What is Jobs to be Done (JTBD)? – Info Entrepreneurship

The designers at intercom (intercom.com) use this illustration to show what is, and isn't, important to customers.

Upgrade your user, not your product. Don't build better cameras — build better photographers.

— Kathy Sierra

Ten thousand years ago, we were hunter gatherers and used our feet to roam the earth. Today, we have fast food restaurants and autonomous cars. Why did we change? Because we have an intrinsic desire to evolve ourselves. We do this by remaking and adapting to the world around us.

The desire to evolve is in our DNA. It's what makes us human. Moreover, we do this evolution with purpose. We purposefully use the arts to evolve ourselves emotionally; the sciences to evolve ourselves intellectually; and engineering to evolve how we interact with the world. Purposeful evolution is why we are different from animals:

  • A bear trying to catch food by the river may think, I wish fishing could be made better, faster, or easier.
  • But only a human will think, Fishing is no good. If I could transform that lagoon over there into a place where I can breed fish, then I'd never have to go fishing again.

The bear thinks only about what is. Today, it may come up with a better, faster, or easier way to fish. But tomorrow, it is still a bear that fishes. The human, on the other hand, thinks about what ought to be. Today, she fishes, but tomorrow that can change. If she could figure out a way to no longer fish, then she can focus on improving herself in other ways — like building a hut so she could move out of that dank cave.

The bear does not think about evolving itself and its world. It never has a Job to be Done. The human, on the other hand, does think about evolving herself. And every time she begins the process of evolving herself, she has a Job to be Done.

Improve your life-situation; become more than you are

Charles Revson, founder of Revlon, perfectly encapsulates a JTBD when he said:

In the factory we make cosmetics; in the drugstore we sell hope.

With these words, Revson marks the difference between what customers buy, and why they buy it. This thinking was also carried over into Revlon's advertising. In 1952, Revlon's breakout advertising campaign was Fire and Ice (figure 4). The advertising campaign makes it clear: Revlon isn't selling a product, it's selling a “new me.” In fact, there's barely any mention of any product. One whole page is a check list of provocative questions; the other features a picture of model Dorian Leigh. Only on further investigation do you notice the lipstick and nail polish at the bottom of the page.

Figure 4. What is being sold here — lipstick and nail polish or a “new me”?

A Job to be Done is neither found nor spontaneously created. Rather, it is designed. The checklist of provocative questions such as, “Have you ever wanted to wear an ankle bracelet?” exists to help customers imagine (i.e., design) what new me will be created when they buy Revlon's products. Then there's the picture of Dorian Leigh. Upon seeing that, consumers continue to design a new version of myself in my mind. For some, the new me looks like her. For others, the new me is with her. Whatever the case, if this new me is something I want, I begin desiring it. In other words, I have a Job to be Done.

Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.

— Herbert A. Simon

A Job to be Done defined

Customer theory states that markets grow, evolve, and renew whenever customers have a Job to be Done, and then buy a product to complete it (get the Job Done). This makes a Job to be Done a process: it starts, it runs, and it ends. The key difference, however, is that a JTBD describes how a customer changes or wishes to change. With this in mind, we define a JTBD as follows:

A Job to be Done is the process a consumer goes through whenever she aims to transform her existing life-situation into a preferred one, but cannot because there are constraints that stop her.

Products enable customers to get a Job Done


Humans are limited in our abilities. We can't create a new me by ourselves. A snap of our fingers cannot create a world where a morning commute is an enjoyable experience. Realizing such a change requires innovation on the part of oneself or someone else. Progress can only happen when we attach and integrate new ideas and new products into our lives.

An example of constructing (i.e., designing) a Job to be Done comes from a research project I led to understand what Job or Jobs customers were hoping to get Done (i.e., what new me customers were hoping to create) with a project management software. Here is a synopsis of one interview. Notice how the hero of our story comes to realize a new me is possible, and how he must attach a product to himself to attain that new me.

Andreas began a business around medical tourism. Over time, he grew his business to include five employees. One day, he was out with a friend of his, Jamie, at a coffee shop. During their conversation, Jamie mentioned a product called Basecamp to Andreas. Andreas had never heard of it. He was curious to learn more.

Jamie explained to Andreas that Basecamp was a project management tool that helped small businesses become better at organizing themselves. Andreas was surprised by this. He knew about complicated project management products like Microsoft Project, but those were for big companies only, not ones like his. Currently, Andreas was using Google Sheets, Google Docs, and e-mail to run his company. He just assumed that, well, that's how companies his size operated.

