Jobs-To-Be-Done (JTBD) Methodology: Definition and Overview
Launching a new business venture is one of life’s great adventures. There are numerous inspirational quotes, epigrams and, in the world of 2022, memes, along the lines that you only need a great idea and the will to succeed. If only it were that simple.
There is an apocryphal story about a pharma company that was paying $5,000 per pound for a particular chemical. Seeing a business opportunity, a research firm came up with a way to synthesize the chemical for just $50 per pound. When they approached the pharma company, they were greeted with open arms and told they could expect an order of two pounds of the chemical every year.
What is Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD)?
JTBD methodology eliminates the risk of businesses and startups falling into the same trap as our scientific researchers synthesizing a chemical that, to all intents and purposes, nobody needs. In today’s commercial landscape, we hear plenty of talk about “blue sky thinking,” and three is certainly a need for “high risk, high return” research - as demonstrated by the government ploughing £800 million into a Blue Skies research agency.
However, the danger is that by thinking too far outside the box, we find ourselves the proud custodians of solutions that are looking for problems to solve.
JTBD lays down a framework by which we can understand the value proposition of the product or service we are bringing to market. In so doing, we are focusing on the need to be fulfilled - the job to be done - as opposed to getting carried away with the solution for its own sake.
There are lessons to be learned from our opening example that run deeper than the obvious. When developing a novel product or service, product-market fit has to be front and centre in the entrepreneur’s mind. It’s one thing to think we understand our customer’s needs, but oftentimes that understanding is superficial, over-simplistic or just plain wrong.
So what do we mean when we describe a job to be done? It can best be described as a process that will change the current state of things for the better. A job to be done should not be confused with a task or a process.
Nobody ever woke up wishing they had a 10mm hole in their wall, or even the shelf that the hole’s creation would serve to support. Instead, they want easy access to their books, or a place to display their family photographs.
Alan Klement defines a “job” in our current sense of the word as a “better me”. By this, he means that successfully getting the job done leaves the consumer in an improved state in some way or another. It could be as simple as satisfying his hunger, or allowing him to reach his mother’s house 10 minutes faster or equipping him with instant access to his favourite music.
Stuffing a chocolate bar with nuts and nougat or putting a flyover across a roundabout or inventing a mobile app to access music files from the cloud are mere mechanisms that might or might not prove instrumental in getting the underlying job done.
The history of Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD)
The term Jobs-to-be-done was first coined in the early 21st century by Clayton Christensen. But it draws together business theories that date back much further. Arguably the most fundamental are the insights of economist and all-round business genius Joseph Schumpeter. Key among his many insights in the mid 20th century was his theory of creative destruction. Game-changing innovations act as a wrecking ball to the status quo.
We’ve seen it time and again during and since Schumpeter’s time, from transatlantic flights superseding ocean liners to movie streaming killing off the video hire business. Schumpeter also observed that people tend to use only one solution for a job to be done, so when an established way of doing things is rendered obsolete, its fall can be rapid.
Why is it important?
When products and services are seen from the JTBD perspective, we have clearer visibility of how effective or otherwise they are in meeting a customer’s needs. Earlier, we used the example of a flyover reducing journey time at a busy intersection so that you can get to your mother’s house 10 minutes faster.
That’s great if you are currently wasting time sitting at traffic lights every time you make the journey. You’ll embrace the flyover and use it every time you make the journey.
- But suppose someone perfects the art of jetpacks next week so you can halve the journey time?
- Or what if your mother moves to an apartment just round the corner from where you live?
In either case, you’ll drop the flyover like a stone in favour of these new ways of getting to your mother’s side in a shorter time.
Drilling down to get a better understanding of the job to be done gives you a customer’s-eye perspective. This is never a bad thing in as much as it empowers you to better meet customer needs. But that is only half the story. It’s also important when it comes to understanding and managing risk.
Remember what we said about creative destruction - ideally, you want to be the one directing that wrecking ball, but if you are not, then at the very least, you need to be aware if it is heading in your direction.
Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) methodology to grow your business
JTBD represents a methodology and mindset that any customer-facing business would do well to consider. It is especially valuable when you are looking to launch a new business or are pushing a recent startup through a period of rapid growth.
