The 4 Critical Steps to Unpacking a Job-to-be-Done


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Hypothesis: If we create a job story, it requires the assistance of a highly paid consultant to explain to us what it means, and how it will create value…yet we’re still confused

I hear this term “unpacking” way more than I want to these days. It’s become another addition to a nauseating consulting dictionary of over-used terms that eventually go away…or get reset to their original purpose and context again — like unpacking boxes after a moving into a new home.

To me, the fact that information needs to be unpacked means someone packed it in such a fashion that the contents (value) cannot be seen without some sort of interpreter (that would be a paid consultant). It means it’s too abstract to actually use on your own. I find that extremely disappointing after all of the jobs-to-be-done “lite” workshops and training classes being bandied about these days. ‘Nuff said on that topic.

What you see is what you get

So, while the process of building a proper job-centered value model requires practice, once it is built there should be few questions as to what the model is, and what the outputs are telling us. So let’s actually pack the Job-to-be-Done properly instead! Once that’s done there should be no reason to unpack it. The results will be obvious.

1. Identify the job

Here are the fundamental truths as they were originally laid out for all to read in Harvard Business Review | May 2008 (following the 2005 book What Customer’s Want) and originally presented to Clay Christensen way back in 1999 (see video here)

  • All jobs are processes — they all have a beginning, a middle and an end.
  • All jobs have a universal structure — both in how the job is stated, and the stages into which a job is decomposed
  • Jobs are separate from solutions — since different customers will hire different products or services to get the same job done. This critical insight is what changes the game with regard to identifying markets and potential

Getting the job statement right is critical in leveraging the Jobs-to-be-Done framework properly. We are in the problem space of innovation, not the design space of solution design (or ideation) when building our opportunity targeting mechanism.

The Structure of a Job Statement

A job statement clearly defines what a customer is trying to accomplish, and the context they are in. It is not a task, or an activity as it should have no elements of solution built into it. It’s completely solution agnostic. Jobs, by definition, are functional and stable over time as well.

Here is the common language for defining a Job-to-be-Done.

Source: Strategyn Outcome-driven Innovation Framework

There are also some basic questions you can ask customers (or anyone that might be executing a job) to help you uncover jobs. Since I’ve already put them in a cheat sheet, I’ll just leave them there so any changes I make will propagate where ever I’ve distributed it in the past (or future).

Job Mapping Guidelines v2.1

2. Create a Job Map

The goal of the job map is not to understand how a customer is executing a job, it is to understand what the customer is trying to get done — or accomplish — at different points in the job. The steps are not tasks! A job map enables us to investigate what must happen to get the job done successfully. The whole job, not just one step in the job.

While specific job maps will have different steps from other job maps, they are all constructed using the same universal set of stages that a job executor must logically go through to successfully complete a job. Those stages are as follows (and elaborated further below that:

  1. Define — plan the job
  2. Locate — locate the resources required; e.g. work areas, tools information, people
  3. Prepare — prepare the resources; e.g. organize the work area, configure the tools, synthesize information, train people
  4. Confirm — make sure everything is ready to go (and this might be baked into other steps as needs — more on that later)
  5. Execute — Do the job
  6. Monitor — track progress, monitor for quality, etc.
  7. Modify — make necessary changes to achieve the desired standard
  8. Conclude — clean up, report results, document lessons learn, save a database record

Here’s some more information that might help

Ways to use a Job Map

The following is a simple Google Doc you can that was taken from the seminal HBR article on Jobs-to-be-Done. It describes some of the ways you can use a job map effectively.

Here’s a simple example

The following job map is from a Strategyn illustration where the client (a maker of insecticides/herbicides) thought the customer’s job-to-be-done was to kill weeds and insects. By viewing the market this way, they dramatically limited their ability to identify opportunities (for growth) or threats (of destruction).

Customers who are trying to grow a crop (corn) are clearly trying to get more done than kill weeds. Understanding this allows innovators to build brand portfolios, or platforms, that get more steps in the customer’s job done.

The Job of Growing Corn — Source: Strategyn (modified)

3. Define the Outcomes

Most people cannot agree on how to define a customer need. This means that even within a single company — where everyone should have a common purpose — they cannot agree on the language or structure to use when communicating with each other (or with customers) about customer needs. This leads to confusion due to errors in interpretation and bogus approaches to synthesis. Making sense from chaos is extremely hard, and unfruitful work. Never start with chaos.

How can you execute in unison toward a common purpose amidst chaos?

