September 2021
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Jobs theory helps us understand the purpose and proposition behind the products we build. It enables us to focus more on customers and what they are trying to achieve and less on the product itself; both opening the door and changing the landscape for creativity and innovation.

1. Jobs as a lens to innovation

Jobs thinking promotes a top-down as opposed to a bottom-up way of thinking about products and services. As part of Clayton’s writing, he and other innovation consultants believe that focusing so narrowly on the current product, along with all the ways in which we could make marginal improvements to said product, leaves companies vulnerable to competitive disruption.

Why is that? Surely creating the best possible product for your customer in the here and now is a right and reasonable approach? Whilst that is true, there is a point where that product can and will only deliver marginal gains; ceasing to offer customers and the wider market the progress they need.

Just as the context and conditions in which the job arises might change, so does the surrounding technology and know-how that enables new solutions to come to market. In response, customer’s expectations and values will also change, adapt and evolve. It follows then that the products and services they chose to hire will naturally come and go over time, but the underlying JTBD remains as a constant.

As such, understanding the customers’ JTBD and being hyper-aware of what people are trying to achieve, is how the most innovative companies are able to stay ahead of the competition. Take an overly simplified example of travelling from A to B, where the job could be described as something like: “Get me to my place of work and back home when I have a long commute.”

Over time, we as humans, have designed and engineered entirely new and improved ways of getting that same job (travel) done, quicker, easier and more conveniently. As such, that product a customer might have hired a hundred years ago will, of course, be very different from the one they hire today and to those they may well hire in the future. The job, however, hasn’t really changed.

Montage of transport solutions.

As per the often misquoted Henry Ford, if we (humanity) were to have focused on the product and not the job we would put all of our efforts here into breeding faster horses (spot the local maxima), not manufacturing the first automobile.

Another example of this, where a focus on customer’s goals and desired outcomes (as opposed to the product itself) has led to innovation, is in and around the lawn care industry. Taking a product-focused approach, we would be looking at ways to improve an existing lawn mower — our product. We would be asking ourselves, could we make it (the product) lighter, smaller, safer and so on.

Taking a job-focused approach, however, would allow us to step back and evaluate the whole solution space. With this macro view, from the customers’ perspective, we’d be challenging our current thinking to look at entirely new and innovative ways to help people with their Job-to-be-Done: “Maintain a healthy, green lawn when tending to my garden”.

Again, as per the transport example, whilst the job is more of a constant, given changing technologies and evolving markets the solutions we hire will inevitably come and go. Let’s face it, does anyone really want a lawnmower? What they really want is the outcome. The lush-looking, well-kept green grass, but without the time and manual labour thrown in.

As such, innovations in this space give rise to concepts like subscription lawn care services, robotic mowers and artificial grass. Arguably these companies would never have explored these types of innovations if they strictly focused on the question of: “How might we create an ever better lawnmower?”.

Montage of lawn care solutions.

2. Jobs as a focus on value

Jobs-thinking, as above, is a mindset that enables product organisations to focus relentlessly on the customer, what they are trying to achieve and why. As a result, It places the customer and their jobs — not your product — at the centre of any product decisions.

Like any other human-centred design process, JTBD helps teams and organisations focus on what really matters to their customers. It allows us to separate the nice-to-haves from the must-haves since we know what is core and therefore critical to the proposition. In other words, what must your product do/enable to satisfy a customer’s core JTBD? Or, to frame it differently, what does your product do/enable that a customer simply couldn’t be without?

A good understanding of the jobs your product is looking to serve (Note: you won’t and shouldn’t attempt to serve every job you discover — this is part of product strategy) allows teams to filter out early the ideas that are extraneous and don’t specifically address a set of pains and gains associated with the jobs of your target customer. JTBD, therefore, should be considered foundational to defining the value set of your product.

Illustration of jobs as central to any value proposition.

