What Is Jobs to Be Done?


The concept of innovation might conjure images of late nights, endless brainstorming sessions, heartbreaking failures, and inspiring triumphs. However, although big leaps and trial-and-error are (in some ways) truly synonymous with innovation, large-scale consumer product innovation requires as much “measuring twice, cutting once” as possible.

When we look back at the most successful innovations in the world of consumer goods and services, we see a pattern emerge. The greatest innovations solve the very real challenges of consumers – e.g., Uber’s impressive rise following their disruption of the traditional taxi and delivery model.

And yet, so many companies and innovation teams struggle to understand that brilliant inflection point between the most pressing problems of their target consumers and where they have meaningful opportunities to solve them.


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That’s Where the Jobs to Be Done Framework Comes In


The Jobs to Be Done (JTBD) framework empowers marketing and product teams to develop a deep understanding of why people buy specific products. As the JTBD theory goes, people don’t buy the products themselves; they buy the completion of jobs from those products. For example, let’s look at Peloton – in particular, its surge in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. For many new Peloton owners in 2020, an example of a meaningful job completed by the product was bringing the feeling of an in-class workout experience into the home during quarantine when gyms and spin studios were closed to the public.

The JTBD framework was developed by Re-Wired President and CEO Bob Moesta, former IBM senior product planner Tony Ulwick, and Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. According to Ulwick, the mindset shift of JTBD is a subtle one but powerfully necessary.

“Instead of studying the products and asking people what products they want, let’s talk to them about what they’re trying to achieve and how they measure success at each step of the way.”

Tony Ulwick,
Former IBM Senior Product Planner

 

More traditional research-and-development models can feel safer for innovation teams, but understanding your consumers’ true desires and goals through JTDB can radically improve your success rate when creating category-defining innovations for your target customers.

The Jobs to Be Done framework provides much-needed clarity in a sea of customer data, providing a strategy for understanding customer needs on a truly fundamental level inaccessible to traditional research-and-development models. Integrating this framework brings the potential to maximize the output of your innovation teams, reaching levels of customer insight unmatched by your competitors. This is exactly the competitive edge we at 113 Industries strive to bring to our clients and the reason we created this guide.

 

Read on to find:

Examples of Jobs to Be Done in practice.
The hidden complexities of true JTBD insights.
• The challenges of in-house JTBD framework implementation.
• What Jobs to Be Done insights should look like.
• How to vet Jobs to Be Done consumer research partners.

 

Let’s get you up to speed so you can start incorporating the Jobs to Be Done framework into your innovation strategy.

 

Part I. Jobs to Be Done Examples

Venmo

Although the job of the electronic currency transfer between two private individuals had seemingly been solved by PayPal, many consumers still felt frustrated by the platform. Yes, you could pay someone and receive funds through PayPal, but money could often be held and transfers could take days.

This is the precise job Venmo accomplished for consumers when its innovative payment platform was introduced in 2009. While there are some limitations and exceptions, immediate transactions are the norm for Venmo. It was so effective at solving this gap in PayPal that PayPal bought Venmo in 2012 through its acquisition of Braintree.

 

Zoom

Like Peloton, Zoom existed before the COVID-19 pandemic; however, it was the pandemic that catapulted the brand to the most-used collaboration tool in 2020. Prior to the pandemic, Zoom was already helping consumers – mostly in business settings – complete important jobs. Prior to the pandemic, Zoom was already helping consumers – mostly in business settings – complete important jobs:

 

“We need to be able to meet with our clients face-to-face, even if they’re located in different places around the world.”

“We have remote employees who work from home, and we need to be able to still have meetings and collaborate effectively together.”

“Communication over the phone isn’t always effective. We need to see each others’ faces when we’re meeting, even if we cannot be in the same room together.”

 

The number of jobs Zoom was able to solve expanded widely once global quarantine rules took effect in early 2020 across a diverse range of contexts, including (but not limited to):

 

“I still want to be able to see my friends and family, even though we are no longer able to be together in person.”

“I’m a therapist, and I still need to be able to meet with my patients now more than ever.”

“Our children still need to be able to attend classes, even if they cannot come to school physically.”

“Our entire company is now remote, and we still need to be able to effectively collaborate and function – but phones aren’t enough.”

“Our sales team still needs to be able to meet with prospects to close deals.”

 

Although the world has returned to a version of pre-pandemic norms, the capabilities of platforms like Zoom (e.g., the jobs it solved for so well) have helped leave fundamental societal changes in its wake – remote work, remote socializing, hybrid educational environments, remote therapy, and more.

 

Emotional and Social JTBD Examples

The jobs consumers seek to have completed by products can sometimes seem obvious, as in the case of the pandemic Peloton buyers. But in many cases, the jobs consumers want to complete the most may be undeclared, or at least not as easy for innovation teams to discern at first glance.

This is particularly true with jobs that fall into emotional and social categories.