Jamie further explained that Basecamp was made specifically to help companies his size. As Jamie spoke, Andreas's mind began racing: Basecamp could help my company stay organized as it adds more customers and employees. Up until this point, he had just assumed that his company had hit its growth limit.

Andreas and Jamie enjoyed their coffee and parted ways. During his train ride home, Andreas looked up Basecamp on his mobile device. He also learned about and investigated similar products to Basecamp. In the end, he decided to go with Basecamp. He signed up for it, began using it, and grew his company beyond five employees for the first time.

This is what a Job to be Done looks like. A consumer goes along his life as he's come to know it. Then things change. He is presented with an opportunity for self-betterment — that is, make changes so he can grow. When or if he finds a product that helps him realize that growth opportunity, he can evolve to that better version of himself he had imagined.

Besides demonstrating a JTBD well, Andreas's story also demonstrates that creating a new me (i.e., having a JTBD) is a process. It's not something that consumers have; it's something consumers participate in. That's why it's called a Job to be Done. A comparable example is falling in love. Falling in love isn't something you have; it's something you participate in.

And just as you can't complete the fall-in-love process by yourself, a customer can't complete a JTBD by himself. He needs a product to help him design, construct, and complete it.

What isn't a Job to be Done

Figure 6. Don Norman's 1988 Book, The Design Of Everyday Things, features Activity-Centered-Design and the Seven stages of Actions seen here. This theory formed the basis of methods such as Task Analysis and Human-computer Interaction.

While many of us have been applying Customer Jobs for a while — Rick Pedi and John Palmer have been developing Customer Jobs since the 1990s — it has gained popularity only recently. And like so many things that spread quickly, many people have distorted and misinterpreted it.

The biggest mistake I see is thinking of a Job to be Done as an activity or task. Examples include store and retrieve music or listen to music. These are not Jobs; rather, they are tasks and activities — which means they describe how you use a product or what you do with it. For example, music streaming products such as Pandora and Spotify were designed specifically so customers didn't have to store and retrieve music like when they used CDs or MP3s. As far as listen to music, that is a broad activity that varies wildly depending on the context. Someone listening to music so he can maintain his motivation during a workout is engaging in a very different activity than someone going to the opera to listen to music.

I gave a business partner a watch to show my appreciation for his hard work. What was my Job to be Done? How can my JTBD be functional if I never directly use it?

Besides, there are already brilliant design methods out there to help you design for tasks and activities. Examples include activity theory, Don Norman's activity-centered design (figure 6), and human-computer interaction (HCI). If you want to learn more about how to design for activities, go there.

There are not different types of Jobs. Another common mistake is to think that there are types of Jobs. In particular, some may think there are emotional, function, and social Jobs. I'll describe why it's a bad idea from both a practical and theoretical perspective.

Practically, you'll be more successful when you think of every Customer Job as unique. We've learned that while many Jobs share the same core emotional desires (e.g., belonging, self-expression, control, etc.), each Job is a unique combination of these desires. That is why each product should deliver on these core emotional desires in its own way. A good example is Facebook. A lot of people use Facebook because it taps into desires such as control, self-expression, and belonging — but it does so in its own unique way. So instead of saying that there are types of Jobs, you'll be much better off thinking that each Job is unique.

Theoretically — that is, from an ontological and epistemological perspective — Customer Jobs are design (artificial) problems, not natural problems. Natural problems are falsifiable. This means they can be objectively measured and determined as either true or false:

Q: Is argon (Ar) a noble gas?

A: If under conditions X it reacts, then yes; otherwise, no.

Design problems, on the other hand, are not falsifiable and cannot be objectively measured:

Q: Is this painting any good?

Person 1: “Yes.”

Person 2: “No.”

With respect to Jobs, then, no objective test can be created to say, “This is a social Job. That is not a social Job.” If I buy a Ferrari to impress other people, is it a “social” Job because I reference other people? Or should we rephrase it as an insecurity, making it a “personal” or “emotional” Job?

And because there's no way to objectively define each type of Job, every person on the team will have his or her own opinion of what type of Job it should be. Moreover, even if/when you do get consensus, so what? Isn't knowing that I bought a Ferrari because I want to “fit in” good enough? What do you gain by labeling it a social or personal Job? I'll tell you: absolutely nothing.

