How to Answer The Question “What’s the job-to-be-done?”


Over a year after the publication of Clay Christensen’s book about Jobs Theory, Competing Against Luck, Jobs-to-be-Done is a much more common topic at companies of all sizes and sectors. As the question, “What’s the job-to-be-done?” becomes ever more frequent, confusion around how to answer the question rises. Product managers and executives we work with often wonder if their colleagues know the difference between a good and bad answer.

This post provides pointers to help you detect and articulate a useful jobs-to-be-done statement:

  1. The right question is, “What’s your customer’s job-to-be-done?”
  2. The JTBD should be a simple sentence consisting of an action verb and a direct object.
  3. Confirm the statement does not include a solution
  4. See if it passes the wake up in the morning test.

A well-articulated job-to-be-done sets a point of focus that will lead to developing high-growth products. Let’s dig into the criteria in more detail.

Whose job is it?

One of the biggest mistakes is defining “the job-to-be-done” as your company’s job. Of course, companies should have goals, but to hit them, you need to understand your customer. The “job” in Jobs-to-be-Done is your customer’s job. The foundation of the method is understanding your customer will lead to building solutions they value, leading to growth for your company.

Your product team’s goal is to get your customer’s job done for them.

Instead of asking “What’s the job-to-be-done?” make it standard practice to ask, “What’s our customer’s job-to-be-done?” By asking the right question, your team will get off to a much better start in defining the job-to-be-done.

What is a job and why does this matter?
A job-to-be-done is a goal your customers are trying to achieve independent of any product or solution. According to Jobs Theory, your customers are not buying your products; they are hiring them to get a job done. Their struggle with achieving the goal causes them to purchase new solutions.

In other words, the goal of building new products is to satisfy customer needs better than competitors in your market.

What is a market?

The traditional definition of a market, often used for market sizing, is “product price X number of buyers = the market.”

For example, a team at Microsoft likely used traditional methods to calculate the size of the “iPod” market at its peak. Apple had sold 200 million iPods at $150. Using traditional methods, this logically appears to be a $30 billion market.

Microsoft launched the Zune into the “iPod” market, and it failed dramatically.

The problem was that consumers didn’t want iPods any more than they wanted records, cassettes, or CDs. They wanted to get a job done. In this case, they want to create a mood with music–a goal that is independent of any solutions and nearly timeless.

The “iPod” or “MP3 player” market (like the “cassette” market and the “CD” market) is now rapidly approaching $0. New products have emerged (smart phones, streaming apps) that get the job done better for the customer.

The Zune was doomed from the start because Microsoft defined the market incorrectly. They launched a product and used a platform that mirrored the iPod while others focused on the features and platform that would get the job done faster and more accurately.

History is riddled with examples of companies that not only failed but missed enormous opportunities trying to satisfy customer needs better for their products rather than satisfy customer needs better in the job.

Encyclopedia Britannica lost $1 billion in market cap protecting their position in the encyclopedia business. Kodak went bankrupt thinking they were in the film market. Blackberry lost $80 billion in market cap while satisfying needs in the mobile device with keyboard market.

Meanwhile, all three companies missed out on the biggest market opportunities in history.

Google, Facebook, and Apple created three of the largest companies in the world in the same markets that Britannica, Kodak, and Blackberry were competing in. The three markets were find information, share memories, and get jobs done while mobile. These are all jobs-to-be-done that define stable markets.

If Britannica, Kodak, and Blackberry had defined their markets as jobs-to-be-done, they would have been on the right track to capitalizing on these market opportunities.

This is why defining the job correctly is so important. When a team is focused on a stable job, they are released from the constraints and pressure to improve the existing product line. They can now innovate with new technologies and a stable target–satisfying needs in their customer’s job-to-be-done.

What makes a good job statement?

In short, a job is a goal a person wants to achieve in their personal or professional life written with an action verb, a direct object, and including no solutions.

Let’s break this down.

1. Action verb + direct object

Keep it simple, memorable and objective. A customer’s job should be action driven with an attainable goal tied to it – that’s it. Over-complicating a job puts you at risk of multiple interpretations and assumptions.

Examples of JTBDs with an action verb and a direct object:

  • Get to a destination on time.
  • Restore artery blood flow.
  • Sell a used car.