The single most important step in the JTBD methodology is the formation of the JTBD statement. Get that right, and everything else will fall naturally into place. Doing so is, in itself, a multi-stage process.
The first step is to clearly define your audience. Be as concise as possible, or there is the risk of you gathering too broad a range of signals. Let’s return to the example of the drive to your mother’s house. Only you are undertaking that specific journey, but there will be others who follow an A to B route that is materially the same. However, you would still want to limit your research to, perhaps, those who drive the route during certain hours of the day.
The importance of defining the audience correctly becomes clear at the second stage, which is market research.
This is an area in which you need to fully immerse yourself. Yes, it’s about knowing your customer, but in the JTBD context, you specifically need to understand the following:
- What is the underlying need that must be met?
- What are the barriers that can prevent it from happening as desired?
- What are they currently doing to get the job done?
- What alternatives are they currently not pursuing (because it does not adequately get the job done)?
Usually, the first question is the most difficult one to answer. When you spend time studying JTBD, you soon learn that people are bad at understanding what they want, and are worse at communicating it. When interviewing multiple people, a number of themes are likely to appear, so the next step is to prioritise these and decide where your focus should lie.
This can be done through follow up interviews, but it is worth performing some analysis of your own first. Sunita Mohanty provides a useful framework that maps market demand against market gap so that you can focus on the juiciest of the low hanging fruit, which is the high demand / high gap opportunities in the top right quadrant.
Be prepared to go through several iterations of this process in order to nail down your JTBD statement.
This is a good moment to step away from the theoretical for a moment and bring JTBD to life with some real world examples.
#1. Using Linkedin to get the job done
LinkedIn has more than 800 million users - it’s not as big as Instagram or Facebook, but it surpasses any other business networking platform the world has ever known. Every LinkedIn member will have at least contemplated upgrading to the premium service, and when you click the button to learn more, you’ll notice something that should now look very familiar.
Instead of describing functions or tasks that different membership tiers bring, you see a list of things you can achieve, such as “Find leads more easily” or “Job search with confidence and get hired.” LinkedIn adopted this new approach in 2018, and a year later, 39 percent of members had a premium subscription, up from 19 percent in 2016.
#2. Milkshake Marketing
To discuss JTBD without mentioning this example would be like discussing secret agent movies and not referencing James Bond. The most famous JTBD case study of them all was by Clay Christensen, the father of JTBD theory. It examines the question of why morning commuters buy milkshake from a fast food restaurant.
The conclusions are not what we might expect.
Customers want a breakfast that is tidy and will not cover them with crumbs. They want something that satisfies their hunger. And they want to be distracted from the monotony of driving in traffic, something that the act of sucking thick milkshake through a straw provides.
Intuitively, these are not the sort of needs that would spring immediately to mind when considering why people buy a milkshake, and that’s why this is such a popular example. Understanding the JTBD inspired the restaurant to make their milkshake even more satisfying and “interesting” by making it thicker and adding small pieces of fruit.
#3. Pipedrive reveals surprising goals through CRM
In a popular Everyone Hates Marketing podcast, Alan Klement discusses how JTBD shone a new light on what people want a CRM tool to achieve for them. The three primary jobs to be done that were identified were to organize their work, improve their sales process and scale their team. The interesting thing here is that there is no mention of the customer at all.
This insight prompted software company Pipedrive to present their CRM solution in a way that was quite different to their competitors. The following year, the company celebrated crossing the 50,000 customer threshold - a little more than two years after hitting the 10,000 customer mark.
#4. Creating unity at Discord
Discord’s audience is, or was at the time of this JTBD study, PC gamers. Again, the need they wanted Discord’s social platform to help them meet was not what we might immediately expect from the outside looking in. Yes, they wanted to discuss games, strategies, hacks and so on, but there were already scores of places for that, so it scored only medium demand and low gap on Sunita Mohanty’s matrix.
Where JTBD could make a difference was in helping players who want to jump into a multiplayer game to find and coordinate with like-minded gamers to get a game underway quickly, easily and safely. It meant focusing on the functionality of the search capability to find available players, as well as useful functions like switching seamlessly from text to voice chat when gaming.