Take it from me, don't waste your time trying to dissect Jobs into different types. It's about as productive as trying to answer, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

Is it a Customer Job? Does it describe a “new” me or something else? When presented with a possible description of a Customer Job, the best framework of thinking I can offer you is the decision tree in figure 7.

Figure 7. is it a customer job or something else?

Keep in mind that a Job to be Done describe the “better me.” It answers the question, “How are you better since you started using [product]?”

Renowned psychologist Albert Bandura described humans as “proactive, aspiring organisms”. Customer Jobs carries this idea into markets, making the claim that we buy and use things to improve ourselves, to make progress. If you're not describing a Customer Job in terms of progress, you're probably describing something else.

Where does JTBD theory come from?

The greatest — and most helpful — theories are not created by one person but are the result of many people over a long period (figure 8). This is certainly the case with JTBD. Its principles have emerged from the work of a long lineage of researchers and innovators. Here are the most notable.

Figure 8. A genealogy of customer jobs.

Joseph Schumpeter and creative destruction. The roots of JTBD go back at least seventy-five years to Joseph Schumpeter and his introduction of creative destruction. Schumpeter observed that new innovations steal customers from incumbent offerings and then eventually go on to replace them. At one time, horses and ships were our primary methods of personal transportation. Eventually, trains replaced horses, but then cars and airplanes replaced those trains and ships.

Customer Jobs incorporates Schumpeter's insights as it seeks to understand why customers pick one way of doing things over another. Yes, innovators create new solutions, but the wheels of creative destruction turn only through the interaction between customers and innovators.

Customer Jobs also incorporates another one of Schumpeter's brilliant insights that is almost always overlooked. Schumpeter argued that competition should not be measured only among products of the same “type.” He insisted that competition can come from anywhere. You might think you're alone in a market or have market superiority, but some competitor unknown to you could be stealing away your customers. Your only sign that something is wrong is decreasing sales. In chapter 8, we take a close look at Customer Jobs, creative destruction, and competition.

W. Edwards Deming and systems thinking. Schumpeter's influence on Customer Jobs is restricted mostly to factors of market dynamics and competition; however, W. Edwards Deming has influenced Customer Jobs the most. Those who are familiar with his nearly sixty years of contribution to theories of management and innovation will recognize his fingerprints throughout this book.

Deming's most notable influence comes from his development of systems thinking, which I discuss in chapter 13. Throughout Deming's career, he frequently reminded businesses that producers and customers are connected by systems:

The customer and producer must work together as a system.

The consumer is the most important part of the production line.

Deming often challenged companies to remember creative destruction. He impressed on business leadership that simply making a product better and better — improving what already exists — wasn't enough. Sooner or later, someone will invent something new. He would tell businesses the following:

Makers of vacuum tubes improved year by year the power of vacuum tubes. Customers were . But then transistor radios came along. Happy customers of vacuum tubes deserted vacuum tubes and ran for the pocket radio.

A dissatisfied customer does not complain; he just switches.

Deming understood that improving products of today continually isn't enough: “We must keep asking, what new product or service would help our customers more? What will we be making five years from now? Ten years from now?” For Deming, the process of innovation should never stop.11

Psychology. On the psychology front, you'll run into influences from Gary Klein, Amos Tversky, Daniel Kahneman, George Loewenstein, and Ann Graybiel. These are psychologists and scientists whose work forms the foundations of behavioral economics and naturalistic decision making (NDM). Their work helps us understand how and why customers don't make rational decisions when buying and using products, are inconsistent in their opinions of products, and don't always act in their best interest. Customer Jobs understands that if you want to make a great product and to develop a message that connects with customers, you have to understand the emotional forces that shape their motivation.

Bringing it all together. Then, you arrive at John B. Palmer, Rick Pedi, and Bob Moesta. In the 1990s, they began working together to combine their respective experiences into the first Customer Jobs principles. They are the ones who came up with the idea and language that customers have “Jobs” that they are trying to get “Done.”

Then, you get to me and this book. John, Rick, and Bob have personally influenced me more than I could ever express. Last but certainly not least, the entire JTBD community has had a tremendous influence on me. Without their application of and experience with JTBD, this book would not have been possible.

Learn more

This story is an excerpt from the book When Coffee and Kale Compete. You can download it as a free PDF, or buy it in paperback & kindle right here.

When Coffee and Kale Compete

If you have more questions about Jobs to be Done, or want help applying JTBD concepts to your business or startup, contact me.

Article Prepared by Ollala Corp

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