The sentence needs to be easily repeatable. Everyone at the company should be able to state it whenever asked. This creates a common language that is critical to product success. If the language isn’t clear and direct, you may end up with different parts of the company having different perspectives on what the job is. This can cause a systemic breakdown of communication and eventually, of your product development.

Here is an example of a job-to-be-done articulated in a much more complex fashion from Clay Christensen’s Milkshake Marketing:

They faced a long, boring commute and needed something to keep that extra hand busy and to make the commute more interesting. They weren’t yet hungry, but knew that they’d be hungry by 10 a.m.; they wanted to consume something now that would stave off hunger until noon. And they faced constraints: They were in a hurry, they were wearing work clothes, and they had (at most) one free hand.

Will everyone at your company remember this entire paragraph?

To align your teams, you can dissect this paragraph as follows.

The job is “eat breakfast.” The customer (the job beneficiary) is commuters.

The job of commuters eating breakfast has customer needs that we can prioritize:

  • Avoid getting hungry again before lunch
  • Avoid spilling the breakfast on your clothes
  • Eat the breakfast within the physical constraints of the commute e.g. with one hand while driving, while standing up on the bus, etc.

Clay also raises the notion of an emotional job at play: “feel entertained while commuting.” This complicates your product team’s situation even further.

Are you working on the eat breakfast job for commuters or the commute to work job?

If you create a solution where the commuter can eat breakfast before beginning the commute, will you have solved the problem?

To stay entertained on the commute, is a podcast a better solution than a milkshake? Does it even matter if the commuter is eating?

This is why we break the job down into a short job-to-be-done statement and a hierarchical job map of customer needs. In practice, when you are trying to align teams in a large organization, these short, unambiguous, measurable, and prioritized statements are much easier to remember and create an objective criteria for your new solutions.

2. Establish a goal, not a solution
It’s important the job includes a goal with no implied solutions on how someone might achieve that goal. By keeping the solution out of the job, you stay focused on your customer instead of your product or a technology that is bound to change over time.

There will be a new technology that can get the job done faster or more accurately, and you want to be the one to adopt it in your solution.

Here are examples of jobs-to-be-done statements with implied solutions:

  • Play MP3s
  • Get more Twitter followers
  • Print newspapers

Each of these statements can lead a company to believe that their market is a product or technology, which can cause them to miss revolutionary new technologies that win in the market.

In the first statement above, the solution is MP3s. If your company is focused on an audio file, what will you do when streaming takes over?

“Twitter followers” is the solution in the second statement. Why does anyone want Twitter followers? Perhaps they are trying to acquire new customers or learn from people who share common interests among other solution-independent goals. If your company focuses on helping people gain Twitter followers you are dependent on Twitter and you may miss other ways of helping people achieve their real goals faster and more accurately.

Finally, it may be stating the obvious to point out the disruption the internet caused to news organizations who thought they were in the newspaper printing business.

Here are actual jobs-to-be-done without solutions:

  • Create a mood with music
  • Acquire new customers
  • Stay informed about current events

Each of these statements focuses your company on stable targets that won’t change with technology. Further, they will give your team the leeway to choose whatever solution will get the job done best for your customers, even if it involves new products.

3. Passes the wake up in the morning test
Because people purchase new products when they struggle with a job, it’s best if the goal in the job is important to them. The best markets are made up of people actively looking for new solutions to get the job done because if they don’t get it done, the consequences are painful.

One way to check if your job statement sparks the necessary urgency is to run it through the “wake up in the morning” test. This is a basic gut test: do you or anyone you know regularly wake up in the morning thinking, “I really need to get this job done today”?

If the answer is “no,” then the job you’ve defined is likely not an attractive market.

Consider another example of a job-to-be-done definition from Clay Christensen’s Competing Against Luck: pass the time while waiting in line.

Does anyone wake up in the morning thinking about passing the time while waiting in line? Do you know anyone who would be willing to pay to get this done?

Here’s another example: park a vehicle. Companies like Luxe and SpotHero are totally focused on parking.

Would you invest in them?

Let’s try the wake up in the morning test.

As we mentioned in our post about what to do when Google enters your market, unless you’re a valet or you live in a city with street cleaners and alternate side parking rules, you don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “Gee, I have to park my car today!”

Why does anyone need to park a vehicle?

