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Using JTBD in Large, Distributed Environments

large, busy organization with many teams working together

Jay Haynes, founder and CEO of thrv, recently sat down and spoke with Phil Terry, founder of Collaborative Gain as part of a product talk. The talk was focused on the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) framework and methodology, particularly in large, distributed environments. The aim of the talk was to answer a question posed by the Chief Product Officer of a large multi-channel operation in the US: If I'm already using JTBD but I'm having trouble with managing multiple teams at the same time in a large, distributed environment, what can I do to eliminate those troubles?

The core idea behind jobs to be done is actually deceptively simple: Your customers are actually not buying your products, they're hiring your product to get a job done. In this article, we hope to answer many of the common questions people have about JTBD:

  1. How does JTBD help in your market?
  2. How do you define a job to be done?
  3. What are the benefits of the JTBD model?
  4. How do you know when to break the core job down into smaller jobs for your teams?
  5. Can JTBD be situational or seasonal, or does it need to persist over time?
  6. As customer journeys evolve, how do you know when it's time to adjust your jobs?
  7. When implementing JTBD in large companies, including when a job to be done cuts across multiple teams, how do you ensure a consistent view across those teams?
  8. How do you manage goals, or OKRs, against JTBD across those teams, all of which have different functions and responsibilities?
  9. Do different teams take different parts of the job, or is it one "super" team that manages the job?

What Are the Benefits of JTBD?

As we all know, product, sales and marketing teams in every organization are trying to satisfy customer needs better than their competitors in the market. The way you satisfy customer needs is with a product roadmap that you develop, market and sell. Unfortunately, history is full of examples of failed product roadmaps that destroyed once-great companies. Blackberry, for example, in 2007-2008, had a market cap that was four times larger than Apple's, but they mistakenly thought there was a market for keyboard devices. Their roadmap clearly led them in the wrong direction. This is true of other companies as well: Britannica lost 100% of their sales in just six years; Kodak, once one of the top brands in the world, went from $30 billion to bankruptcy. Interestingly, all three of those companies had product roadmaps in the exact same markets as Apple, Google and Facebook (if you define the markets from the customer's point of view and their job to be done), but it was Apple, Google and Facebook who created trillions of dollars of equity values. 

Building your product roadmap is extremely risky because you're investing your company's capital in development, marketing and sales before you generate projected revenues and profits. So, of course, if your actual results are below your projection, this eventually drains the company of cash and leads directly to the failures like Blackberry, Britannica and Kodak experienced. Product-focused roadmaps fail. With jobs theory, you're building a customer-focused roadmap. Apple, Google, and Facebook all invested in their roadmaps to get their customers' jobs done better. So the key benefit of jobs-to-be-done is risk mitigation. The cost of the jobs-to-be-done work that you do upfront is tiny relative to the cost of investing your company's capital in actual development, marketing and selling the wrong product roadmap. This is the entire goal of JTBD and the benefit is generating accelerated revenue and profitability growth with less risk. So how do you do it? 

Defining a Job-to-be-Done

This brings up the first fundamental question: What is a customer's job to be done? This question goes all the way back to the 1960s and Theodore Levitt in his famous "Marketing Myopia" paper in which he summarized jobs theory by saying, "Customers don't want a quarter inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole." And this idea is true in any market. For example, consumers don't want navigation apps, which are a solution. They want to get to a destination on time, which is a stable job to be done. Consumers don't want iPods records or CDs, they want to create a mood with music. This is a stable job to be done as well. In a business market, CIOs, for example, don't want blockchain, they want to obtain insights from data, which is also a stable job to be done. Similarly, salespeople don't want CRM software, they want to acquire customers. And finally, this is true in medical markets as well. Surgeons don't want stents or angioplasty balloons because those are just solutions. They want to restore artery blood flow. The job to be done is the goal they're trying to achieve independent of any product.

There are 3 different types of jobs-to-be-done to consider when you're defining your customers job:

Functional jobs: A functional job is the key goal your customers are trying to achieve. It's your true market because it will not change over time. A customer job has a verb and an object and it doesn't contain any mention of solutions, whether it's products, services or technologies.

Emotional jobs: Emotional jobs are personal. They define how customers want to feel about themselves while they're executing their job. They're also social because they define how customers want to be perceived by others while they're executing the job.

