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Innovate with Purpose – An Overview of the Jobs to Be Done Framework

Zbignev is a proven product designer trusted by startups, fintech companies, and brands like MTV, Ikea, BMW, and American Express.

There’s much to be said about the importance of strategy, but clever tactics, advanced technology, and talented personnel have their limits. Companies succeed because they offer products that people find irresistible. What compels customers to buy? The Jobs to Be Done framework helps organizations identify the unmet desires that motivate all purchases.

No one wakes up thinking “I want to buy a task management system,” or “I need to hire a user experience consultancy.” What people really want are the outcomes that products promise. That’s the secret to selling anything.

People want results. They envision how products will improve their lives, search for perfect solutions, and purchase.

If products don’t make promises, customers are confused, and buying decisions are compromised. In the Jobs to Be Done framework, jobs are fundamental tasks that people hope to accomplish when they buy something. All customers have jobs and want to hire the best products to help, but few customers take the time to clarify the underlying desires that make jobs meaningful.

For instance, most people would say that they buy a lawnmower to “cut the grass.” True, but if a lawnmower company examined the higher purpose of grass cutting, it might discover that the real job is to “keep the grass low and beautiful at all times.” Utility (cut the grass) is subordinate to the ideal outcome (low and beautiful).

Herein lies the power of the Jobs to Be Done framework. It confronts organizations and designers with the outcomes that customers are truly after. Customers don’t buy products and services. They hire solutions.

Jobs to be done framework
In the customer’s mind, “low and beautiful” trumps “mow the grass.”

1. Identify Jobs Customers Want to Accomplish

Theodore Levitt, the father of modern marketing, is famous for saying, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” The first step of the Jobs to Be Done (JtBD) framework is to identify the jobs that customers actually want to do, even those they aren’t able to articulate. Look for jobs with piecemeal solutions or no solutions at all, as these are ripe for innovation.

Clayton Christensen, creator of JtBD, claimed that all products, even the seemingly insignificant, are hired to fulfill jobs. He made his point with milkshakes.

Once, Christensen’s team was commissioned by a fast food chain to research people’s milkshake buying habits. Despite the chain’s extensive market research and advertising efforts, shake sales slumped. Flavor variations and lower prices didn’t help.

After observing and interviewing customers who bought milkshakes, Christensen and his team made an interesting discovery. People hired milkshakes to break up the boredom of their morning commutes, not because they were cheap or chocolatey.

JtBD framework. An example of Jobs to Be Done: milkshakes were purchased to break up the boredom of the morning commute.
Clayton Christensen, creator of Jobs to Be Done, discovered that milkshakes were purchased to break up the boredom of the morning commute.

If we look to other successful products, the same logic applies:

  • eBay was launched to give people a place to sell personal items, not to leverage a particular auction psychographic.
  • Google was developed to empower people to find information fast, not to appeal to a narrowly defined demographic.
  • Procter & Gamble’s Swiffer, with its easily disposable cleaning pad, was created to help people avoid touching dirty mops, not to satisfy the findings of a focus group.

2. Categorize the Jobs to Be Done

In the JtBD framework, jobs are multifaceted. To start, there are two job types:

  • Main Jobs: The primary tasks that customers want to accomplish
  • Related Jobs: Tasks that customers want to accomplish in conjunction with main jobs

Within each of these job types, there are:

  • Functional Aspects: Customer requirements that are practical and objective
  • Emotional Aspects: Customer requirements that are related to feelings

Finally, emotional job aspects are further broken down into:

  • Personal Dimensions: How customers perceive the value of products
  • Social Dimensions: How customers believe they are perceived by others while using products

Jobs to be done explained

How does all this translate to real-world people and products? Let’s apply the classifications to someone searching for a new pair of running shoes.

  • Main Job: Feel healthier and look fit
  • Related Job: Run 2 miles, four days per week
  • Functional Aspect: Provide extra arch-support
  • Emotional Aspect: Avoid family history of heart disease
  • Personal Dimension: Willing to pay more for style, comfort, and durability
  • Social Dimension: Look like someone you’d see on the cover of Runner’s World

3. Define the Competition

If a person’s job is to quickly satisfy their hunger on the go, they might consider pizza.

Or a sandwich.

Or a burrito, or sushi, or a Snickers.

Or nothing at all—preferring to wait for another opportunity to eat.