The reason you park a vehicle is so you can go to your destination.

We consider “park a vehicle” to be a job step in this larger job: get to a destination on time.

Structuring the job this way can help you identify competitive threats. Who else is focused on get to a destination on time?

Uber, Lyft, Waymo, Google Maps, Apple Maps.

What happens if Uber and Lyft dominate the get to a destination on time market?

Far fewer people will need to park their cars and Luxe and SpotHero’s market opportunities diminish precipitously.

The wake up in the morning test can help you define the right level of abstraction with your customer’s job-to-be-done so that you can recognize competitive threats and opportunities.

Put The Criteria To Work
Next time someone asks, “what’s the job-to-be-done?” use this criteria to determine if the answer will put your team on the right track to a clear focus and high-growth products:

  1. The right question is, “What’s your customer’s job-to-be-done?”
  2. The JTBD should be a simple sentence consisting of an action verb and a direct object.
  3. Confirm the statement does not include a solution
  4. See if it passes the wake up in the morning test.

Of course, this is just the beginning. This post does not cover our techniques for identifying the job-to-be-done; sizing the market of the JTBD; selecting markets to target for your short, medium and long-term road maps; nor what to do with the JTBD once you have it well-defined. If you’re interested in these topics, feel free to get in touch.

Posted by Jared Ranere in Growth, Jobs Theory Blog, Market Sizing, 0 comments

8 Signs You Need a Product Development Framework

Process and frameworks can get a bad rap. Many companies are proud of having a light-weight or loose process, considering themselves “agile,” “fluid,” and “intuitive.” They may even say their work is like jazz and they don’t want to restrict their creativity. Most of all, teams fear that process will slow them down.

But, a company can also be dragged down by a lack of clarity: about decision-making, goals, and what’s causing goals to be missed. This condition can cause a downward spiral of guesses, failures, frustration, and a lack of trust that leads to more guessing and so on.

Here are eight signs that your company is on the verge of a downward spiral and tips on how a strong product development framework, such as Jobs-to-be-Done, can rescue you.

Sign 1: Missing Revenue and Profit Growth Goals
When your company is failing to hit its growth goals, be it revenue or profits, it puts strain on every team.

Revenue problems put stress on the sales team first. If only they could sell better, the company will earn more money.

All sales teams should aspire to be well-oiled, high-performance selling machines, but there is little they can do if the product does not satisfy customer needs better than the competition. See Wells Fargo’s recent fraudulent sales scandal as an example of how damaging it can be to put all of the revenue pressure on the sales team.

Sign 2: Disagreement on Customer Needs
To get growth back on track, the product team needs to ensure that their product is satisfying customer needs better than the competition. This raises an important question: What is a customer need?

Your product team may lack an agreed upon definition of a customer need, let alone agree on your customers’ needs.

If this is true, they’ll tend to use proxies to determine what to build:

  • Customer feature requests (“I want a faster horse.”)
  • Sales team feature requests (“I can close this deal if you’ll just build this feature.”)
  • Feature ideas from stakeholders, executives, etc. (“I love this idea. I know if we build it we’ll get growth. I can just feel it.”)
  • New technologies (“Augmented reality is the next big thing. Our customers need it!”)
  • New channels (“Everyone is on Snapchat. Our customers need us there too.”)

The problem with these proxy inputs is that they change frequently and often rapidly, which means the team is attempting to hit a moving target. A framework can provide a stable definition of customer needs.

Sign 3: Road maps Prioritized by Fierce Debate and Negotiation

How many times have you seen someone use their rhetorical prowess and passion to convince the room that a feature should be built?

How often do you hear someone refer to roadmapping as “horse trading?” Are your roadmap meetings exhausting and exasperating, with internal stakeholders jockeying to “win” the meeting by getting “their” features prioritized?

A colleague’s persuasive abilities have no bearing on the extent to which a feature idea will solve your customer’s problems.

Under the stress of such an environment, you may resort to answering easy questions, “Do I like how this feature looks?” or “Will I feel better if I give my colleague her way and get this meeting over with?” rather than the most important question, “Will this roadmap satisfy customer needs better than the competition?”

Sign 4: The HiPPO Rules
The HiPPO is the “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.” It’s a fast way to decide what should be on the road map, but is it the best path to growth?