Consumption jobs: Consumption jobs relate to using a solution to get a functional job done. For example, consumption jobs include interfacing with a product, learning to use a product and shopping for, or purchasing a product.

All 3 types of jobs are important to analyze because helping your customers get these jobs done better than your competitors is how you win in your markets by creating the best customer experience with your products. 

Defining Functional Jobs

Let's look at some examples of how to define a functional job, which is your true market. Using 3 criteria -- the job contains a goal, a verb plus an object, and doesn't mention solutions -- we can test whether a customer statement is actually a functional job. Is the customer statement, "play MP3s" also a job to be done? Is it a market? It is a goal because consumers do need to play the MP3. It has an action verb "to play", and it has an object. However, it also has a solution: the MP3. One hundred years ago, no one wanted to play an MP3 because they didn't exist, so this is not a stable target because it will change over time. As we saw before, the consumers goal in this case is to create a mood with music. This is the true job to be done. 

Let's look at another example: install software. Is this a job to be done? Is it a market? There used to be lots of companies that could help you install software. "Install software" is a goal. It's something that customers need to achieve. It has an action verb and an object as well. But what's the problem with this statement? Well, "install" is actually a consumption job, not a functional job. It's something you do in order to achieve a goal, and the software itself is a solution. So this is not a functional job to be done and it isn't a market. 

customer struggling to install software

Looking at a medical example, "monitor blood pressure", we can do the same analysis. It has a goal because patients and doctors do need to monitor blood pressure, it has an action verb and an object, and it has no solutions. But we also want to ask the question, "Why do people want to monitor their blood pressure?" Is there a bigger goal? This brings up what we consider to be the level of abstraction. Are you thinking about what your customers are trying to achieve at the right level of abstraction? Clay Christensen puts this nice nicely when he says, "Defining the job at the right level of abstraction is critical to ensuring that the theory is useful." So, in this case, you want to focus on your customer's overall goal, like "optimizing health." This is why you want to monitor blood pressure. If you have a health condition, blood pressure is a key input to optimizing your health. You can be more specific in markets when you're defining jobs. In this case, in a medical market, we could add these health conditions to define the market. Optimizing health with COPD is different than optimizing health with diabetes, for example. 

This is true for many types of jobs but, like conditions, there are many types of behaviors that define the market, such as "prevent anger", "study for a subject" or "managing money." The statement "monitor blood pressure" has all the traits of a job, but it's at the wrong level of abstraction. Though, it's not a useless statement because monitoring is an important step a patient takes when trying to achieve the goal of optimizing health. We'll look at job steps in more detail later on, but you should be aware of some JTBD mistakes. 

It's very easy to make job-to-be-done definition mistakes. Even Clay Christiansen has made some big job definition mistakes. For example, he claims that "dress for an out of town meeting after the airline loses my luggage" is a job to be done. While this is a problem that does happen, the question is, would you pursue this market? The statement has an action verb and an object, and it has no solution. But how big is this market, and why do people need to execute this job? How frequently does it happen? In addition, if you're dependent on airlines losing their customers luggage to grow your business, what happens if you created a billion dollar business to get this job done? The airlines are going to fix the problem. This means you are directly threatened by a platform that you don't control in order to get the job done. In our view, we would not invest in this market because it's not a stable customer goal. It's not a job to be done.

Remember, a functional job is a customer goal. It has an action verb and an object, it has no solutions and, critically, it has to be stable over time because the customers' job to be done is the true market. Define your market from your customer's point of view. Now that we've defined a job to be done, how do you know when is the best time to break a job down into different jobs or pieces for teams, and should you do it?

Understanding Job Steps

Jobs-to-be-done is a process of identifying the customers' job and unmet needs, analyzing competitors' weaknesses, and creating feature ideas that will beat your competition. When you're defining your customers' job to be done, every job has a series of steps that a customer has to execute to achieve the goal and get the job done. There are 6 types of steps in every job: understanding steps, planning steps, executing steps, assessing steps, monitoring and assessing steps, and revising and concluding steps. 

