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Jobs to be Done

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

Improve the 90% Failure Rate of Products


When it comes to designing products, Jobs to be Done is a fundamental tactic that significantly improves the the 90% failure rate of new product development efforts (source: Clayton Christenson).

Jobs to be Done is a theory used to explain the motivation for why people bought products in the past, and to help predict what products they will buy in the future. It is used by organizations to improve the success rate of product development efforts by helping them:

  1. Uncover the customers job to be done (i.e. the problem they are trying to solve);

  2. Design products to do the job (solve the problem);

  3. Organize around the job (aligning structure, process and people to deliver the product required to solve the Job to be Done).[1][2][3].

The theory was developed by both managerial practitioners and researchers in response to the "90%" failure rate of new product development launches.[4][1][5] Former Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley arugued “we need to reinvent the way we market to consumers. We need a new model", sighting that most of the methods we "learned to segment markets, build brands, and understand customers are broken".[6]

In addition, it was advanced by Clayton Christenson as a compliment to the Disruptive Innovation theory: "For years, I'd been focused on understanding why great companies fail [disruption theory], but I realized I had never really thought about the reverse problem: How do successful companies know how to grow? [Job to be Done theory]".

Jobs to be Done is a metaphor for the problem-solving process customers use to make progress in a particular circumstance (i.e. closing the gap between where they are vs. where they want to be).[1] Similar to an employer who "hires or fires" employees to do a job; customers "hire or fire" products to get their job done.

Jobs to be Done is a "Theory"

Kurt Lewin said “there is nothing as practical as a good theory”. Theory explains "what causes what" and is intended to help "frame problems in such a way that we ask the right questions to get us to the most useful answers". A theory must explain the past, and predict the future. Therefore, a well formulated Job to be Done should:

  1. Explain the motivation for why consumers bought a product in the past (i.e. why markets look the way they do today).

  2. Predict what products consumers will buy in the future (i.e. what markets will look like in the future).[8]

What is a Job to be Done

Customers don't want products, they want solutions to their problems. Peter Drucker stressed this point when he said "the customer rarely buys what the company thinks it's selling". As a result, organizations get into trouble by defining themselves by the products they sell, not by the problems they solve (jobs to be done).[1]

The key concepts of a Job to be Done ("People don't just buy stuff, they buy what stuff does for them").[4]

  • Progress: A job is the progress that a customer seeks in a given circumstance (i.e. closing the gap between where they are vs. where they want to be).[1][9] Scott Cook, CEO of Intuit, says that making progress is about solving "the problem the customer is facing, and [achieving] the results that she needs...they hire turbotax to get their taxes done".[10]

  • Circumstance: The circumstance is driven by the context surrounding the problem the customer is trying to solve. The context includes the who, what, when where, how and why (i.e. social influence, political influence, family status, financial status, etc.). Because jobs occur in the flow of daily life, the circumstance is central to the jobs definition and becomes the essential unit of analysis (not customer characteristics, product attributes, new technology, or trends).[2]

  • Dimensions (Functional, Social & Emotional): Jobs are never simply about the functional - they have important social and emotional dimensions, which can be even more powerful than functional ones.

  • Ongoing and recurring: Jobs are seldom discrete events. Unlike products and services that come and go, Jobs are usually persistent and long lasting (ex. people always had a need for communication, consider the products and services hired for the job: pony express, telegraph, radio, telephone, email, mobile phone, instant messenger, online social communities, etc)

  • Customer: A customer is a person who "hires" a product to get the job done; and has the ability to "fire" the current product and hire another product to solve their problem.

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