To alleviate this problem, forward-thinking innovators agree to use a metric format to capture customer needs for each step in the job map. Each step will have approximately 5–10 metrics which define the many ways customers may measure success. Having this complete picture helps us to understand what perfection looks like — even though we will never design solutions that achieve perfection.

Please note: these are not what we typically call unmet needs. These are a complete set of needs (metrics) that we will use to locate the unmet needs in the market — where we define the market as a job-to-be-done + the job executor

As with job statements, desired outcome statements (the metric definition) are stable over time; so you have a stable platform for market analysis, as well as a job-focused roadmap few of your competitors will match. There is simply no tool more powerful today.

Source: Strategyn Outcome-driven Innovation Framework

Asking the right questions

The following is a simple framework of questions you can use in order to uncover customer needs (called desired outcomes) taken directly from the MIT Sloan article Giving Customers a Fair Hearing | 2008

“If you want useful ideas from customers, don’t ask them for any — directly, anyway. Resist questions like “How would you improve this product?” or “What features would you like to see added to it?” Instead, ask them about what they know best, which is whatever “job” they use the product to do. Listen closely, and they’ll pinpoint unmet needs, niches awaiting innovation.”

What makes this job — or parts of it — challenging, inconvenient or frustrating? The response should point you toward pitfalls that you may be able to address by creating a product

What makes this job time-consuming? What you really want to know is whether a product that speeds up the process would be successful

What causes this job to go off track? There may be an opportunity to reduce an instability

What aspects of this job are wasteful? If you can find a way to boost efficiency, your innovation could be a winner

The following cheat sheet might help you to get you started as well. Nothing says you can’t create your own approach, and I would encourage you to do so, and share with the community.

Job Mapping Guidelines v2.1

Here’s a simple example

Let’s take a look at one step for the Job of Growing Corn. The execution step has the following outcomes associated with it. A complete map will present outcomes for every step. If your interested in seeing a complete model, you can find one in this academic paper based on research for a Masters Degree. There are others out there if you search for them.

The Job of Growing Corn — Source: Strategyn (modified)

4. Quantify the market (size, segments)

The first three steps in this process of properly packing a job-to-be-done were part of a larger qualitative phase described in Jobs To Be Done: Theory to Practice — if your interested in the details. The last step in properly packing a Job-to-be-Done is to perform the quantitative analysis.

While the job map and outcomes you’ve cataloged to this point give you many new and powerful perspectives on markets and needs, quantitative analysis provides the true size of a market as well as segments of unmet needs- and thus, opportunity. There is no guessing when you use this approach, and it turns extremely high failure rates into extremely high success rates.

For practicality, you will probably want to size the market before you go through the trouble of mapping. Why? Because you don’t want to waste your time going through this exercise if there is little to no opportunity for you financially. You can find a tool called the Market Selection Tool at (home page) that will take you through this exercise.

Three things to you need to know about the quantitative analysis

  1. While we have now built a model that has captured 100% of the metrics customers use to evaluate success in getting a job done, only a handful are likely to be both important, and unsatisfied. These are the unmet needs
  2. Of those unmet needs, there will more than likely be differentiation between different groups of people. While some groups struggle with 4 or 5 of the unmet needs, a different group may struggle with a different group of 3–4 unmet needs.
  3. Differentiation between groups with different unmet needs is the basis for your market segmentation. These groups will have differing functional and financial needs and/or differing social and emotional needs.
Source: Strategyn — Opportunity Landscape / Data-driven

With this data properly packed into your Job-to-be-done, you will be able to determine if

  • your product needs new features that satisfy these needs
  • you need to create different product models/styles to cater to different groups
  • all you need is a change to your messaging, or
  • all of the above

The unmet customer needs, structured consistently as metrics, will point you to the solution and provide validation as you check ideas against value created. Since I don’t intend to rehash the details of these approaches, here is a link to a great whitepaper called Outcome-based Segmentation that will help you understand this more clearly.


The tools for the Job

I’m one of those types that is always evaluating tools. They all have different strengths and weaknesses. Spreadsheets struggle to demonstrate the hierarchical nature of the qualitative data. Tools that do this well are usually proprietary, which makes it difficult to share and collaborate. Tools that are specifically designed for this approach to Jobs-to-be-Done may not evolve the way you wish to evolve the way you decide to evolve as a practitioner.

Yet still, I’ve seen very powerful job-centric customer value models presented in Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Powerpoint, Google Docs,Sheets and Slides, and I’ve personally done a few using a tool called DoView. They all work. Don’t focus on the tools, just do it!

The 4 Critical Steps to Unpacking a Job-to-be-Done was originally published in Effective CRM through JTBD on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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