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Jobs to be Done (JTBD) – That’s what it’s all about

In the past, customer-centric operations almost always meant the same approach: Getting to know and characterizing one’s own customers as well as possible in order to be able to draw conclusions about their (consumer) behaviour and needs from their characteristics. What sounds sensible at first glance, however, is not entirely flawless. The still quite young principle of “jobs to be done” (JTBD) represents an alternative approach with which you can gain more direct access to your customers. Much more about JTBD and other approaches to innovation you will find in our brandnew FREE book “How to Create Innovation”. Register for the download now!

Jobs to be done - The basic problem

Until now, the general principle has been the better you know your target group and can describe them, the better the products and services you can develop based on these considerations. Data-driven, therefore, attempts were made to find out as much as possible about the customer and what makes him tick. Detailed personas were used to give customers a face and a personality. The purpose of all this was to be able to put oneself in the shoes of one’s own customers – after all, one is often not even part of the target group oneself. However, one thing should be kept in mind: You cannot simply predict a person’s actions from their characteristics. There are many correlations between a person’s characteristics and their actions. But often these are not causal at all. You can easily visualize this for yourself with the following question: Do I act in a certain way because I am me? Or do I act this way because I want to fulfil a task, to achieve something? Another common mistake is to focus too much on the particular product or misunderstood customer needs. The following famous quote from Theodore Levitt sums it up and can be seen as a JTBD statement: “Customers don’t want a drill, they want a hole in the wall”. So instead of focusing on developing a better drill, the focus should be on the actual problem. The underlying task, for example, hanging a (heavy) picture or fixing a wall shelf.

The Jobs to be Done Theory & JTBD Framework

One approach to circumventing these errors can be found in the JTBD theory. It states that purchasing decisions are primarily about completing a task, i.e., a job. Users don’t “buy” products or services, they “hire” them to do a job. Clayton M. Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, is considered the inventor of the jobs to be done theory. He summarized his theory in the following quote:
„Customers don’t just buy products; they hire them to do a job. “ At the centre of these considerations is the question of why customers buy a product or use a service, or to put it another way: what job they want to be done. The more useful your product is in doing this job, the more satisfied your customers will be with it.

The Jobs to be Done theory is based on three assumptions

1. Customers buy a product or service to perform a specific task. 

  • The ultimate goal is to achieve a higher-level goal. A passenger doesn’t want a ride in a cab, he wants to reach a place. A construction worker doesn’t want to push a wheelbarrow, but to transport material.
  • Such a task becomes job to be done

2. The task is at the heart of strategies and innovations

  • Not the product or the customer itself is this centre of attention
  • Products evolve over time, but the job to be done remains fundamentally the same
  • This results in: If the customer needs are determined at the job to be done, they also remain stable and valid in the long run

3. The jobs of your customers open up completely new perspectives for you

  • JTBD allows strategy and innovation to be based on stable customer needs – the customer needs that offer the greatest value creation potential.

How the Jobs to be done principle and JTBD framework helps you

The JTBD principle can be applied in many areas and can support you in your company in many ways, for example in the following application areas:

• Customer Centricity – Creating a shared awareness of customers and their needs for you and your team.
• Customer Segmentation – JTBD can serve as a basis for a new form of segmentation by asking for the different jobs.
• Marketing – customer approaches can be made more accurate, for example by addressing relevant product features
• Competitive intelligence – Jobs to be done can provide a different perspective on the market and the competitive landscape.
• Innovation – JTBD enables you to develop new products and business models that are more closely aligned with customer needs.

Dimensions of consideration at JTBD

The goals, the jobs, of your customers can be divided into direct and indirect goals. The direct goals represent the obvious tasks that are in the foreground. The indirect goals, on the other hand, are not so readily apparent. In order to determine them, you have to question exactly, for example with the “5-Why-Method”.

In addition to the direct and indirect goals, other aspects must also be considered. A job has functional, emotional and social aspects. As a rule, the functional aspect represents the direct goal, while the emotional and social aspects are often not so easy to recognize and represent indirect goals. 

Not all aspects are always equally relevant and not all must always be addressed. Rather, it is a matter of developing an awareness of the needs that go beyond functional benefits. Asking about social and emotional factors creates a broadening of one’s horizons, which provides the aha moments when working with the JTBD method.

The milkshake JTBD example

The best-known example of the Jobs to be done method comes from Christensen himself. He describes how he and his colleagues were commissioned by a fast-food chain to boost sales of milkshakes. 

Beforehand, the company had already tried to increase sales itself by asking customers from the milkshake target group about possible improvements to the product and implementing their feedback. However, the changes had no impact on sales figures.

One of Christensen’s colleagues took a different approach and asked what “jobs” customers wanted to be done. The team interviewed customers on site and asked different questions than the company had previously, namely about jobs. This revealed that a great many milkshakes are sold in the morning and that they are particularly popular with commuters. Through the interviews, it was possible to identify the following goals and aspects that play a role in the decision to buy milkshakes:

  • Direct goals
    • Occupation on the car ride – passing time and distraction on the drive to work.
    • Satiety – getting full and staying full for a longer period of time
  • Indirect goals
    • Consumption without crumbs or sticky fingers
    • Practical storage in the cup holder

The following learnings can be derived from the JTBD example:

  • The main job of the milkshake can be summarized as “second breakfast”.
  • The market environment therefore does not consist of other milk drinks, but of alternatives to breakfast to go such as sandwiches or banana.

