The Job-to-Be-Done of an iPad Menu

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I recently saw some Twitter conversation on the topic of jobs-to-be-done and the growing trend to digitize menus and provide them through iPads to customers. I actually experienced this in the Delta Terminal at LaGuardia last fall while waiting for a flight home. I can tell you it works, because it gives you something to focus on other than planes and people. I ordered a meal and a few drinks right from my gate and enjoyed them in a very comfortable seating area; and I spent way more than I normally would have!

While the topic of #JTBD seems new, it’s actually been openly discussed for over 10 years now, and employed in the world of outcome-based innovation for twice that long. Therefore, I have to challenge some of the things I’m hearing out there that clearly attempt (knowingly or unknowingly) to redefine what it is. Jobs-to-be-done is a customer-centric view of the world; but only when it’s used in the proper context – the customer. Here’s an example of where I see confusion (sorry guys, I’m not trying to pick on you so I’ve blurred you out)…



I love the fact that so many people are focusing on the job-to-be-done; but I’m concerned that we have put the cart before the horse. A digital menu does not have a job-to-be-done; it’s merely a current solution designed to satisfy specific needs relative to getting the job done today or in the past. It’s a backward-looking approach to innovation – and even marketing. Solutions should never be developed first, and the job identified last.

First, there is the customer – which is where I would start. Here are a couple of possible jobs the customer might be trying to get done…

  • Having a private meal while out on a date
  • Having a sit-down meal while out with business associates. Or conducting business in a catered environment.
  • Having a sit-down meal with your family away from your home
  • Socializing with friends
  • Having a banquet style lunch at a professional conference
  • Etc.

In my mind, a market is going to be defined by the job, and the people executing the job. If we look only at the iPad menu and nothing else, it makes for an extremely restrictive and short-lived market; but certainly the most common way markets are viewed. Having a private meal with a date could just as easily be satisfied with a picnic basket; which would simply be another segment defined by similar desired outcomes in getting a job done.



Second, there is the provider of a product or service and they also have a job-to-be-done which must align perfectly to the steps a customer takes to get their job done; so understanding the customer’s job first is critical. A menu is simply a touchpoint where resources are provided during the process of getting the job done, and the success (or importance) of that touchpoint using any particular solution will change over time. That’s because the job doesn’t really change; the outcome-based steps will never change; but the solutions will certainly change.

Back to the customer…during the course of having a sit-down meal while out (in whatever other context) they will need to determine what is available to eat and drink at the establishment they’ve chosen. But, we need to understand more about specific segments of customers and their personal preferences or contexts. For example, there will certainly be a segment(s) that prefer to have a server recite the specials. While the functional job step is to determine what’s available to consume, there are also emotional jobs and social jobs to be considered.

On a date, I might feel really good about myself if a dude in a Tuxedo was telling my date and I about the aging process of the super expensive steaks. It just wouldn’t be the same with an iPad. Now, my situation would be a segment based on my desired outcomes; but they would probably not match the segment occupied by a teenager with limited budget and mobility who wants to impress a date. The job’s the same. In that segment, however, a pizza joint with a whiteboard menu might suffice and an iPad and custom software would be an unnecessary (and discretionary) expense. The emotional and social jobs are different; especially the social ones.

I see the digital menu experience has having both functional, emotional and social aspects. It really depends on the situation and context of the entire job (not just a step). At the airport, it was quicker to get food and drink (if I were in a rush) but it also provided entertainment beyond the ordering of food to keep me from getting bored (and to remind me I can always eat or drink more if my flight was delayed!).

For some, the digital menu may make you feel cool when telling friends about it; but that will soon wear off as as more people are exposed to that solution enough times – assuming it actually satisfies true needs and applied in the proper (and limited) contexts that will ensure it succeeds (for now).



Just as with the milkshake, we must first identify the job properly (including those who execute it), then segment that market accordingly based on expected outcomes of the executors. Yes, this is fundamentally different that identifying and sizing the market based on something like a software category, or a type of menu. While the digital menu could certainly be associated with a platform that gets many more jobs done; I still wouldn’t recommend building it until you understand those jobs and can define their interdependence. Failure is not an option.


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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