As a specific example, imagine for a moment you're trying to beat Apple and Google Maps. This seems like an insane task because they have about 100% market share and they're two of the most successful competitors in history. How would you do it using jobs-to-be-done? First of all, there isn't a market for navigation apps like Apple Google Maps. The true market is to "get to a destination on time." This is the customer's goal and it won't change over time, but it is a very high-level statement so we need to understand the job steps in this customer's job. All jobs follow these jobs steps. When a consumer has to get to destinations time, they need to:

  1. Estimate the departure time (understanding step).
  2. Plan the stops (planning step).
  3. Travel to the destination (execution step).
  4. Assess the destination (assessing step).
  5. Figure out when the destination will be reached (monitoring step).
  6. Reset the route if needed (revision step).
  7. And finally, they need to park the vehicle.

Like all jobs, this job is complex. Getting to destinations on time has 12 steps that all follow the job step pattern. This is how you break a job down into manageable steps for products. Now that we know the customer's job to be done in all the job steps, we want to break it down even further to identify unmet customer needs because our goal is to satisfy customer needs better than competitors in the market. This brings up a couple of fundamental questions: What is a customer need? Is everybody on your product, marketing, sales and executive teams in agreement on what a customer need even is? Most companies don't have an agreed upon definition of a customer need, yet answering this question is the true power of jobs-to-be-done. 

Customer Needs, Unmet Needs and Customer Effort

A customer need is an action a customer has to take using a variable required to get a job step done. In our Apple and Google Maps example, we know this job has 12 different job steps, one of the steps is to plan the stops, and all job steps have customer needs. In order to plan stops, a consumer needs to know variables, including the optimal sequence of stops, the routes to those stops and the open times at the stops. Consumers have to take actions with each of these variables in order to get the job done. Structuring customer needs with actions and variables is the true power of JTBD because it enables you to measure the speed and the accuracy of your customers ability to satisfy their needs. Every job has about 100 different customer needs. Jobs are complex, but all of your customer needs are knowable and, like the job itself, customer needs are stable targets for your teams to hit. Your customers' jobs are not situational or seasonal, they persist over time and they are stable goals that your customers need to achieve.

Figuring out which of those customer needs are unmet is important because you want to prioritize your customers' unmet needs for your product roadmap; satisfying unmet needs is the key to achieving your OKRs. A need is unmet if customer needs struggle with the current competitive solutions in the market. In other words, if it is too much effort to satisfy the need and get the job done with competitors' solutions (including your existing products), then you should measure customer effort to get the job done to identify unmet customer needs. Customer effort has been shown to be more predictive of customer spending and repurchasing than either customer satisfaction or Net Promoter Scores. And this makes sense. Who wants to spend more effort getting a job done? The answer is no one. 

This can be done by surveying customers and asking about customer effort. In our Apple and Google Maps example, you would ask how difficult it is for consumers to plan their stops. The percentage of customers who say it is difficult or very difficult is the customer effort score. Think of customer effort scores as the probability that a customer buys or uses what you are planning on building in your product roadmap.

Competitor Weaknesses

Now that we know the unmet customer needs, we need to identify our competitors' weaknesses because identifying competitor weaknesses is how you understand the evolution of your customers' journey. We know you should not adjust your customers' job because their job is stable -- their journey through the job, the job steps and needs that they need to execute and satisfy will not change. On the other hand, their customer experience of getting the job done -- their competitive journey with different products and solutions to get the job done -- will change dramatically over time. To identify competitive weaknesses and assess where the customer's competitive journey is failing, we need to use the unmet needs in the customers job.

In our Apple and Google Maps example, if a consumer were to determine the optimal sequence of their stops in a busy day using Apple or Google Maps, how would they do it? Well, a user would have to enter destination A to B, calculate the route and time; they would have to enter destination A to C, calculate the route and time; then they would have to decide if going from A to C was faster; then they repeat this manual process for every possible combination of stops in their day. Because this process with Apple and Google Maps is slow, and because a user would likely have imperfect information, the accuracy of doing this manually is low. These are the critical customer metrics. This is an unmet customer need in the job of getting to destinations on time. It is a competitive weakness for Apple and Google Maps because it is slow, inaccurate and customers think it takes too much effort to satisfy this need.

Your jobs to be done research generates the key metrics that are critical to your success: speed, accuracy and effort for your customers' needs. Now that we know your competitors' weaknesses, we can generate new product feature ideas, and feature ideas to get the job done faster and more accurate are how you evolve your customers' journey and the customers' experience with your product. This is the fun part.

