Predicting the Future with #JTBD

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Do you glance at your customers and think you really know them? Many of us know what they’ve done because we track things; like what they bought, when they landed on a web page, when the clicked a link, when they tweeted, when they started buying, when they stopped buying, yada yada yada. We can find all of that in our databases; but unless we ask the right questions, we really don’t know why…we’re just assuming that we know why by interpreting convenient data.

If companies are in the business of thriving, then we are obviously doing something wrong because the vast majority of companies simply do not thrive well into the future. They tend to grow at first (it’s easy to grow from zero) and eventually the rate of growth tapers off to a point where we begin kidding ourselves that our unpredictable growth at or below the growth of the economy is, in fact, growth. It’s not; it’s value destruction plain and simple. There is a growing group who believe we are focusing on the wrong things with regard to our customers; we’re focusing on our products.

Clay Christensen popularized the phrase jobs to be done (coined by Richard Pedi of Gage Foods) in his book The Innovator’s Solution (p96 note 3). Prior to that Tony Ulwick of Strategyn had been using outcome-based logic with regard to what people were trying to get done in his innovation and strategy consulting business as far back as the early 1990′s. This is not really a new concept; but now that it’s getting popular, there are a number of misconceptions about it as people try to put the phrase to good use in pursuit of the laggards. It kind of reminds me of the whole social media craze 5-6 years ago; and we all know how that turned out.

The job to be done is nothing more than a focal point in our journey to understand customers. Unfortunately, we all tend to get caught up in what we are given to sell: existing products and services. The unfortunate part of that is that our customers only receive questionable value after being gamed left and right with tricks, discounts, statistical lies and behavioral economics tactics. When the focal point is your product, and you measure your selling system against the calendar, you get what you deserve; but the customer doesn’t get what they deserve.

Fortunately, there is a movement toward the job(s) customers are trying to get done as the unit of our analysis. But as that movement takes place we can clearly see a full array of capabilities; all the way from trying to reinvent the wheel to leading edge concepts that just work. If we were to look at the operationalized frameworks using jobs to be done on a maturity scale, we could lay them out like so…

  1. No capability – This would include so-called customer-centric methodologies such as voice of the customer (VOC) and Net Promoter Score (the only predictor of revenue growth, I’ve heard).
  2. Aware – A framework that recognizes phrases, paying lip service to them, but continues to fall back to convenient methods of describing markets and customer needs around product categories and features and organizing them around demographics, firmographics, etc.
  3. Developing – The focal point is clearly placed on the concept of jobs; although there may still be elements of product focus. The intent is to begin operationalizing ways to understand a particular job better than we do today.
  4. Practicing – The framework is gathering metrics both on its goal of understanding customers’ needs as well as on its own success in the marketplace; discarding what doesn’t work and adding new insights into the equation
  5. Optimizing – The framework has been zeroed in and locked down. It knows where it’s going and has fully developed metrics describing customers clearly, and how what they value changes over time. It sees related jobs and uses that understanding to redefine markets. It is being fine-tuned and tested in numerous industries and contexts to ensure its path to predictable and repeatable innovation and related growth.
  6. Leading – The framework has a clear and proven track record over many years of implementation. It is nearing the point of productization as it becomes a comprehensive process so systemized, measurable and repeatable that there are few, if any subjective elements involved in its implementation. It produces consistent strategic market outcomes for those who embrace it; just as they produce consistent outcomes for their customers.

(“Aware to Leading” scale adapted from the work of Dr. Graham Hill)

The biggest problem we having looking forward is that we keep looking at our current solutions; which are from the past. At one point, it was simply not realistic for a consumer to look at a horse and buggy and envision an automobile; people likely wished that horses could go faster, not smell so bad and wanted better protection from the elements. What they were actually trying to do was get from point A to point B. The emerging unmet need (amongst others) was to do so more quickly. Another way to put it would be to view the industry as the horse and buggy industry when, in fact, it was the personal transportation (or just transportation) industry. There is quite a substantial difference there: one forces you to incrementally improve the horse, buggies and whips, while the other opens the door to completely new ideas and solutions (planes, trains and automobiles).