#5. All your songs in your pocket
Another popular example that is commonly cited in MBA marketing texts is Apple’s tagline of “1,000 songs in your pocket” when it released the first iPod. Now marketers say this is clever because that’s a benefit that anyone can understand, as opposed to saying it has 5MB of storage, which, especially in 2001, meant nothing to anyone.
But when we look at it from a JTBD perspective, we ask “why would anyone want 1,000 songs in their pocket?” At the time, people who run and work out were an important audience. The need that was identified was to stay motivated and to set a pace by listening to music. It helped Apple identify areas of focus like keeping it securely attached while using different types of gym equipment, areas that might not otherwise have been obvious.
When and where to use JTBD?
The examples cited above demonstrate that JTBD can come in useful at the least expected moments. Alan Klement describes it as a way of thinking that prepares us for whatever curveballs life might throw our way, because it deals with “principles, not methods.”
Methods, he argues, are easy enough to learn by rote, but they come and go, or become obsolete over time. Principles, on the other hand, bend with the wind and can be applied to new situations. That is to say, with the right principles in place, you can adopt and adapt your own methods according to the situation.
How to put JTBD methodology into practice
These are fine words and sentiments, but let’s keep them grounded in reality. There are two stages involved in putting JTBD methodology into practice:
- Identify the Job to be Done - this is known as the project discovery phase and we discussed it earlier. It again emphasises the importance of forming the JTBD statement. Doing so is, in fact, a core component of the overall JTBD process.
- Predict which product, process or solution will be most effective at solving the problem or meeting the need identified during the discovery phase.
In the second phase, it is likely that a number of potential solutions will be identified. We have seen how broad, and often how unexpected, the JTBD statement can ultimately be. It is therefore essential to have the right range of tools and methods at your disposal to effectively assess them and deliver the optimum solution.
Before we look at those, however, it is important to note that what we are describing here is not a one off, “set it and forget it” exercise. Most jobs are not static - remember, we are talking in essence about needs and they change over time. The same can certainly be said for the products or processes that satisfy those needs - Kodak was an extreme example, but it is one we would be foolish to forget.
Tools and methods
The tools and methods we use in the first and second stages of the JTBD process overlap more than you might think. Clearly, when we are in the project discovery phase and striving to formulate our JTBD statement, we rely heavily on market research. There are numerous tools at our disposal here, ranging from surveys to face to face interviews to focus groups and even mystery shopper exercises.
This is not the place for a deep dive into market research strategies, but there are a few points to keep in mind.
The first is that audience segmentation is in itself a key aspect of market research. Specialists in this field use segmentation strategies to identify the key characteristics that define user groups and demographics. People are only too easy to categorise, so it’s vital to understand which characteristics are relevant and which are not.
For example, ethnic origin might be a vital parameter when considering a skincare product that is more or less effective with different skin types. On the other hand, it will probably be completely irrelevant when looking at car insurance.
The other point to keep in mind is that people are easily led, so it is important to keep the line of questions as free-form and open-ended as possible, at least in the preliminary stages. This is also why an iterative approach can pay dividends - it could take a few rounds of questions and answers before you circle into the nub of the job.
As well as identifying what customers are trying to do, attain or achieve, your research must also zero in on how they are doing it at the moment, what obstacles or downsides that presents and what alternatives they have considered and rejected.
Think about that Discord example from earlier. The ultimate JTBD statement would be along the following lines:
“I want to be able to jump into a game with other players, but I don’t know what other players are online. The main forum lets me message other players, but doesn’t tell me who’s around. I can use WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, but that only connects me to people on my contact list.”
Arriving at this statement of a clear desire accompanied by alternatives and their shortcomings cannot be achieved through a single interview or questionnaire.
Once we are satisfied with our JTBD statement, we can start to formulate ideas and predictions on what might address the problem or meet the need. Ah-ha moments are highly gratifying, but that is because they are so uncommon. Be prepared to put in some hard yards of A/B testing, experimentation and prototyping.
Most JTBD practitioners find it useful to ensure visibility of the overall process using the standard eight-stage job map originally created by Ulwick and Bettencourt and published by HBR back in 2008.
Best practices of JTBD
We have already said that JTBD is more a way of thinking than a prescriptive set of business processes. When we talk about best practices, therefore, don’t be put off if our focus is not on the easily measurable.
