The Job-to-be-Done is not an Innovation Framework


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Innovation is one of the hottest topics around today; due in no small part to the innovative technology and platforms that allow just about anyone to purse their ideas quickly and cheaply. But therein lies the problem…ideas. Trying to turn ideas into something marketable has a miserable failure rate which continues to this day. The bulk of the companies that fail fast also fail permanently; so that’s not helping. Cute phrases do little to help change anything; and one thing we should all remember is that (most likely) the same percentage of companies will continue to grow through innovation simply because not everyone can succeed. The world-class innovators will always be a small club; but that doesn’t mean you can’t join it. In fact, that is what everyone is trying to do! And they’re failing fast!

There are a number of ways that innovation frameworks can help you. Unfortunately, most are not able help you with all of these areas…

Growth Strategy Formulate Market Growth Strategy Segment Markets for Growth Build Business Case for Market Strategy
Market Evaluation Competitive Analysis Focus Technology / Enabler Scouting Focus Review of IP Landscape
Resource Allocation Re-assess Resources Allocated to Current Projects Make Go vs. Kill Decisions Assess Internal / External Capabilities to Execute
Marketing & Communications Position To Current Under-Messaged Strengths Assist Channels to Focus on Unmet Needs Branding on what customers are trying to accomplish (the JTBD)
Innovation Generate concepts to address growth strategy Build internal engagement with innovation Align innovation inputs to strategy

Adapted from Strategyn, UK

Essentially, while we tend to view the world through the solutions we create, or use, we are all trying to accomplish something. Understanding this simple concept is critical for any business that wants to accomplish long term growth. Simply put, both companies and customers have jobs they are trying to get done, but the company’s job must be closely aligned, and subordinate to the job their customer needs to get done. Making this more challenging are the various contexts in which a job might get done; but maybe more challenging is the fact that the value chain is continually shifting as solutions become commoditized, requiring higher order services to be built upon these platforms to sustain growth and profitability. An offering must be designed that is deemed to be more satisfactory at meeting a customer’s need (or needs) than the alternatives.

In order to grow, we must align customer needs to solutions that meet those needs, and we must align those to the appropriate path to growth:

  • Core or Sustaining Market Growth
  • Related Market Growth
  • New Platform Creation
  • Core Platform Disruption
  • Core Market Disruption
  • Related Growth in a Disrupted Market

In order to do this successfully, and repeatedly, you have to understand what your customers need before you begin generating ideas.

Unfortunately, while we can all point to wildly successful companies (Facebook, Apple) we can also point to how the mighty have fallen (Eastman Kodak, CompUSA, Research in Motion). Innovation is not about being creative; it’s about being systematic, measurable and repeatable. It’s also not about your service; it’s about the jobs your customers are trying to get done and how well that service meets their needs.

The concept of the customer’s job-to-be done is beginning to gain a large following, so I believe the time is right to have a conversation about higher order, world class innovation capabilities; which happen to involve a focus on the customers job as the best path to understanding their needs. So what will a unique understanding of customer needs relative to that job tell you?

  • What opportunities for value creation exist in the market?
  • What percent of the market is over-served and ripe for disruption?
  • What unique segments of opportunity exist?
  • What are your competitive strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are the strengths/weaknesses of your competitors?
  • What must you do to catch up to and leap-frog your competitors?
  • Should you respond to a new feature introduced by a competitor?
  • Which segments will find a new product more attractive than others?
  • Which idea best addresses the customer’s unmet needs?
  • Which of the products/service in the pipeline are most likely to be successful?

And a customer need must…

  • Be based on a system of value measurement that is universally accepted by customers
  • Be relevant now and in the future
  • Not be left open to interpretation
  • Not confound the way it or other need statements are prioritized.
    (h/t to Tony Ulwick of Strategyn for these lists)

In other words, it must be consistent, measurable, relevant, and have no elements of solution in it. A customer need is essentially an outcome they are seeking and taking similarly scored clusters of needs you should see segments of customers that have different needs within the context of the same job. One size does not fit all; and markets are not truly based on product categories.