Let’s pretend for a moment you run a company that creates products for those who struggle with motion sickness. Some of the more obvious jobs you would be solving for might include preventing motion sickness in cars, planes, and other modes of transportation. Therefore, the consumer’s Job to Be Done appears quite transactional on the surface:

 

“I need an over-the-counter medicinal product that makes it so I don’t toss my cookies every time I spend more than 10 minutes in the car.”

 

But This Statement Doesn’t Address the Feelings of Consumers

Consumers struggling with motion sickness frequently share statements like:

“I’m tired of feeling embarrassed about my motion sickness problem.”

“I just want to be able to enjoy activities with my friends, family, and coworkers.”

“I’m tired of feeling worried whenever anything involving travel is brought up with family and friends.”

“I’m so angry; I just want to feel normal. I hate that it only takes 10 minutes for me to be in a car before I start feeling sick.”

“I’m so surprised! I never had motion sickness before I went on a train.”

 

Which is Where Emotional and Social “Jobs” Exist 

EMOTIONAL

“I want to enjoy motion-based activities with friends and family.”

“I want to avoid embarrassment in front of others before, during, and after motion- based activities.”

“I want to live my life more fully by participating in activities I am currently avoiding.”

“I want to enjoy life confidently and without fearing unexpected symptoms.”

SOCIAL

“I want to appear more spontaneous, social, fun-loving, and adventurous.”

“I want to appear healthy to others by only putting the best products in my body.”

“I want to live a life without unexpected or embarrassing interruptions.”

 

Solving for these deeper, more emotional, and social components must be factored in when evaluating new products, marketing campaigns, and packaging designs.

 

Part II. Jobs to Be Done Isn’t Purely Functional

On its surface, the JTBD framework can seem straightforward, at least from an academic standpoint of understanding the theory and tying it to real-world examples. However, what many organizations do not realize is that actual applications of the framework are quite difficult to uncover through more traditional methods such as focus groups or surveys.

A common myth that can spell disaster for any innovation team’s ability to achieve success is thinking of Jobs to Be Done as a simple list of functional tasks your consumers will tell you they need to complete.

 

“Make my home secure.”

“I want to eat chocolate candy.”

 

As we discussed in the previous examples, while those may be surface-level jobs consumers would like to see completed by a product they buy, the true jobs they’re looking to accomplish run much deeper.

For instance, some security solutions can address jobs relating to the fear of compromised family safety or mitigating someone who has experienced a home robbery from feeling violated again. Healthy snacks for children can also empower a parent to feel (and potentially be perceived as) health conscious, someone who only gives their children the best.

Even complex coffee orders, though the punchline of many jokes, solve for specific emotional and social jobs you may not realize – making someone feel more in control or sophisticated at the start of their day.

Going back to our motion sickness example, a consumer wants to achieve specific outcomes that are much bigger and broader – including maintaining the feeling they had before getting in a car or boarding a plane, living a life without physical limitations, and treating symptoms without side effects.

 

Part III. Challenges of In-House JTDB Implementation

Leaving aside the challenges of understanding the emotional and social nuances of JTBD, the other common and insidious myth around JTBD is that the framework can be easily implemented in-house.

Statistically speaking, there may be outliers that prove to be the exception. On average, however, despite its seemingly straightforward concepts, the Jobs to Be Done methodology is quite challenging for most companies to implement on their own.

Yes, you can organize focus groups and conduct consumer research surveys with an in-house team. However, you won’t likely get the depth you need to effectively implement the framework to achieve true innovation.

The amount of research you would need to do – and the number of interviews you would need to conduct – to deeply understand the functional, emotional, and social components of JTBD for your company is often prohibitive. This is further compounded by the amount of testing and validation you would need to do as well. In short, completing Jobs to Be Done for your company isn’t as simple as it may seem initially. You must be experts in sample size research, consumer interviewing, data analysis, and more.

The complexity of doing JTBD well can often lead some to skip steps and create consumer storylines based on personal biases and gut instinct rather than facts. When that happens, you won’t have the tangible data you need to support your assertions should they be challenged by senior leadership.

In short, you need to have a deep understanding of your customers before attempting to break out the different components of Jobs to Be Done – functional, emotional, and social. And without access to a substantial data resource, you probably won’t be able to do that accurately.

Most of all, you cannot assume your consumers, when asked, will be straightforward with their deepest and darkest fears. But they may be less likely to talk about how embarrassed, anxious, and stressed their condition makes them feel. Still, they may be much less likely to talk about how embarrassed, anxious, and stressed their condition makes them feel.

So how do you learn what consumers are really thinking? Using our company (113 Industries) as an example, we’re a growth-focused consumer research partner for companies seeking innovation. We leverage the Jobs to Be Done framework to empower our clients. Through our work, we’ve learned what it takes to deliver the actionable and relevant consumer insights our clients need cannot be achieved with focus groups alone. We use a proprietary approach that leverages AI technology and natural language processing in conjunction with the strategic know-how of experienced consumer research professionals.

 

Part IV. What Jobs to Be Done Insights Should Look Like

We’ve found the term “insight” to be a troublesome one. Many providers will claim to give you actionable consumer insights through the execution of the Jobs to Be Done framework … but, in reality, they won’t. They’ll provide you with an observable and quantifiable trend, such as “veganism is on the rise.”. Trends and insights, although related, are not the same thing. Insights are actionable.