It’s important for companies to understand the full scope of potential competitors. For any given job, there’s a range of products that customers might hire, and they don’t all belong in the same product space.

Snickers’ competition is bigger than candy bars.

Brooks’ competition isn’t limited to other running shoe brands.

Many products satisfy hunger on the go or help people get fit and look great.

Some do both.

4. Create Job Statements

In the JtBD framework, job statements are solution agnostic. What does that mean? Continuing with shoes, consider this example: “I need a pair of running shoes to help me get in shape.”

In the short term, such a statement might result in customer satisfaction, but it’s unlikely to lead to innovative design or marketing. Why? The job and all potential solutions are tied to an existing product (shoes).

Here, it’s helpful to revisit the customer’s main and related jobs.

  • Main Job: Feel healthier and look fit
  • Related Job: Run 2 miles, four days per week

Following a simple formula (Action + Object + Context), it’s easy to write an effective job statement: “Improve my health and appearance by running regularly.”

  • Action: Improve
  • Object: My health and appearance
  • Context: By running regularly

This statement is built to last because it’s untethered to a product, yet linked to a timeless desire and activity.

Jobs to be done methodology

5. Evaluate and Prioritize Opportunities

In every market, there are scores of jobs that customers want to accomplish and even more products to choose from. A Likert Scale is a helpful way to ask customers how important a job is and how satisfied they are with an existing product.

Jobs to be done analysis

After the data is collected, it can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of job/product pairings and prioritize which opportunities are worth pursuing:

  • Under-served JtBD: Customers are unsatisfied with current solutions, but the job is important. Make the existing solution better.
  • Over-served JtBD: Customers are satisfied with current solutions, but the job is unimportant. Reinvent the solution so that more people have access to it.
  • Well-served JtBD: Customers are satisfied with current solutions, and the job is important. Shift the focus to providing solutions for related jobs.

Jobs to be done case studies

It’s easy to tell when companies utilize the JtBD framework because their products fulfill needs and are often quite innovative.

Consider recent developments in self-cleaning glass for cars and high-rise buildings, or in automotive paint that heals itself. One might think of “painting scratches” as a job, but it’s actually a solution for the job of “maintaining a blemish-free vehicle.”

6. List the JtBD’s Outcome Expectations

Every job has outcome expectations—broad benefits and drawbacks that aren’t tied to specific features or performance metrics. For instance, a drawback of “maintaining a blemish-free vehicle” would be “requires constant upkeep.”

There are four types of outcome expectations:

  • Desired outcomes customers want to achieve
  • Undesired outcomes customers want to avoid
  • Desired outcomes providers want to achieve
  • Undesired outcomes providers want to avoid

Once identified, it’s helpful to visualize desired and undesired expectations within a grid.

Jobs to be done concept

7. Write Desired Outcome Statements

Desired outcome statements are attached to jobs and define how customers assess value. Outcome statements intentionally omit specific solutions in favor of evergreen motivators.

The contents of desired outcome statements are gleaned from interviews and observational research. While qualitative research tends to yield short-term takeaways, desired outcome statements provide organizations and designers with lasting insights about the things customers value most.

Linguistically, desired outcome statements use unambiguous language and follow a predetermined syntax: Improvement + Measure + Object of Control.

Jobs to be done definition

Innovate with Purpose

Clayton Christenson said, “At a fundamental level, the things that people want to accomplish in their lives don’t change quickly.” This notion is at the heart of the Jobs to Be Done framework. Even so, products should improve at strategic intervals as companies and designers strive to provide ever-increasing value.

Ultimately, people don’t buy products, they hire solutions. Products come and go, but the underlying desires that motivate purchases endure.

• • •

Further reading on the Toptal Design Blog:

Understanding the basics

How do we use Jobs to Be Done?

Jobs to Be Done methodology may be applied to an infinite number of tasks that humans want to accomplish. At its core, the framework challenges companies to think about products and services in terms of ideal outcomes and desires met, as opposed to features and functionality.

Who created the Jobs to Be Done framework?

The Jobs to Be Done framework was created by Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen and first published in an article of Harvard Business Review in 2005. Christensen wrote, “When people find themselves needing to get a job done, they essentially hire products to do that job for them.”

What is the Jobs to Be Done framework?

The Jobs to Be Done framework is a way for companies to identify the jobs that customers hire products to accomplish. For instance, people hire deodorants because they want to smell fresh and feel clean (ideal outcome), not because it neutralizes body odor (actual function).