Looking at the job incorrectly can be fraught with problems. The first problem occurs when we ask what job a product helps customers perform in an effort to improve the product or its marketing. What happens here is that we tend to look at contexts of its use as segments and the product is still viewed as the market (not the job). The second problem is that this is backward looking, because we begin asking customers why they choose it, or refuse it (backward looking). The most one can hope to get from this is limited short –term advantage. The context of the product limits what they can tell you because they want to help you solve your product problem. What they can’t do is find solutions to unarticulated needs because they are not properly focused on them, and they don’t have the knowledge to identify the best solutions.

Looking forward cannot be subjective if it is to be repeatable. While the job will tend to remain static over time (get from point A to point B) a customer will measure how well the job gets done differently over the course of time. Their needs don’t change – minimizing the time it takes to get from point A to point B will always be one of many needs related to this job – however the importance of the need will change, as will the satisfaction over time. More importantly, groups of customers trying to get the same job done will have different clusters of needs. These clusters are the market segments. There is not a single need; you have to know all of them – satisfied or unsatisfied, important or unimportant. There can be no uncertainty here.

Converting these needs to metrics is foundational to both product innovations, service design and related value messaging. Customer needs, or desired outcomes, are the critical component to understanding what customers value with regard to getting a job done yesterday, today and tomorrow.

  • What we know today are “needs” in terms of our current features
  • What we need to know are all of our customers’ desired outcomes related to getting a job done
  • We need measurable certainty in order to gain success and consistency in innovation, marketing and growing the business
  • We must complete and systematic understanding of customer needs in order to gain certainty

When we only focus on a single job (and a handful of needs), we’re only addressing part of our customer’s larger strategic job; and it’s likely we are not doing it well.

The more strategic the job, the more likely that each step in the job is a job in and of itself; just like end-to-end processes will have sub-processes. Understanding the whole process is very important; and understanding the larger job is an important strategic advantage for innovators. Since we typically only focus on a single step (and often relate it to a product) we miss opportunities to capture market share, increase margins and/or disrupt industries. You just can’t do these things, repeatedly, without a scientific and data-driven approach.

By endeavoring to understand all of the desired outcomes a customer uses to measure the success of one or more jobs, you have a foundation for future innovation. These outcomes never change, but their scores will evolve over time. They will reveal groups of customers that value different aspects, or contexts, of getting one or more jobs done; which provides the information you need to design products and services they will value. You can also measure how much more value your solutions will bring over current offerings in the market. Understanding customer needs will also give you insights into your competitive position providing insight into when to follow the competition, or wave goodbye as they climb higher into an over-served market. Treating needs as metrics also gives you the ability to visualize and locate opportunities to bring valuable options to your customer segments and devise appropriate growth strategies.

From What is a Customer Need? A presentation by Tony Ulwick

In link above, you will see one such process for uncovering customer needs, converting them to metrics and how they can be used in your continuing pursuit of growth and profitability. While this deck in no way describes the entire process required to get to market, it is foundational and at the front end of that process. This framework is called Outcome-driven Innovation™ and has been developing for almost 25 years; with many well documented successes (here’s one example). I place it between Optimizing and Leading on the maturity scale above. It is clearly on the path toward mass consumption as a service (not there yet) while leaving plenty of room for high end consulting. It’s ready to do some disruption of its own.

Focusing on the job to be done is clearly going to place you ahead of most of your competition. However, it doesn’t guarantee you will have the same capabilities as other job to be done practitioners by any means. The higher the capability, the more forward looking and repeatable the framework will be. But if that’s not for you, there are other frameworks of varying capability to suit your position in the market, your culture, your budget and your desire for success. You don’t have to go from zero to great over night; but once #JTBD becomes the platform I predict it will be, this capability will become table stakes.

Where do you rate your job-to-be-done innovation process on the capability scale above?


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.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

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