Development of Jobs Theory: Part 2

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.

..Continued from: Development of Jobs Theory – Part 1

After years of research, Christensen finds the master construct he’d been searching for and he names it a “Job to be Done” for two reasons. First, it’s a familiar metaphor that everybody can relate to. Second, the job metaphor shifts the unit of analysis for innovation purposes from customer and product attributes to what individuals and organizations are trying to do as they use solutions.

Now, the building blocks of theory are constructs, which are mental abstractions that represent phenomenon in the real world that can’t be observed directly. A well-defined construct makes it clear how it operates, which is what it means to operationalize a construct. Building a theory involves bounding together a number of related constructs that, as a whole, can explain what causes a more complex phenomenon to exist or to occur.

Christensen uses the overarching construct of the customer job to bound a number of related concepts into a theoretical model that can answer a specific question – what causes an individual to buy and/or use a particular solution rather than a competing alternative? He names this model the Theory of Jobs to be Done, or simply Jobs Theory.

The Jobs Theory Model

 Jobs Theory is based on the premise that when individuals have “jobs” they want to get done they “hire” solutions to help them get those jobs done. The term hire, in the job context, means to “purchase” and/or to “use” a solution, characterizing customer choice.

Now, when individuals hire a new solution, they often “fire” or discontinue the solution they’re currently using. Stated another way, they switch from a current solution to a new solution. For Christensen, “hire” and “fire” are terms consistent with the job metaphor; they tell the story of what’s happening when individuals make choices about solutions.

A “job” is defined as the “progress that an individual is trying to make in a particular circumstance,” where progress is “the movement toward a goal or aspiration.” Jobs Theory posits that there are “… functional, emotional, and social dimensions that define desired progress.” Stated another way, these are the three dimensions of progress.

Broadly speaking, job circumstance is a situation, condition and/or perceptions formed by various contextual factors that surround individuals as they’re trying to get a particular job done. Some of these factors include the time, the place, and with whom a job is performed, knowledge, values, abilities, access to information and other resources, events, policies, available time, wealth, and the behaviors and expectations of others, to mention a few.

Jobs Theory posits that circumstance affects the way a job is performed or executed via solutions, which in turn, has an effect on the progress that individuals are trying to make. Specifically, when job circumstance impedes individuals from obtaining or achieving their goals as expected, they “struggle” to make desired progress.

Circumstance also influences the kind of progress customers want to make. This has to do with situations, conditions and/or perceptions that motivate individuals to get jobs done, which is how jobs arise in the first place. Customers are motivated to move from a current state to a desired future state, thereby defining progress vis-à-vis the current state.

Now, according to Christensen, “A job is always a process to make progress,” which implies that job process is a related construct in the model. This is also suggested in the definition of progress, which is the “movement toward a goal or aspiration.” The word movement in this definition implies process. Although Christensen doesn’t explicitly define job process, there’s sufficient evidence in his writings to represent job process as an implied construct in the model.

Further, Christensen suggests that companies must “… shape their offerings around the experiences … that help [customers] surmount any roadblocks that get in the way of making progress.” Since an “experience” is the perceptual quality of executing a process via solutions to get wanted results, this implies a relationship between job process and desired progress. However, this relationship is not explicit in the model.

To be clear, the terms, “job process,” “progress and its dimensional properties,” “hire,” “fire,” “job circumstance,” and “struggle” represent constructs that are related via the overarching “job” construct. Christensen conveys these constructs as a set of metaphors that tells the story of what happens as customers try to get jobs done using solutions.

Refinements to the Jobs Theory Model

Because the Jobs-to-be-Done framework is a synthesis of the two schools of thought regarding the practice of Jobs to be Done, the properties of the progress and job process constructs are refined to better align Jobs Theory with this framework. However, these operational refinements do not change the fundamental nature of Christensen’s Jobs Theory model.


Now, recall that the Jobs Theory defines progress as, “The movement toward a goal or aspiration.” It should be noted that although a goal and an aspiration are both an outcome or result, they’re at a different level of abstraction involving time span and number of jobs and are therefore not the same thing. Further, customers are often trying to achieve multiple goals for any given job.

To align Jobs Theory with the application framework, the progress construct is operationalized as one or more success outcomes, which are the results that customers are aiming for as they try to get any job done. As such, success outcomes define (in part) what it means to get a job done well from the customer’s perspective. Customers struggle to make progress when a success outcome falls short of expectations or is not generated at all. Every success outcome represents a single functional result, which may or may not have emotional and/or social dimensions.

There are two types of success outcomes. First, a success outcome can be a result that customers want to happen, which includes the resolution of an existing problem. Driven by vision and purpose, they act with the aim of creating that result. Success occurs to the extent that the wanted result is obtained or achieved as expected.

Second, a success outcome can be a result that customers don’t want to happen – that is, a potential problem or hazard. Customers act with the aim of avoiding that potential hazard. Success occurs to the extent that the unwanted result is avoided.

Job Process

When Christensen asserts that, “A job is always a process to make progress,” this means that individuals must execute a job process to make progress. This is true because it’s simply not possible to generate results without taking action—either direct action or action in concert with a third-party. That being the case, a poorly executed job process can cause success outcomes to fall short of customer expectations.

Now, it’s been established that any job is executed under a particular set of circumstances. Further, that job circumstance can cause individuals to struggle to make desired progress. Given that progress is made by executing a job process, the only way that circumstance can cause struggle is to have an influence or effect on job process. This means that the job process construct must be operating in the model.

Therefore, the influence of job circumstance on desired progress is mediated by job process. That is, circumstance has an indirect effect on desired progress through job process. The causal relationship between circumstance and the struggle to make progress simply cannot be explained without the mediated role of job process. Yet the job process construct is not operationalized in the model.

The job process structure suggested by Anthony Ulwick is adopted to operationalize the process construct implied in the Job Theory model. According to Ulwick, a job process is comprised of a number of logical job steps that individuals must successfully accomplish to get a job done well, regardless of available solutions that could be used to execute that job. Further, getting a job done well not only involves generating success outcomes as expected, but also minimizing the time, effort and expense of generating those outcomes.

Operationalizing the job process construct in this way establishes a predictive relationship between job circumstance, job process and desired progress. This is useful because innovators can distinguish between customer struggles relating to job process execution (efficiency) and those relating to desired progress (effectiveness). With this understanding, innovators can design solutions that help customers more efficiently and effectively execute jobs in a particular circumstance.

Jobs Theory and Predictable Innovation

Jobs Theory predicts that customers will hire solutions that minimize the struggle to make progress better than competing alternatives. Customers are keenly aware of the limitations of solutions vis-à-vis job circumstance. In their never-ending quest to efficiently generate expected success outcomes, customers are continuously hiring and firing solutions. Therefore, job circumstance is the causal mechanism that ultimately explains customer choice, not the attributes of the customers’ themselves.

That said, we would expect that some customer attributes would positively correlate with customer choice to an extent because those particular attributes are contextual factors of job circumstance. But, there’re often other circumstances that have little to no relationship with customer attributes, yet these circumstances significantly influence customer choice. This is what confounds assumptions of causality for attributes with respect to predicting the value that customers want from solutions.

And this is why innovation efforts that are primarily informed by customer attributes are hit or miss, which is unpredictable innovation. Conversely, innovation efforts informed by Jobs Theory are far more likely to succeed because they’re guided by an understanding of what causes customers to buy and/or use solutions. Welcome to predictable innovation.

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