If the highest paid person happens to be very close to the problem you’re solving with your product, you might be in luck. When answering the question, “Do I like this?” she may do so from a frame of reference similar to your customer’s.

But, in larger companies, the highest paid person may be far removed from the customer’s problem or perhaps has never experienced it. Her primary activity could be managing people and nowhere in the job description did it say, “Must have experienced our customer’s problem.” If that’s the case, what she likes and doesn’t like could be wildly different from what’s useful to the customer.

Sign 5: Shiny New Object Syndrome Leads to The Disposable Road Map
With technological progress at a rapidly accelerating pace, you can expect exciting new technologies and channels to come on the scene very frequently. What do you do about it?

Do you let the shiny new objects steal your focus and cause you to throw out your road map? Or do you have a clear criteria for whether to adopt new capabilities or discard them as mere distractions?

Maintaining agility with your product road map is a virtue, but it has limits. If you find your road map is ripped up so often that you never finish a feature or you’re constantly releasing half-baked features that never get their planned iteration cycles, you’ve got a problem.

All this zigging and zagging will lead to a product full of elements that “sort of” work, none of which are truly great, and none of which bring value to the customer.

Chasing the shiny new objects and constantly changing the road map are indicators that your team disagrees on what the customer needs are. You’re likely using the proxies mentioned above (sales requests, new tech, etc) to determine what to build and as they change, your road map changes.

Sign 6: Launches Met with Crickets

You know when you put something out there, loud and proud, and all you get in response back is…crickets?

That can happen with a product release as well. Your team puts in a lot of hard work and gets very excited to show it to the world. The launch happens, you celebrate, and then you realize a week later that no one is using the new features in your product..

The obvious answer in this situation is “oh, the users haven’t found the feature yet. Let’s add help text or a flashing message somewhere to point it out to them.” If you do this and three weeks later there is no uptick in usage, you have a bigger problem. Either the new feature isn’t serving a customer need at all or the need it serves is already met.

Sign 7: Feuding Product and Marketing Teams
As a product person, have you ever looked at a marketing campaign and thought, “Why are they promoting that?”

And as a marketing person, have you ever read release notes and thought, “Why would a customer care about this? I guess I’ll just call out the new features.”

Or perhaps you’ve witnessed your product and marketing teams denigrating each other: “I just can’t understand what that team is doing. I don’t think they even know.”

If this sounds like a familiar pattern, you have a communication breakdown between your product and marketing teams that a framework can help solve.

Sign 8: Reinventing The Decision-Making Wheel
Last week you presented a deck with designs your stakeholders loved. Two weeks ago you assessed the impact of a new idea on your team’s KPIs. Three weeks ago the executives were compelled by the user problem and approved your plan.

To prepare for the next defense of your road map, you’ve been meeting individually with various stakeholders, trying to determine what’s on their minds.

If the criteria for decision-making is constantly shifting and needs to be divined from tea leaves, you could really use a framework.

The Solution
A product development framework like Jobs-to-be-Done can prevent the downward spiral of guessing, missing goals, growing frustrations, negotiations, more guessing, etc.

The key idea behind Jobs-to-be-Done, a framework based on the theory of the same namepopularized Clayton Christensen, is that your customers are not actually buying your product, they are hiring it to get a job done. This is important because your customer’s struggle with the job is what causes them to look for a product and make purchase.

In Jobs-to-be-Done, customer needs are a precise articulation of that struggle. Needs are the metrics customers use to judge how well they can execute the job. Since people want to get the job done quickly and accurately, customer needs are written in terms of time and likelihood. For example, drivers who want to reach a destination on time (a job-to-be-done) need to “reduce the time it takes to determine if they should take an alternate route due to traffic conditions” and “reduce the likelihood that recent road modifications are not considered when setting the route.” Those are two customer needs in the job that are stable and the team can target with their road map.

This brings us to a key question: What does it mean to satisfy the need “better” than the competition?

Now that we’ve defined needs as metrics of speed and accuracy, “better” is easy to define and detect. The solution that meets the need faster and more accurately is “better,” i.e. it will deliver more customer satisfaction.

If the product team delivers solutions that meet the needs in the job faster and more accurately than the competition, people will use the product and put growth back on track. Marketing the product becomes easier as the features are designed with the customer benefit in mind at the start, which can be promoted at launch.

