all of the desired outcomes, regardless of how they are perceived case by case, so that they can be quantitatively evaluated over time with customers, and potential customers.

Figure 1 – Prepare healthy meals Job Map (Illustrative)

The way I’ve mapped this highlights many steps that lead up to preparing a healthy meal, and it also appends a few additional steps after. This is meant to be illustrative since I haven’t put my noodle to this for too long; but it clearly shows that while there is a core functional job, there are also many steps that need to be accomplished to get the job done. Of course, some (or all) of these steps could be jobs as well; but the point I’m making is that Whole Foods may want to look at ways to help various customer groups get more of the job done rather than looking at the world through artificial lens. If you can’t show it to them, they can’t see it.

Clearly, Whole Foods doesn’t understand the entire job of their customers; nor can it identify segments adequately. And that’s basically true of the grocery store market in general (and I use the term market in jest). In the world of minimum viable solutions, you need to consider end-to-end functionality just like a new kind of automobile manufacturer can’t decide to leave out brakes for their MVP. “But that’s different!” I hear you saying. My response would be “only in your failed mental model of the world.”

Here are some illustrative outcomes that might be associated with these illustrative steps (there would likely be more for each step)…

  • Increase the likelihood that food items and quantity I want are available
  • Minimize the time it takes to locate food items I’m looking for
  • Increase the likelihood that food items are fresh
  • Minimize the amount which must be paid



  • Minimize the time it takes to interact with the food source; e.g. not competing with others for access
  • Increase the likelihood that the food source is available
  • Minimize the cost of interacting with the food source; e.g. transportation costs
  • Minimize the time it takes to time it takes to get to the food source

  • Minimize the time it takes to plan meals
  • Increase the likelihood that on-demand meal plans align with my dietary needs
  • Minimize the number of food items that I don’t like
  • Increase the likelihood that items can be reused across many meal plans

There is one job that is close to correct…

“Let me feel confident in the choices I’m making”

This is a proxy for an emotional job-to-be-done. Emotional jobs are not broken down into steps, they are linked to high-priority outcomes in a relevant step. For instance, an emotional job like this might align to outcome #2 in the Design meal plans / recipes step

  • Increase the likelihood that on-demand meal plans align with my dietary needs.

Emotional jobs are valuable when aligning messaging to groups.

When we get to…

“Give me good value”

I would associate that with a couple of outcomes in the step Locate/Collect item at source; namely,

  • Minimize the amount which must be paid and
  • Increase the likelihood that food items are fresh.

There are other ways to judge value; but this is just a blog post. But, if you’re wondering why this approach is so granular, the simple answer to that is…



Multiply that by the number of countries, cultures, etc. and you begin realize that it gets complicated. You need to understand who you are serving, and while the basic job will be the same or similar (varying contexts like Atlanta or Swaziland) the way people will measure satisfaction and importance will vary wildly (hopefully) which lets us use simple statistical tools to segment them. In other words, Millennials living in Atlanta are no more a group with common needs than are the Millennials in Swaziland.

When things get complicated, some kind of structure has to be introduced to understand the problem in a meaningful way. JTBD is not framework, it is a focal point. I saw no structure to the mental model used in that HBR post; let alone an industrialized methodology. I did see some solutions offered, which suggests that the ideas-first approach to innovation is alive and well in the jobs-to-be-done world.

Feel free to critique my critique. At least you can visualize my thought process; which I think is important before you try to improve someone’s business.

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