Clarifying Jobs-to-be-Done

What is a Job-To-Be-Done?

This profound insight was put forward by the management guru Peter Drucker back in 1964:

The customer rarely buys what the business thinks it sells him. One reason for this is, of course, that nobody pays for a “product.” What is paid for is satisfaction. But nobody can make or supply satisfaction as such—at best, only the means to attaining it can be sold and delivered. Because the customer buys satisfaction, all goods and services compete intensively with goods and services that look quite different, seem to serve entirely different functions, are made, distributed, sold differently—but are alternative means for the customer to obtain the same satisfaction.

Peter Drucker, Managing for Results, Harper & Row, 1964

This is the essence of the Job to be Done. That a product or service is only a means to an end. It is the end goal that causes a user to buy, or in Jobs parlance, causes the use to hire a product or service to fulfill the goal.

The hiring perspective

A “job” is the fundamental problem a customer needs to resolve in a given situation.

Clayton Christensen, et al, Finding the right job for your product, Apr. 2007

That is the classical definition from Clayton Christensen. (See Finding the right job for your product.) There are other definitions, but not materially different. This will suffice for the purpose of our discussion.

There are a multitude of examples in JTBD literature on products being used by customers for purposes beyond their function, while consuming the function. What the product does for the consumer is more or different from the actual function being performed.

For example, the Milkshakes were bought as milkshakes and consumed as milkshakes, but what they were actually doing, was relieving boredom during the drive. Boat ride tickets were bought, and rides were taken, but they were being used to entertain out of town guests rather than marvel at architecture. Armed with these realizations, product designers and marketers were then able to innovate differently to make the entire experience better rather than focus on making the Milkshake better or changing the boat cruise circuit.

In this sense, the products were being hired to do jobs (manage situations) that arose in a user’s life. And because a lot of different people faced similar situations, there was potential for the products to solve those problems for them regardless of demographic, ethnographic, or psychographic similarities.

The reason why customers bought those products stemmed not from the function performed by the product (though it helped), but by another, more deeper imperative brought on by the context in which they found themselves. Some examples of JTBD are:

Product bought Actual objective
Milkshakes Avoid boredom during drive
Ikea furniture Starter home, instant decoration
Gucci, Louis Vuitton Feel macho, pampered, prestigious
Metro newspaper Pass commute productively
Starbucks (and some cars) Mobile office
Hospital beds Save nurses’ time, improve profitability
Boat rides Entertain out of town visitors
Short board games Spend quality time with family
GM OnStar Peace of mind in case of accident
Swiffer floor cleaner Dustpan replacement, hassle-free cleaning
Scuba diving class Activity for honeymoon couples to do together
Kodak camera Share fun moments with family and friends
40% juice box Reduce guilt about buying unhealthy snacks
Dining tables Treasure trove of memories, hard to let go

The functional perspective

There is another narrative in JTBD literature with a focus purely on the process or the function being performed defined in terms of outcomes, needs, and job-steps. These are called Functional Jobs and then there are related emotional jobs, social jobs, and consumption jobs.

The thesis being that customers buy products to fulfill a functional need, and that customers switch products when a product is not performing it’s function to the user’s satisfaction, or if another product does it faster and/or cheaper and/or better. Every job has a beginning and an end with an elaborate set of steps in between. Each step has several needs or outcomes within it, and every need has a desired performance scale associated with it (eg. maximize $x$ or minimize $y$) and an importance value.

The need is “evaluated” by the user (sometimes unknowingly), if it performs to their satisfaction. By interviewing customers regarding their level of satisfaction on every need, it is possible to identify needs that are important and unsatisfied (or not well-satisfied). Innovation is then finding new ways to fulfill these unmet needs. The emotional and social jobs are used to create appropriate messaging in marketing the products to users.

The job-to-be-done in this perspective is tightly coupled with the product even though it is sometimes stated at a higher level of abstraction. Some examples are given as:

Product Job-To-Be-Done
Navigation App Get to a destination on time
CRM Software Acquire new customers
Phlebotomy Tube Obtain a blood sample
Car Marketplace Buy/sell a used car
Maintenance Software Ensure aircraft airworthiness
Networking Device Enable secure data use
Financial Product Invest in a private equity fund
iPod / Zune player Create a mood with music

Clarifying Jobs-To-Be-Done

Both camps have ardent and vociferous supporters as well as detractors. Our intention is not to take sides in this debate. We think both approaches address different aspects and have their merits and uses. It all depends on what one is trying to achieve.

Let’s consider the classic example of the drilling machine.

People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.

Leo McGivena, quoted by Clayton Christensen, 1969

The functional approach would consider the job-to-be-done as “to drill holes”, dissect every aspect of the act of drilling – the preparation required, the comfort of holding the machine, the amount of force needed, the weight, the angle, the power consumed, the price, the colour, the pride of ownership, the storage space required, etc.

There will definitely be situations that will warrant such an in-depth study, and one may come up with a professional drill that, say, some users need to enable them to drill holes at awkward angles, for some others into difficult surfaces, etc. One may even come up with an inductively charged machine or a robotic remote controlled drill, or even better, an artificially intelligent drill that predicts when you will need a hole, and drills one for you before you can say “quarter-inch hole”.

This is great, if the objective is to build “better” drilling machines. This would certainly make the life better for those who need or want or like to use AI controlled drilling machines. (Ignore the needs and wants semantics for the time being.) But even after loading the product with all the right features, we may find that customers don’t buy it, and we’ll be at a loss to explain why it is so. (Maybe they fear that the AI will end up drilling holes into the neighbour’s wall and they’ll be held liable.) Focussing on the product functions, tells us little if that function will motivate someone to buy the product even though during the interview they confessed that it was the killer feature they were waiting for. Neither does it tell us what is the competitive set from the user’s point of view. It may not even be another drill at all. The whole process appears too internally-focussed even though it advocates putting the customers front and center.

The hiring approach on the other hand contends that products don’t have jobs to be done, but people do. Products perform certain functions that enable people to achieve their goals or solve their problems or improve their situation. A person with physical disability for example, may really appreciate a robotic remote controlled drill. If such a person finds herself in a situation where she would like to decorate her home, she could choose to use the robotic drill, or call a handyman, or ask a family member or friend to help her, or use an interior designer, or any other option available to her to complete the job. She would weigh these options against each other, price would certainly be one of the criteria, but there would also be convenience, anxieties and fears, forces of habit, and some desires and wants. The drill will have to compete with all of these to win. If we set out to design a drill for persons with physical disabilities without understanding this context, we may end up with a product that checks off all the right boxes (lightweight, maneuverable, cordless, robotic, remote-controlled), and yet gathers dust on store shelves or worse – on the customers’ garage shelves. But if we understand that the underlying job is to “help me create a beautiful, personalized living space”, then decide to build a completely different product or service that lets the user decorate her space without the need to drill at all.

The key is where the focus lies. Are we innovating to improve the product, or are we innovating to improve the customer’s life?