With Jobs-to-be-Done, the team gains alignment around satisfying customer needs, which leads to hitting growth goals. This customer-centric approach minimizes internal debate and negotiation because it raises the conversation away from individuals’ goals and their products to how groups work together to resolve a customer’s job faster and more efficiently. It puts the focus on your customer’s goals and assumes that if you deliver against them, everyone in the company will hit their own goals.

Your team will have common goals, common metric-driven means of evaluating proposals, and a common language with which to discuss it, decreasing the conflict and the ferocity of the debate and negotiation in the roadmapping room.

When you adopt Jobs-to-be-Done at your company, decision-making meetings can get pretty boring. The criteria is almost always “does the proposition on the table satisfy the targeted customer need in the job better than the competition?” You may have an interesting conversation about what you can do to have an even better idea, but the criteria remain the same.

If you’ve seen one or more of the above signs at your company, you’re not alone. Many teams have experienced these problems. Fortunately, there is a solution. Find a framework that works for you. And contact us at thrv.

Posted by Jared Ranere in Customer Needs, Growth, Jobs Theory Blog, Product Strategy, Roadmap Planning, 0 comments

How Apple Can Return to Explosive Growth

The latest version Apple’s MacBook Pro hit the markets in late 2016, advertised as faster and more powerful than ever. One of its main selling points–the TouchBar–is said to make the device more versatile and easier to use.

We’re accustomed to Apple’s product enhancements being welcomed with open arms. But sales and reviews of the latest MacBook Pro buck that trend:

Apple sold nearly 4.9 million Macs in Q4 2016 for a revenue of $5.74 billion–a 14% decrease from the previous year (5.7 million Macs for a revenue of $6.88 billion).

Users of the MacBook Pro, like Alexey Semeney (CEO of DevTeam.Space), are claiming that Apple’s newest Macbook Pro isn’t a computer suitable for developers anymore.

Apple’s main changes to the Mac relate to the interface, such as TouchBar and Force Touch. They have focused on consumption jobs (making something easier to interface with), rather than functional jobs (helping users meet their goals, e.g. optimize health). Improving an interface can certainly be a worthwhile endeavor, but it’s unlikely that MacBook customers’ biggest struggles are in interfacing with the computer.

Meanwhile, Apple’s fastest growing products have made major advancements with regard to functional jobs: the iPod made it far easier to curate music, the iPhone and the app store serve dozens of jobs.

The sluggish sales of the newest MacBook Pro (and the Apple Watch) lead to bigger questions: Is Apple shifting their focus to consumption jobs rather than functional jobs? If so, what does that mean for the future of the tech giant? Let’s take a deeper look here.

Apple made its fortunes on products that get functional jobs done better than the competition

With Apple’s profits falling for the first time in 15 years in 2016, it’s worth examining how the company elevated to greatness. Because there’s hundreds of billions (and arguably trillions) at stake here.

For Apple to right the path with the Mac (and other products), it needs to return to its roots. To understand this better, it’s helpful to look at what its founder has said. Steve Jobs, upon his return to Apple in 1997, stated how the company should go about creating products:

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.”

So, innovation at Apple begins with the customer experience – which means not just how the user interfaces with the product (a consumption job) but how the user can achieve a goal (a functional job). Since the functional job (e.g. communicate with a team, buy a home, optimize health) is why the market exists, it needs to be the primary focus of the customer experience. A good interface that doesn’t get a functional job done better than the existing solutions will not succeed in a market.

For example, if a new health app has a beautiful, easy to use interface, but does not help optimize your health in any way, you will likely stop using it. But a new app that clearly and definitively helps you optimize your health will be a market success (as long as its interface is good enough to deliver the benefits of optimizing your health). Craigslist is a classic example of a product that gets the functional job done so much better than the competition that consumers overlook the bare bones, dated visual design.

Apple’s success is often mistaken as “good interface design” when its true success is the result of helping customer get functional jobs done combined with good interface design.

Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor who wrote Innovator’s Dilemma and Competing Against Luck, expressed this idea succinctly, “Customers don’t buy products; they hire them to get a job done.” The reasoning for this is simple: when people struggle to get something done on their own, they’ll hire a person, product or service to get it done.