The ability to understand the customer need in a systematic and forward looking manner is what clearly differentiates methodologies on the innovation maturity ladder.

This is where I’ll might upset a few people

While there are a number of low capability category approaches to innovation (e.g. brainstorming, crowdsourcing, kumbaya’ing), there are also approaches using jobs-to-be-done at the core that are lower capability than others. That’s not to say that they are low capability, because they are higher capability than the aforementioned categories. But it’s worth noting that the higher the capability level the more time, effort and expense will be required to build it and stitch it into your organization and become business as usual (innovating once won’t cut it). Not every company needs to be world-class; but we also shouldn’t tell clients we are employing a world-class innovation framework when are not.

Jobs-to-be-Done is still fairly misunderstood. For example, a lot of people look at the product they are using, and associate the product with the job…

Taking pictures is not the true job; but from a marketer’s perspective, understanding how to better position the product will lead them to a lagging approach to understanding why the product is selected, or disposed of. That’s perfectly fine, but it’s not the highest order of innovation. Why are they taking pictures: to take pictures or to preserve memories? A camera, an iPhone and Google Glass are simply a means by which a memory can be preserved today (in a variety of contexts). A pencil sketch would have sufficed before that and the iconic cave etchings of Neanderthals and antelope before that. My generation used to preserve memories in scrapbooks, and now we are storing them in the cloud to get more job contexts satisfied. One day, it’s conceivable that they can be implanted in our brain. Now that will be the ultimate platform play!

Companies that focus on improving cameras will never see a new technology that gets the job of preserving memories done better; until it’s too late. Ask Eastman Kodak, this early dabbler in digital photography couldn’t get past their current products to see where the true future would be. It seemed too expensive to go after a market that had lower margins; requiring fast returns of invested capital. Going no further than interviewing customers to understand why they are switching from film-based cameras to digital cameras is an exercise that is taken too late for a highly visible brand that is competing against world-class competition. It also doesn’t provide enough data points to understand where value is shifting to in the future. It’s not forward looking, it’s backward looking.

But, sometimes backward looking is good enough, when it’s competing with much lesser capabilities.

I’m not going to present a maturity model here, but I would like to take a look at what it is about a best-in-class innovation framework that makes it different from those just one rung down the capability ladder. It really comes down to measurement; you simply can’t have a system if it’s not measurable. Interviews, focus groups, ethnography are all perfectly legitimate ways to gather information; when the questions are designed to:

  1. Uncover the functional job the customer is trying to get done
  2. Uncover related jobs the customer is trying to get done.
  3. Uncover social and emotional jobs that related to the functional jobs
  4. Define the steps (the what) that happen in order to get the job done
  5. Define the desired outcomes used to measure how well the job gets done

However, the ultimate result of this process should be a consistently defined database of objective customer needs. By turning this database into a set of metrics, they can be used to look forward as elements shift in the value chain. This has also been called an opportunity landscape and used as a targeting system for innovation. It’s very difficult to get a high success rate when your data are subjective answers to questions taken across a limited population; even if it has some context. At best you gain short-term advantage. A more scientific approach supports…

  • Statistical analysis can be applied to find themes within a catalog of needs. These themes are essentially segments within your new understanding of the market (the job, not your product).
  • You can target unmet needs with a high degree of certainty, and eliminate fail fast from your innovation lexicon.
  • You can easily monitor how the perception of value shifts over time, and therefore have a forward-looking metric that will tell you exactly where to attack, defend or abandon.

Jobs-to-be-done is not a framework, it’s a focus around which methodologies are constructed. Not all methodologies are equal; but not all companies need a best-in-class capability either. That’s for you to decide; but keep in mind there are options out there and you may need to select a more comprehensive framework for innovation should you continue to grow. Understanding the customer job is only the first step in a high order innovation capability.

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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