Generating Product Ideas

Many companies use brainstorming to generate product ideas but we avoid brainstorming because we already have criteria for how to judge product ideas: the unmet customer needs in the job. Going back to the Apple and Google Maps example, we know that people keep the destinations where they need to go in their calendars. By creating a feature that allows the customer to sync their destinations with their calendar, and then add an optimization algorithm in the form of a button the user can click, the user will get an automatically optimized sequence of stops and traffic information with traffic patterns to keep them on time. This idea, even at the concept level, is faster and more accurate than Apple and Google Maps, so it is providing more customer value.

team brainstorming product ideas

As we saw before, we have the customers' functional job and emotional job and it's this combination of function and emotion that enables us to create sales and marketing messages. If the functional job is "get to a destination on time",  an emotional job might be to avoid feeling anxious about being perceived as unprofessional by being late to meetings. To target the unmet functional need and the unmet emotional need, we could send them a message that automatically arranges their busy day with the optimal order of stops to keep them on time, confident and relaxed. So now that we have a product feature idea, and sales and marketing messages that will create customer value, we know that we've completed the jobs-to-be-done innovation process in order to build a customer focused product roadmap to accelerate your growth and achieve your OKRs. This whole process coordinates your product, marketing and sales teams by aligning them with your customers, resulting in accelerated revenue and profitability growth with less risk, which is the whole goal of JTBD. How do we implement this with your teams?

Implementing JTBD in Your Teams

The first implementation question is when a JTBD cuts across multiple teams, how do you ensure a consistent view on how the journey should work? To ensure a consistent view, the key is to define which journey you are talking about. The JTBD journey is the set of stable steps and needs that will not change over time for your customer. Your customers' competitive journey is what it takes to get the job done with your competitors' products, including your existing products. Where they struggle to get the job done with those competitive products -- including your products -- should be measured with speed, accuracy and effort.

The next implementation question is how to manage goals and OKRs against a job to be done, especially across multiple team with different functions and responsibilities. Since the goal is to satisfy customer needs better than competitors in your market, the key is to use your customers' unmet needs to achieve your goals and, ultimately, create customer value. This is what coordinates your product, marketing and sales teams and aligns them with your customers to roll up into your critical OKRs of revenue and profitability growth, increased customer satisfaction and NPS scores, generating more customer leads, and lower customer acquisition costs. You can connect directly what you're doing to help your customer get their job done faster and more accurately to very specific OKRS.

Do different teams take different parts of the job, or is it one "super" team that manages the job end to end? For every job, there should be a key product management team responsible for the product roadmap by looking at all of the job steps. You want to have a product management team focused specifically on a job because, over time, your mission is to get the whole job done for your customer. No one wants to use multiple solutions to get their jobs done. This is how you create competitive advantage over time by getting the whole job done.

You could organize different development teams based on different job step types because each type of job step has different characteristics. For example, planning steps usually involve gathering information and data about what a customer needs to execute the job, then confirming that that data is accurate. Execution steps usually involve making decisions with that information and data. There can be different types of algorithms, interfaces, and solutions for each type of job step. 

How to Prioritize Product Roadmaps and Align Your Teams

Oftentimes, product roadmap prioritization follows the HIPPO: the highest paid person's opinion. A great example of this was the Amazon Fire Phone, which was a huge failure because the Amazon development teams prioritized whatever Jeff Bezos wanted them to build. Prioritization usually takes place through some sort of internal politics based on who has executive authority, budgeted authority and political capital. The bottom line is, you should not prioritize your roadmap, your customers should. The priority of your roadmap should be to define where your customers are struggling the most and to fix it.

There are other things to consider, such as technology the solution requires, the risks involved and the impact on the OKRS, but roadmapping happens in the short, medium and long term. You should always be focused on your customers' prioritization of where they struggle because that's where people are most likely to buy your products. That's why people love new products, why they switch to new products and where high customer satisfaction comes from. Prioritizing your roadmap based on customer needs can also help your R&D team because they know what they need to focus on and they have a goal to shoot for.