The following changes to the product were then derived from these findings, which ultimately led to the desired increase in sales:

  • Firmer ingredients and tighter straws lead to longer consumption time and thus more distraction during the trip
  • Optimization of cup size with regard to cup holders in cars lead to more content that can still be safely and easily stored in the car
  • Introduction of a self-service lane for easier and faster purchasing

What do the VW Jetta and "Club Night" have in common?

The established marketing paradigm, which states that target groups can be segmented according to characteristics such as age, gender, income, values, demographic class, etc., and that conclusions can be drawn about their preferences, is outdated. The same applies to so-called “personas”, a metaphor widely used in software development to describe target groups and to give personas a claim to general validity with regard to the person described in order to develop products and services for them. The problem that these views have in common is that they do not answer the question of causality, i.e., why customers buy certain products or services.

Every person is in a position to constantly decide anew what he/she wants to do or buy, or how he/she wants to think or feel about something, according to his/her own free will: today I am frugal, tomorrow I will spend a lot of money to do something good for myself. Accordingly, it does not make sense to categorize potential customers. What matters is not which “target group segment” someone belongs to, but what progress a person would like to make in life or in a professional context and which solution he/she would be most likely to choose to achieve this. Examples of the uselessness of the conventional target group definition is the fact that completely heterogeneous groups of buyers can exist for one and the same product.

The Volkswagen Jetta (“Jetta” is a registered trademark of Volkswagen AG, exemplary use) is in the USA a hip car for “teen drivers”, i.e., young drivers, while in Germany it has always been regarded as a car for the “older man with a hat”: two target groups that could not be more different. And anyone who has ever been to a club night will notice that it is not just the youth or young adults who gather there, but also couples whose children are out of the house and who want to experience a second youth. Everyone is dancing to the same music on the same dance floor, everyone wants to have fun. Everyone has the same Jobs to Be Done.

These examples point out that a product must first and foremost fulfil certain needs or tasks (called “jobs”), and it doesn’t matter what demographic characteristics a buyer has. Similarly, a product can fulfil multiple “jobs to be done” (functional, emotional, and social).

How you can use Jobs to be done yourself

Of course, the method can be applied not only to milkshakes, but can also help you in many other fields. The following steps provide you with a common ground that will support you in applying the method. It can best be implemented in the form of a workshop.

  • The question of why: Ask yourself why customers use your product and what tasks they want to perform with it. Not only the functional aspects should be considered, but also emotional and social aspects. Each participant formulates their ideas on moderation cards, with one need on each card.
  • Evaluate answers: Collect the answers so that each creator explains them briefly. Group similar ideas together under one phrase. You can also optionally organize by type of need (emotional, functional, social).
  • Translate goals into user stories: Formulate both direct and indirect goals as user stories, such as “I buy the product to…”. Each goal should result in a user story.
  • Ask why not: Think about why customers don’t buy your product and also consider alternatives, competitors or workarounds that customers use instead. Evaluate your product and alternatives in terms of customer goals and needs.
  • Find potential for improvement: Use the previous steps to identify areas for improvement in your product, service, or strategy. Formulate hypotheses to better meet customer needs and define metrics to measure success.
  • Talk: Talk to customers and non-customers. Ask the “why” and the “why not” questions. Watch users use your product or prototype, if applicable. Use the exchanges and observations to test the hypotheses.

For practical application, you can also use a JTBD canvas, which works similarly to other canvases from design thinking. To have sufficient basic understanding of Business Model, we recommend reading our articles on Innovation Process and Innovation Strategy in Business as well as creativity and innovation.

Clear view with the "JTBD lens"

Often the view of what service to offer or what functionalities to develop in order to be customer oriented is blurred. JTBD gives entrepreneurs and product managers a tool to define with a new precision what customer orientation means and thus to create a prerequisite for putting it into practice. Mission statements à la “we put our customers at the centre of everything we do” are too vague to be used to give a company a clear direction and rally all employees behind it to fulfil the mission. The JTBD principle, on the other hand, focuses in a novel way on people, their needs, and their preferences for completing tasks. JTBD helps unite the entire organization behind a common view of the customer and the tasks he or she wants to accomplish, define principles of action and processes, and use a common language that makes it much easier to implement the mantra of customer focus.

What matters in the JTBD framework?

The Jobs to be Done framework foundation for creating value is a deep understanding of, among other things, what “tasks to do” a customer has in particular life situations, how he/she makes decisions about alternatives, what trade-offs are made, whether the “suffering” is so great that solutions are cobbled together, and what forces are at work in making decisions for and against selecting new solutions. A cornerstone of JTBD theory is the recognition that customers “commission” products and services that help them complete a task and make progress in their lives. The more precisely one knows the task to be done and the decision-making process leading up to “commissioning” a solution, the more meaningful innovations can be developed. JTBD doesn’t just help with strategic decisions, however. Even the question of which product features and functions to develop (and which not to develop) get great clarity when there is an understanding of what tasks a customer wants done.

Giving the business a clear purpose

Bottom line: JTBD theory is a lens with which to see customers, and what matters in meeting needs in a whole new light. It can be used not only to guide individual product or product strategy decisions, but to align the entire company with what customers need to be done. Instead of ambitious or partial lofty vision and mission statements, the entire company with all its processes is aligned with the customer in a way that is highly relevant to the customer. The tasks to be done serve as a “North Star” that can give the company a clear, customer-oriented purpose.

Conclusion on JTBD

Jobs to be done is still a young theory or methodology that does not ask about the characteristics of customers, but about the higher-level tasks (jobs) they want to accomplish. 

This leads to a new perspective on product, user and also competition. In practical application, the approach can be combined well with familiar methods, such as those from design thinking.

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