When we deliver JTBD insights to our clients, each insight has a clear why behind it, as well as a clear recommended action (or set of actions) related to it. To achieve this, we deliver our insights in a function-oriented manner so the related or recommended action steps are clear.

 

In addition, because being on the receiving end of an uncurated waterfall of insights can be more overwhelming than it is helpful or directive, our team spends a lot of time reviewing and curating only the most relevant and important insights for our clients to guarantee they do not waste their time or energy on distractions.

Going back to our veganism example, it’s not enough to observe and note more people are choosing vegan options. If it’s relevant to your industry and your focus on potential innovation, you need to understand the why. For example, a woman in her late 30s who chooses to eat more vegan products may not be a vegan 100% of the time, but rather some of the jobs she may be looking to complete include:

“I want sources of protein that don’t have cholesterol.”

“I am a healthy woman who wants to be perceived by her friends as healthy.”

“I’m upset about my increased awareness of the treatment of animals, so I want to eat fewer animal-based products.”

“I used to have zero issues with dairy, but I’ve developed a lactose intolerance that has increased my restrictions around what I can eat.”

“I’m afraid of what will happen to my health if I don’t drastically change what I put into my body regularly.”

 

These are the types of deeper bits of knowledge you can find when you go beyond the surface of observable trends. Yes, again, trends are valuable pieces of information, but they often lack the specificity, direction, or true consumer intelligence necessary for innovation.

 

One Word of Warning with JTBD

When done well, JTBD-focused consumer research can be invaluable to virtually all consumer- focused companies. We cannot think of a single instance in which we’d ever say to one of our clients:

“Having a deeper understanding of your consumers’ feelings, desires, goals, and fears won’t help you innovate better products and go-to-market messages.”

That would never happen. That being said, there are limitations to the Jobs to Be Done framework that must be understood. Not understanding these limitations can not only lead to failure with the adoption of JTBD, they can also create a lot of frustration.

For instance, if you’re looking for a tactical solution for innovation that must have an immediate outcome within the next three months – more shelf space, reduced cost of 20%, etc. – Jobs to Be Done will create friction for you, as it requires an entirely different, more long-term focused mindset. Put another way, the power of JTBD is that it is a true path to innovation. So, ask yourself, are you looking to truly be an innovator, or are you simply trying to accomplish a few important but transactional goals?

If you’re in the latter camp, JTBD may not be the right approach for you.

To be clear, we’re not insinuating that focusing on short-term business objectives is a bad thing. Not at all; such a mindset can be critical to your success at a given moment in time.

Rather, the larger point is understanding to do JTBD well requires you to look outside of yourself. You need to take a moment to pause and fundamentally challenge “the way things have always been done” in pursuit of something larger and greater. Often those “tried and true” tactics can be exactly what is holding you back from progress or success.

 

Part V. Vetting Jobs to Be Done Consumer Research Partners

As we discussed earlier, if you’re an organization truly looking to innovate at scale in your space, you will likely encounter challenges trying to implement the JTBD framework in-house. That means you’ll need to find a consumer research partner to help you.

Of course, not all consumer research partners are created equal. As you conduct your search, there are the essential boxes you may be looking to check – case studies or success stories adjacent to your industry or what you are trying to accomplish, reputation as a consumer research partner, etc.

We also recommend three other areas of focus when evaluating potential consumer research firms specifically for Jobs to Be Done:

 

• Due to the depth and scale of research required to do JTBD well, a prospective partner should have access to massive quantities of data. Ask about their data.

 

• You should also ask about the processes used to uncover the JTBD insights you need. The right partner will use a comprehensive and contemporary blend of approaches to give you the full picture. For example, AI and machine learning and social listening and intelligence are some of the methods we employ.

 

• Consumer research firms may bring their own personal biases to the table, particularly if they’ve been in the game for a long time. Experience is not a negative, to be sure, but how this experience expresses itself can have both positive outcomes as well as negative ones. This is something you’ll want to explore as you vet potential partners.

 

Finally, as hokey as this may sound, you should look to see if your potential partner understands your Job to Be Done. For instance, you may seek to create an innovative product for your company to achieve a larger organizational goal or business objective. You may also be looking to realize the potential of your brilliant team, increase your ability to bring data-backed insights into the decision-making equation, or even mitigate the risk of losing your job if you can’t deliver.

The very best JTDB partners will understand the functional, emotional, and social jobs you need to complete.

 

Conclusion

Hopefully, this guide has clarified just how pivotal the Jobs to Be Done framework can be to achieving significant and actionable innovation.

By focusing on achieving a deeper understanding of your customers’ innermost feelings, desires, goals, and fears, JTBD allows its users to innovate better products and messaging strategies satisfying the true needs of consumers.

The actionable insights drawn from this needs-first approach to decision-making can significantly increase the chances of successful innovation. The only question left is, what are you waiting for?