The product team should be focused on the functional job. The design team can pitch in on this too by figuring out the UI and UX to get the functional job done. It's critical that design and product teams are functioning together because, ultimately, your customer doesn't experience those as two different things, your customer just wants to get the job done. Mistakes arise when design teams are able to create beautiful interfaces but don't actually get the functional job done. Craigslist is a great example because it has a terrible interface and yet, it's still dominant in its market because it has liquidity. In other words, there are two jobs: buying jobs and selling jobs, and you don't want to sacrifice the functional job and those unmet needs.

It's also important to scope the job to where you've got a good definition of a market, where people are willing to pay to get that job done. This allows you to break it down into discrete job steps and goals where there is a willingness to pay. For instance, in B2B markets, the goal of every company is to create equity value. That can be broken down into the different things that that companies need to do, such as satisfy unmet customer needs, generate leads, acquire customers, optimize employee performance, etc. There's a whole series of jobs and each one is its own discrete goal. Each job should have a main metric to track to see whether you successfully helped the customer achieve their goal.

If you have an internal customer who has a job they need to get done -- a goal that's independent of any solutions the customer might be using -- you should still be focused on the job, the job steps and the needs. It should still be based on their goal that they're trying to achieve, but now it's an operational goal. External and internal customers should be treated the same, by focusing on the customers' goal.

The same the job steps and needs concepts apply to both B2B and B2C situations. The main difference is the type of customer you're targeting. There are job beneficiaries, job executors and purchasers. Job beneficiaries are the people who benefit from getting the job done and they are the key customer. The job executor is the person who actually accomplishes the job, usually on behalf of the job beneficiary. The purchaser is the one who is making the purchase decision.

In B2C markets, if you're trying to create a mood with music, or if you're trying to get a baby to sleep through the night, the beneficiary, executor and purchaser are usually all the same person. But in B2B markets, the job beneficiary might be someone like a financial executive or a sales executive, and the job executor might be someone who works for that person. The purchase decision maker might be the procurement department. The difference between B2C and B2B markets is simply the way the roles of beneficiary, executor and purchaser are mapped out.

How Do Personas Fit into the JTBD Framework?

Personas are usually generated by certain characteristics, whether it's demographics, psychographics, behavioral or situational. Creating personas are useful because all customers are people, but the problems arise when trying to segment those personas. Oftentimes, personas are not included in the same customer segment because they're so different based on their characteristics. However, this doesn't necessarily mean those personas are underserved in different ways.

To avoid making this mistake, in your segmentation analysis, you'd want to look at customer effort scores and plot them by persona. After analyzing the data and conducting surveys, you'll often realize there is no real difference between those persona demographics. The reason is because people care about struggling to get the job done. When we segment, we look for a group that's all struggling in the same way, and then we build the personas. Personas are useful in many situations, but in the case of front-end innovation, you don't want to restrict yourself to a persona definition that might not be the reason why their needs are unmet. We use personas to design the sample population. We recommend companies do a large survey on customer effort scores. When designing the sample population, you want to include all the personas, including personas for customers who are using your competitors' products, and then you can see if they struggle differently.

When you disagree with what your customers think they need, this really boils down to a question about latent needs. Entrepreneurs often think they know what their customers need -- their product, when really, they don't need the product. If you're targeting latent needs, think of the jobs as a risk mitigation system. If you're saying your customer has needs that they don't even know they need, that's a very risky way to do business. As Steve Jobs said, you need to start from the customer experience and work backwards to the product. People are busy, stressed out, anxious, and they have to get a bunch of stuff done during the day. You want to listen to, and empathize with, customers to identify their jobs and help them overcome those struggles.

This is also where jobs-to-be-done theory intersects with disruption. Clay Christensen started his work with disruption and the basic idea is that products will start to over-serve customers, eventually becoming too complex. The essence of disruption is that there is a worse product entering the market, but it's targeting needs that are over-served by the existing competence. Google Docs and Sheets are a great example because it's free, web-based, serves the collaborative needs of customers better than Microsoft Office products and it's gotten better over time.

To watch the full product talk with Phil Terry of Collaborative Gains, you can find the video on YouTube. If you'd like to get more information about implementing the jobs-to-be-done framework in your organization, don't hesitate to reach out!

Posted by Jay Haynes

View all posts by Jay Haynes