Misconceptions about Jobs to be Done – for product managers
Today we are talking about a popular and often misunderstood product management tool—Jobs to be Done (JTBD). Joining us is the originator of Jobs to be Done, Tony Ulwick. I first discovered Tony through his book What Customers Want: Using Outcome-Driven Innovation to Create Breakthrough Products and Services. It was published while I was working on my PhD in Innovation and resonated with my research on why products fail. It is the innovation book I have most often gifted to others. He is also the author of the more recent book Jobs to be Done: Theory to Practice. Both are valuable books to add to your library if you don’t already have them. This discussion will examine misconceptions about JTBD and approaches for using it better.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[4:43] Can you help us understand the different perspectives on Jobs to be Done? Let’s start with the perspective popularized by Bob Moesta.
One of the first products I worked on was the IBM PCjr, which headlined in The Wall Street Journal as a flop the day after we introduced it. I got interested in innovation because I wondered how they knew so quickly it was going to be a flop. Clearly they were using some criteria to judge the value of the product. If we could only know in advance what criteria people are using to judge our products, we could design the products to meet the criteria, and we would know we’re working on a winning product before it even goes into development. That’s the dream of every product manager.
It became clear to me that people buy products to get a job done, and you study that job and make it the unit of analysis. Break down the job into steps in a process and understand how people measure success in each step. By understanding their needs in advance, we can figure out which needs are unmet and come up with solutions that address the unmet needs.
Different people have applied the Jobs to be Done theory in different ways. I’m coming at it from the angle of figuring out how we create products people want—product innovation. JTBD is also useful in helping make people want products—demand generation, which is the perspective Bob Moesta takes. You can ask why people are hiring a Snickers bar or a Milky Way bar, from Bob’s example, and then you can tell other people who are also trying to get that job done to buy your product. JTBD serves a purpose for innovation and marketing.
Using JTBD for demand generation doesn’t make the job the unit of analysis. Instead, you’re studying the buyer’s journey to buy the product, which is useful in coming up with better marketing and sales strategy. The JTBD approach works for both innovation and demand generation, but don’t assume people want the product you have. You can’t make people want products. If the product is not getting the job done, it’s not going to last very long.
[11:09] Alan Klement wrote, “A Job to be Done is the process a consumer goes through whenever she aims to change her existing life-situation into a preferred one, but cannot because there are constraints that stop her.” What do you think about that definition?
That definition comes at Jobs to be Done from the demand-generation angle. It’s talking about understanding the progress the customer is trying to make and the journey of making that progress. But it misses out on making the customer’s job to be done the unit of analysis.
[12:25] Theodore Levitt said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” How is this statement related to Jobs to be Done?
I view it as the origin of the line of theory that has led to Jobs to be Done. Because of that quote, it finally clicked in my head that people have measurable outcomes they’re trying to achieve. It gives you the option to see the world through two different lenses. You can see the world through the lens of the drill maker and go talk to customers about how to make better drills, because you think you’re in the drill market and all your competitors are drill makers. Or you can look at the market through the lens of the home builder and realize there are people trying to create a quarter inch hole and they use many different products to do it, so there are different types of competitors. You realize you’re in a different market, and you’re able to compete much more effectively.
[13:55] Tell us about Clayton Christensen’s milkshake story.
The story starts with a milkshake. Clay talks about people buying products to get a job done, but the milkshake story doesn’t make the job the unit of analysis. People are buying milkshakes early in the morning. If we’re using Jobs to be Done for product innovation, we would ask, What job are they trying to get done as they commute to work? They’re trying to get breakfast on the go. We would study the job of breakfast on the go, break it into parts, figure out where people are underserved, and come up with a solution that would get the job done better.
The milkshake story assumes a product upfront. The goal is to sell more milkshakes. Clay is talking about Jobs to be Done using a demand generation example as opposed to a product innovation example.
You should be studying the problem. You shouldn’t be studying milkshakes—the milkshake is a solution. They’re studying milkshakes because their goal isn’t to create the best product people can consume on the go. Their goal is to sell more milkshakes. Instead, from a product innovation perspective, study the actual job of getting breakfast on the go and create a solution that gets it done better, which probably isn’t a milkshake.
JTBD is useful for marketing, but that doesn’t help you create a better product. Understanding the underlying job is critical to your success in the future as a product manager.
[20:11] Could you take us through an example of applying Jobs to be Done to a problem?