In its history, Apple has built a host of products that massively improve their customers’ ability to get important jobs done. When the product does not get a jobs done to a satisfactory level (or better than the competition), customers fire it. This could very well be what is happening with the MacBook Pro.

Michael Tsai, a software developer, writes in his blog, “Apple has either lost its way” or “it simply doesn’t care about” developers. For Tsai (and many others), the MacBook Pro’s focus on convenience, looks, and complex interface enhancements, has made it clear Apple doesn’t view the jobs developers have to get done as a core focus.

Not all is lost, though. Apple might have made a mistake, but it likely isn’t lethal. Focus and dedication to solving customer needs better than anyone else is how Apple can regain its former growth trajectory.

Apple must focus on the right innovations

As I noted in my post about Apple’s $3 trillion valuation, no company is “organized to focus on the customer experience like Apple.” The key for Apple is in not losing sight of why products should be created–to satisfy customer needs in both functional and consumption jobs.

Apple must remember failure will result if there is too much focus on consumption jobs rather than functional job. Instead, the tech giant needs to be focused again on functional jobs (like it was when Steve Jobs was there). Among Apple’s recent creations, there are two good product examples to illustrate this idea.

First, consider the Apple Watch:

  • It looks stylish.
  • It tells the time.
  • It offers faster access to notifications.

Today, the Apple Watch is mainly an interface, i.e. a consumption product, for the iPhone. Sales data shows exactly why consumption products don’t succeed on their own. (Having said that, the Apple Watch as a platform can evolve to get functional jobs done on its own; it’s just not there yet.)

During the week of April 10, 2016, the Apple Watch, sold an average of 200,000 units per day. By July, it was down to roughly 20,000 watches per day. Clearly, after the initial novelty wears off, consumption products don’t bring sustainable success and market transformation.

Now, consider the Apple CareKit (a healthcare app for the iPhone):

  • It manages medical conditions.
  • It shares health information with doctors.
  • It includes sections for treatment plans and updates.

Here, Apple gets it right. The CareKit is a functional product platform, because it helps complete jobs. On top of that, the CareKit has the ability to disrupt healthcare–an industry that needs to be more integrated and mobile.

Even more importantly, the CareKit makes the Apple Watch more useful. Right now, the Apple Watch is essentially a luxury item and accessory of the iPhone (e.g., a non-essential consumption job). It does not directly address a job customers need to get done, and low sales have reflected that reality. But the CareKit could make the Apple Watch relevant again. Its sensor capabilities have direct applications for health apps, and could make the Apple Watch a functional job product instead.

If Apple focuses on innovations like the CareKit, it could really extend its market and reassure the world that it hasn’t lost sight of the commitment to functional jobs that made it great in the first place. After all, healthcare spending in just America totaled $3.2 trillion in 2015, accounting for 17.8% of GDP. Tech products like this that solve patient and doctor needs would certainly make Apple a major player in the sector.

Apple will stay atop the throne

Even today, Apple remains the world’s most valuable company. That’s largely because of the tech giant’s ability to continually satisfy unmet needs in functional jobs.

Apple has had its recent “struggles” with the Apple Watch and MacBook Pro (struggles only relative to the iPhone’s success). If such issues continue, the company could be in trouble. But one look at its history will tell you that the company can once again innovate and stay on top.

There are numerous examples of Apple reinventing itself. For instance, in 2001, when the iPod came out, it simply waxed the competition. That’s because it was a functional product that solved customer needs much better than the competition. To this day, the iPod is the best-selling digital audio player ever.

Then, in 2007, the iPhone was released, and the world went nuts. As Horace Dediu of Asymco notes, the iPhone has been what has disrupted the Mac in many ways. It has also disrupted the iPod, since it can get listening to music jobs done much better.

Why has the iPhone been so successful? Because it’s central to a platform full of apps that get many different jobs done more effectively for users from get to a destination on time to learn a foreign language to stay in touch with friends and family. The arrival of worthy competition means Apple must continue to innovate. And that innovation must center on getting functional jobs done better than anyone else.

So, it’s not panic time yet. Judging by its history, Apple will once again innovate through a focus on functional jobs, and enjoy sustainable success.

Posted by Jay Haynes in Growth, Jobs Theory Blog, Product Strategy, 1 comment