What Is Jobs To Be Done Theory?

Written by Dr Timothy Mansfield
Published on 7 August 2018

About the author

Tim Mansfield is a strategist, culture consultant and futures researcher, specialising in the cultural sector. He has been the CEO of the Interaction Consortium since August 2016.

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Data, data, data. We've all heard about it. It has become a hot topic in just about every news cycle. It has allowed companies to create more targeted and personalized marketing campaigns than ever before. Its misuse is the basis for multiple ongoing lawsuit. It is seen as one of the most valuable resources on the planet. And there is a strong argument for it. However, many businesses are making the mistake of thinking that the data they are collecting and the way they are structuring it is going to help them with innovation. Data, on its own, doesn't cut it. You need more.

The current data collection and analysis methods are ideal for measuring customer experience. They can create great customer personas. They can identify strong correlations. But a correlation is not the same as causation. And causation is exactly what is needed in order to make the type of predictions that lead to consistent and successful innovation. This is where the 'Jobs To Be Done' Theory comes in.

The Man Behind The Theory

Clayton M. Christensen is the Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration for Harvard Business School. Christensen has written countless journal articles and books, which he used to introduce new business theories. His most famous idea is "disruptive innovation" –

… a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.

He introduced the world to this theory with his book The Innovator's Dilemma. In 2017, The Economist referred to it as the most influential business idea of the early 21st century.

Christensen followed up this work several years later with a complementary theory to disruptive innovation. In The Innovator's Solution, Christensen developed the theory of Jobs To Be Done.

What Does Jobs To Be Done Address?

Innovations have powered the world forward for centuries. They solve a problem that either currently has no solution or has an ineffective solution. Every business strives towards that one innovation that will give them the competitive edge. Unfortunately, most businesses are failing at this. In a recent survey, PwC found that more than half of executives are finding it difficult to align their innovation and business strategies and almost three-quarters feel that they are failing to out-innovate the competition. 

Simply put, companies are not seeing the innovation that they want to be seeing and it is not for lack of trying. They are investing in data and analytics. They are developing teams that are solely dedicated to innovation. They are embracing the idea of failure in the hopes that nerves will not get in the way of risky, but potentially lucrative innovation. The fact is, though, that none of these efforts will get them to the finish line — at least not consistently. The reason for this is that most of these strategies revolve around gaining insight into who the customer is. Unfortunately, the hype around better understanding customers is only going to take companies part of the way towards innovation. The collection of data needs to be extended past customer demographics and habits.

What Is Jobs To Be Done?

The Jobs To Be Done theory is a method for igniting innovation. The idea is that businesses need to refocus and restructure data collection and analysis to understand the customer's goals.

The core of this theory is that when a customer purchases a product or service, they are hiring that product to do a job for them in their life or work. If the product or service successfully completes the job, the customer will re-hire it and promote it to others. If it fails to do the job, they will fire it and search for another product or service to replace it.

The key, orienting question is: What job is my customer trying to get done? When a business understands what job a customer needs done, it has a much better chance at creating the innovative products and services that effectively does that job.

What's an Example of a Job-To-Be-Done and How it Helps?

Clay Christensen tells a story that eloquently shows how focusing on the customer's job can radically shift the focus of an innovation project. The story hinges on discovering what job a thickshake is doing.

How To Master Jobs To Be Done

It is easy to say that a business should find out what jobs customers need done. It is another matter to figure out how to pinpoint these jobs. Fortunately, there are several key features that will help companies to identify what data they need to collect and how they should look at that data in order to dig up the answers for innovation.

1. What need is not being fulfilled by the current products or services?

Businesses need to look at their product offerings and see what customers might be struggling with. Do they have to bring in outside help or a work around to get the job done the way they need it done? Is it not being done fast enough? Is the product or service easy to find and use? In short, companies need to know what the product is being used for and what struggles customers are facing when they use it.

2. Prioritize the discovery of why customers do what they do

When a company is busy with business as usual, they can lose track of how they got off the ground in the first place—by fulfilling a customer need that was not being fulfilled. Instead, they get distracted by the competition, maintaining products, marketing, logistics, and so much more. They forget that the basis for their current success and the prospect of seeing continued success relies on staying in touch with why customers are hiring them.

3. Think about the fired product

One of the best starting places for innovation is looking at the product or service that is failing to get the job done properly. Businesses need to look at that product or service that they are asking consumers to fire and replace with their product. Because they are asking consumers to make this switch, they should pinpoint what is wrong with the old product, address the issue, and then be able to illustrate to consumers why the old product is not performing sufficiently.

4. Restructure company processes

Too many companies design their divisions, teams, and departments around customers or products. While this will work to a certain extent, there needs to be a provision. Businesses must create roles that are solely responsible for designing the customer experience to suit the customer need. The processes that deliver the experiences that get a job done right must be managed and perfected.

Jobs To Be Done helps you think about innovation, marketing, sales and product design, it can even help you focus a User Experience project more effectively.

This article is part of a series about Innovation and the methods and practices that enable it. Sign up for our newsletter to get more like this.

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