The company Ontrack was going into the electronic evidence discovery business. They helped companies that had to get data for lawsuits. They had an inherent advantage in the space because they had technology that was really good at extracting information off hard drives, even damaged ones. However, they attempted to get into the business twice and failed twice. Ben Allen, their CEO, called me and asked for help figuring it out.
We quickly discovered Ontrack had a misconception about what its market was. Through the Jobs to be Done lens, a market is defined as a group of people trying to get a job done. Ontrack thought their market was the IT people whom they had worked with for years, so they worked with them to create a tool to extract data off hard drives. It turns out the real customer was the legal teams in those organizations. They weren’t trying to get data off hard drives. They were trying to find data that would support or refute a case—that was their job to be done.
Once Ontrack realized that, they added search capability to their data extraction technology, so the legal teams could search through the data to find what they need. This propelled Ontrack to success.
The market was highly underserved and in need of automation, and Ontrack covered 60 of the 100 outcomes we discovered. We did qualitative research to capture statements about the desired outcomes, then did quantitative research to figure out which were most important and least satisfied. Ontrack’s innovation strategy was to focus on the list of outcomes in priority order year after year to get the job done better and better. Their initial product addressed about 25 outcomes, and over the next five or six years, they went down the list and addressed the next five or ten. This made it impossible for competitors to catch up, because they were on the most efficient path to growth.
[25:59] How did you discover those outcomes?
We went to the legal teams and confirmed what the job they’re trying to get done is. We learned they’re trying to find information that would support or refute the case. Then we sat with half a dozen members of the legal team and went through their process. We asked them to break that job into steps, creating a job map. Then we got into the specific outcomes they’re trying to achieve—their needs, the metrics they’re using to measure success when getting a job done. In every market, there are usually 50-150 different metrics people use to measure success. Take time to learn all those outcomes, not just two or three. A lot of teams address unmet needs one at a time and make incremental improvements, but there might be 60 unmet needs, and if you know all of them you could satisfy 20 at once and have a breakthrough product innovation.
Next we quantified those needs. We surveyed 270 members of legal teams, and they told us which needs were important and not well satisfied with current solutions, which led us to figure out where the big opportunities were. That pointed us to the 60 unmet needs that became the target for their value creation effort.
[28:23] How do you quantify the importance and satisfaction of customer needs?
We never use pairwise comparison or any method that asks people to make choices among their needs. People don’t say they want one need satisfied over another one. Instead, we want to know how many unmet needs there are and how unmet they are. The trade offs are in the solution space. On our survey, we listed the 100+ outcomes. They’re broken into sections by job step and laid out side-by-side. We ask customers to tell us the importance of each outcome and the level of satisfaction from current solutions. The bigger the difference between importance and satisfaction, the more unmet the need is. Then we highlighted the top 60 unmet needs to focus on to create value.
[30:38] There has been a criticism about your work—that you make Jobs to be Done overly complicated because you lead a consulting company and want to do the work yourself. What do you think of that criticism?
It’s not as if we’re taking something simple and making it more complex. Innovation is inherently complex. We’ve worked for decades on trying to make it more simple. We’ve created frameworks to simplify it and answer questions like, How do you define a need? How do you define a job statement? How do you create a job map? How do you build a survey?
If you know your customer’s needs, which ones are unmet, and whether there are segments of people with different unmet needs, you can make a whole variety of decisions downstream.
Ninety percent of product teams have no agreement on what a customer need even is. Everyone says they’re trying to satisfy customer needs, but if a team can’t even agree on what a need is, how can they agree on what their customer’s needs are, which ones are unmet, and what the solution is? They can’t. This is why innovation is extremely difficult and complex.
Also, it’s not as if customers have two or three needs. They use 50-150 metrics to measure success. It is complex.
I think we’ve done a pretty good job laying out the frameworks, rules, and discipline that’s needed to get to successful innovation. The process is just complex, and if it weren’t there would be a lot more successful innovators out there.
Action Guide: Put the information Tony shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Learn more about Jobs to be Done on Tony’s Medium website
- Get a free e-book or audio book of Tony’s Jobs to be Done book
- Sign up for the The JTBD + ODI Fundamentals Certification Course with Tony—starts September 5th. Use promo code Chad for a 10% discount.
“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service sells itself.” – Peter Drucker
Thank you for taking the journey to product mastery and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.