Let’s take another transport-related example, this time from the folks at Uber. The value proposition (why someone should buy your product/do business with you) for Uber is about speed, convenience, reliability and safety. But how did they arrive at this proposition and from a delivery perspective, how did they decide what was in and out of scope for the Uber app?

They first focused relentlessly on the ‘riders’ JTBD: “Bring me to my desired destination as fast as possible.” The found market fit here and ultimately industry disruption by understanding what their target customer was trying to do (their desired outcomes in a given context) and how they were uniquely positioned to solve that problem, like no one had before them.

Based on their understanding of their target customer’s core JTBD, it’s easy to infer how they were then able to dive a level deeper; breaking this core job down into what might be any number of sub-jobs and their associated functional, social or emotional components. In this instance, the core JTBD might reasonably unpack into the following functional jobs, from which we can assume the resulting Uber app was designed to serve:

  • Call a taxi from my current location
  • Find a driver in the locality
  • Provide directions to a destination
  • Pay for the ride

Illustration of taxi booking app value proposition.

As part of any team’s research to uncover these jobs they should also seek to identify the mix of pains and gains, both experienced and sought, in service of these jobs. In other words, what are problems (pain points) customers currently encounter when carrying out their JTBD and what are the key benefits (gains) the customer expects/needs that would make that job faster, easier, more satisfying.

Armed with this understanding of jobs, pains and gains — the customer side of the proposition — teams can be super-focused on the set of benefits, and with that features and experiences that speak to their customer’s jobs. This is essentially the fundamentals of any human-centred design process, or what has in more recent years been referred to as Product Design.

As well as being able to see a line through the experiences, flows and features that seek to address those jobs, teams can also use this definition of value to determine what not to build. What is out of scope or considered superfluous to what should be part of the core value set of the product? It should serve as an anchor for any prioritisation discussions and in helping escaping the trap of feature bloat — where more rarely equals better.

The folks at Mural are strong advocates of JTBD and have written in detail about their practical application of the framework and how they have aligned and integrated jobs as part of their product development practices. Do also check out Jim Kalbach’s latest book, The Jobs to be Done Playbook, for more practical advice.

3. Jobs as a language for alignment

Job-thinking is more than an approach to product development. It also serves as a single source of truth for how we design, build, market and sell our products. Remember, the Job-to-be-Done (JTBD) is the reason for why someone would buy your product. As such, logic would suggest that any decisions we make and the language we use should ideally orientate around those jobs.

The value we create through the products we design and build should support the same set of benefits we present and position in our marketing materials. Similarly, the benefits our products offer and the goals they enable should marry up with those of prospective customers during early sales discussions. Jobs should help transcend the natural boundaries of any organisational structure.

If for example ‘standardisation’ emerged as a key benefit of your product, where it supports a job of consistency amongst teams and team members, then it follows that the capabilities and features we build should enable this outcome. Similarly, this key benefit (standardisation) is something we’d expect to see highlighted in any associated marketing materials and featured by sales folks when demoing the product.

Looping back to our Uber example for a second, you can see from some of the early marketing materials how the key benefits from their proposition (speed, convenience, reliability and safety), surface in their messaging and map very nicely across to the key capabilities/functionality of the Uber app.

Example from Uber marketing materials.

It might sound obvious, but without this alignment around both the language (how we describe and sell the benefits) and the value users can derive from the product (how they realise those benefits), we’ll start to see and experience some degree of drift.

Either what we sell and how we communicate that value differs to what the product actually delivers to those customers — the promise is greater than the offering itself. Or, we end up emphasising a set of benefits that don’t resonate or connect with our target audience — the promise is misaligned, or out of step with the offering.

In either case, the job of Jobs-to-be-Done here is to bring about that alignment, across teams, departments and various collateral. There is consistency in how we describe what the customer is trying to achieve, their resulting needs and the benefits our products should offer. Why someone might buy and the outcomes we’re looking to enable for those customers should echo throughout the organisation.


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