Development of Jobs Theory: Part 1

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This post discusses a specific aspect of Jobs to be Done. If you haven’t already done so, we suggest starting with the post—What is Jobs To Be Done. This will give you a broad overview of JTBD concepts with links to other posts that take a deeper dive into those concepts.

At its core, Jobs-to-be-Done is a theory-based approach for identifying and precisely defining the value that customers want from solutions. Understanding the theoretical underpinning of this approach is essential for building an informed practice.

Who Developed Jobs Theory?

The Theory of Jobs-to-be-Done or simply Jobs Theory was developed by the late Clayton Christensen, management consultant, entrepreneur and long-time Harvard Business School professor. He and Michael Raynor first wrote about customer “jobs” in the book, The Innovator’s Solution published in 2003.

Christensen and his colleagues continued to expand and refine the theoretical underpinnings of the Jobs-to-be-Done approach over the years in a series of articles, books and videos. It’s important to note here that when we attribute Christensen, this includes co-authors, researchers, consultants and special contributors like Bob Moesta who have all worked with Christensen over the years on Jobs Theory.

Now, while the theoretical underpinning of Jobs-to-be-Done is attributed to Christensen, we attribute Anthony Ulwick as having developed an explicit methodology for the systematic and rigorous practice of Jobs-to-be-Done. In fact, much of Ulwick’s seminal work is incorporated in the Jobs-to-be-Done framework which is at the core of the Demand Creation System. We also recognize Lance Bettencourt for having extended Ulwick’s methods further into the service context.

That said, these attribution distinctions aren’t black and white. Christensen also suggests ways to apply Jobs Theory, which are guidelines rather than an explicit methodology. As a consummate practitioner, Ulwick has written quite extensively about the rationale behind the Jobs-to-be-Done approach. He’s revealed profound insights about customer needs and how those needs shape the perceived value of solutions.

Although there’s considerable overlap between the views of Christensen and Ulwick, there’re also significant differences as well. These differences resolved into two distinct schools of thought for practicing of Jobs-to-be-Done. The Jobs-to-be-Done framework synthesizes both schools, thereby reconciling these differences.

Why Was Jobs Theory Developed?

 Some years ago, Christensen’s research revealed that 60% of new product innovation efforts are abandoned, never making it to the market. Of the new products that are introduced, 40% of those fail to become profitable and are consequently withdrawn. Taking both of these cases into account means that roughly 75% of innovation efforts do not succeed. The starting point for Christensen was to the answer the question – Why?

Now, the aim of any innovation effort is to profitably satisfy the important and unsatisfied needs of a group of customers better than competing solutions at a price they’re willing to pay. Given the reality that roughly one in four innovation efforts succeed, Christensen concluded that there’s something wrong with how companies define customer needs and how they segment customers for the purpose of innovation. Getting these two steps wrong can certainly explain why so many innovation efforts are doomed from the outset.

Christensen noticed that the prevailing approaches for defining customer needs involve asking customers directly what features they want in a solution, observing customers in various contexts to ascertain what solutions they need, mapping customer experiences to identify pain points, and correlating the demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes of the customers’ themselves to infer specific features and benefits that customers might value in a solution.

The issue is that the primary focus is on solutions rather than why individuals buy and/or use solutions. While each of these approaches can reveal insights about customer needs, those insights are often derivative and piecemeal indicators of something more fundamental at work. An appropriate metaphor is that of 10 blind men trying to describe an elephant, where the elephant represents the phenomenon of customer behavior. Needs defined in this way are often ambiguous and incomplete providing inaccurate targets for innovation efforts.

Christensen noticed that the way companies segment customers is also problematic. The traditional approach to market segmentation is to group customers according to similar characteristics, that is, their demographic, psychographic and behavioral attributes. Christensen calls this attribute-based segmentation. The assumption is that customers with the same or similar attributes will have similar needs. As such, they’ll want the same or similar features and benefits in a solution.

However, Christensen found that customer attributes by themselves are often poor predictors of customer choice because they don’t always explain why an individual chooses to buy and/or use a particular product/service versus a competing alternative. While customer attributes may correlate to some extent with customer choice, they can’t really predict those choices. In short, customer attributes alone are insufficient criteria for designing successful new products and services.

Christensen concluded that companies were missing something vital around which customer needs and segmentation criteria should be aligned, namely the causal mechanism of customer choice. If this causal mechanism were known, companies could precisely define customer needs, accurately target customers with those needs and then design solutions that profitably satisfy those needs better than competing alternatives. With this knowledge, innovation could become predictable rather than hit or miss. Christensen then set his intentions on building a theory that could explain the causality of customer choice.

How Was Jobs Theory Developed?

Generally speaking, there are deductive and inductive research approaches to theory construction. Deductive approaches start with hypotheses of causality for some phenomenon, which are informed by one or more existing theories. Researchers then attempt to find data that deductively validates or invalidates those hypotheses.

Inductive approaches, on the other hand, start with studying a range of individual cases involving a phenomenon without first proposing hypotheses of causality. Researchers collect and analyze data about those cases and then attempt to extrapolate patterns in the data that suggest new theoretical concepts.

The first decision Christensen must make is what research method he’ll use to construct a new theory that can explain the dynamics of customer choice. He couldn’t start with hypotheses of causality because there were no existing theories at the time that could explain why innovations fail or for that matter why they succeed.

For this reason, Christensen decides to use an inductive research approach called Grounded Theory, which entails a number of methods and techniques for collecting and analyzing data with the intent of constructing a theory grounded in the data themselves. That is, from data to concepts to theory. Christensen begins his inquiry with a question – When individuals buy and/or use solutions, what are they trying to do and why?

The general phenomenon of interest to Christensen is customer behavior, a broad area of inquiry to be sure. But what Christensen was specifically searching for was an overarching concept, called the core category – a master construct, so to speak, that all other concepts relevant to his research question relate to in some way. Defining this construct would enable him to pull all those related concepts together into a coherent theory that could answer his research question.

So, for years Christensen collects qualitative data in the form of observations, interviews, transactions, and other sources that can surface the core category and related concepts. As he analyzes this data, he writes lots of analytic memos – a process called coding – in which he notes ideas, patterns, processes, common words and phrases and other qualities that emerge from the data. He then identifies codes that seem related, putting those codes into small conceptual groups called sub categories.

Through successive levels of analysis, sub categories coalesce into a smaller number of focused conceptual categories, which are theoretical in nature. These categories suggest to Christensen where to go find additional research, writings and data to further refine those categories – a technique called theoretical sampling.

As the properties of the conceptual categories become clear, they reveal the core category that Christensen is searching for. Now things fall into place. It becomes clear how the other conceptual categories he has identified are related to the core category and therefore to each other. He calls this master construct a customer “Job,” also called a Job to be Done.

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