- Keep it real - several times in the foregoing, we have stepped away from the theoretical to examine real world cases. This is where JTBD comes alive and truly adds value.
Some of the most successful products have come about through an innovator with a personal job to be done who cobbles together a solution. Market research is vital, and mustn't be neglected - but don’t get so buried in it that you lose sight of the world around you.
- Pay attention to the now - sometimes the question arises from the solution and the solution is staring you in the face. The milkshake example is a classic case.
Customers had already arrived at the solution that a milkshake is more satisfying than a pastry, as well as being less likely to mess up your shirt while providing a more interesting distraction on a boring drive. It’s just that nobody had ever framed the solution in that way, and it was doing so that led to the JTBD statement.
- Beware of jobs that are not jobs - a JTBD is defined by a desired state of being that is an improvement on the current situation. In the milkshake example, you want your hunger satisfied without creating a mess down your front, and ideally, you’d like a distraction from the boredom of the journey, too. That’s a JTBD.
Someone approaching milkshake sales cold might offer a completely different statement such as “I want to drink a milkshake.” This is not a JTBD, it does not open up any new possibilities or approaches.
- Remember the iterative approach - JTBD is a living, breathing and constantly evolving approach to identifying a customers aims, aspirations or needs, examining the way they are currently being satisfied, along with any shortcomings, and delivering better solutions.
That is a process without beginning or end, not an exercise that you can complete in a week. When you get onboard, you need to be prepared to stick with it, in much the same way as you do with QA processes like Continuous Improvement.
Even if you follow best practices to the letter, JTBD can present some unique challenges. Let’s conclude by looking at some of the most common.
- It’s easier to do it wrong than right. Businesses often kid themselves that they are using JTBD, when in fact, they are simply troubleshooting specific issues. For example, a drive-thru burger restaurants might offer up “I want a burger I can eat with one hand” as a customer’s JTBD. That’s actually jumping to a potential solution of a genuine JTBD, which will be concerned with satisfying hunger while on the road without making a mess or driving unsafely.
- There is seldom a single JTBD. The above example touched on several areas, and you can be sure that gamers came up with 101 things they would love the Discord platform to do for them. That’s why it is so important that you have a way to sort and prioritise the outputs.
- Putting the theory into practice can be the biggest challenge of all. We have kept things real according to best practice here, but even in our examples, it is clear that putting solutions into practice will not always be easy. This is why the JTBD approach needs to be embedded as a way of thinking at every level of the organisation so that insights can be transformed into roadmaps.
- Backsliding is common. Humans are creatures of habit, and human nature is to view change first and foremost with suspicion. Inertia is a natural force and it’s one against which innovation must constantly push.
JTBD is not so much a methodology as a mindset. Although it takes cues from earlier areas of research and product development strategy, the discipline of JTBD theory and practice is still very much in its infancy.
It provides an eye-opening customer’s eye perspective on the underlying needs or desires that a product or service can satisfy. In doing so, it does more than help you know your customer better. It will also provide some insightful, and often surprising, information about your own company and its products and services. These might even go directly against your preconceived ideas. Who knew, for example, that milkshakes were so in demand as a breakfast item?
By embracing JTBD, every stage of the product development strategy is focused on creating the best solution to a clearly articulated need. This guards against the risk of developing products and services that have admirable characteristics but find themselves floundering because they are looking for a problem to solve or a need to fulfil.
Implementing a JTBD strategy is relatively simple provided you have the necessary market research tools and methodologies at your disposal and the knowledge and skill to interpret their outputs. The greater challenge is likely to lie in transforming interesting insights into roadmaps for change. This is why JTBD is so important at the product development stage, when you are still working from a clean sheet of paper.
Ultimately, JTBD is not an easy solution. It is a way of doing things to which every part of a business needs to make an ongoing commitment. Anything less becomes lip service.
JTBD also demands a change of mindset and perspective that does not always come naturally. However, the potential rewards more than make up for any pain on the journey. LinkedIn, for example, reported quarterly revenue of more than $1 billion for the first time in Q3 2021.
Sometimes, however, there is more than the bottom line at stake. As our case studies and examples have shown, JTBD can deliver the insights that provide the sort of macro solutions that have ultimately been the difference between being a Netflix as opposed to a Blockbuster Video.
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