Synthesizing the Two Schools of Thought—JTBD Progression Part 5

This post is PART 5/6 of a paper entitled “Origins and Progression of Jobs Theory.” Summary—It is argued that ambiguity around customer needs and customer value is the root cause of innovation failure; jobs theory is built on prior theories of customer behavior; how JTBD became bifurcated creating two schools of thought; the two schools are synthesized to create the JTBD framework; post synthesis, JTBD concepts are expanded and refined.

Read paper from the beginning

As previously discussed, both jobs theory and Ulwick’s job process framework are well aligned with means-end theory. That is the reality even if Christensen and Ulwick were unaware of this body of work—which is unlikely. This means that jobs theory and the job process framework represent a progression of scholarly research dating back to the 1950’s with the development of expectancy value theory in cognitive psychology.

For reasons not entirely understood, however, the progression of means-end theory bifurcated (split) into two schools of thought for practicing jobs to be done—1) Christensen’s job-as-progress approach and 2) Ulwick’s job-as-a-process approach.

Over the years, both Christensen and Ulwick have been quite active, and even competitive, promoting their respective approaches to jobs-to-be-done. These seemingly dichotomous approaches have created some confusion among the mainstream because it is not clear which approach is the best practice for innovation. Both have their strengths and limitations.

I contend that the limitations of each approach have impeded the broad adoption of jobs-to-be-done in their own way. I posit that combining these two approaches produces a comprehensive jobs-to-be-done framework (aka: JTBD framework) that leverages the strengths of both while eliminating their individual limitations (see Figure 13).

(Figure 13)

I rationalize a synthesis based solely on the method synergies that exist between jobs theory and the job process framework without invoking means-end theory to inform this synthesis. It has already been shown that jobs theory and the job process framework are complimentary aspects of means-end theory. The following rationalizations are yet a second path to the JTBD framework based on the merits of both approaches. I start with jobs theory as the primary basis of a synthesis and then discuss the adaptation of Ulwick’s job process framework into the jobs theory model.

Rationale for Synthesis

Jobs theory is a powerful tool in the hands of those who have taken the time to effectively apply it through years of practice. As discussed, however, its broader adoption has been constrained because Christensen did not operationalize the jobs theory model into an explicit framework. Generally speaking, a framework provides the structure around which a methodology can be developed while also enabling the integration of other complementary tools and methods.

Instead of a framework, Christensen provides a number of guidelines or quasi methods for applying jobs theory which many practitioners find too conceptual in nature. Consequently, the learning curve associated with the practice of jobs theory can be steep due to a lack of structure.

The strength of jobs theory is that it lays out a system of interrelated concepts that together explains why customers make the choices they do to buy/use solutions. As such, jobs theory can predict certain aspects of customer behavior. Innovation efforts that are informed by this foresight are far more likely to succeed as opposed to efforts that hinge on a significant degree of speculation (or as Christensen would say, “luck”).

Further, the names of jobs theory constructs are based on familiar and relatable metaphors such as job, progress, circumstance, hire, fire, struggle, etc. These metaphors tell the story of what happens when customers buy and use solutions. So, in a narrative sense, jobs theory is relatively easy to understand. However, applying Jobs Theory in practice can be challenging.

Ulwick, on the other hand, did develop a framework for the rigorous application of jobs-to-be-done, but the framework lacks an explicit theoretical basis. It has been shown that Ulwick’s job process approach is a unique application of means-end theory. But as previously discussed, it is not clear whether Ulwick was informed by means-end theory, or any other theory for that matter, when he developed the job process framework.

He does not mention a theoretical basis in any of his writing or presentations. Without a theoretical basis, it appears that claims to the efficacy of the job process framework are informed primarily by years of practice via consulting projects. The efficacy of Ulwick’s job process framework as a stand-alone methodology therefore relies solely on the success stories published by Ulwick himself.

Further, Ulwick’s job process framework is the front-end or core component of Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI)—a proprietary and protected methodology. Now, it should be noted that Ulwick and his associates have recently made substantial efforts to make the job process framework available apart from ODI. For example, Ulwick created the Jobs-to-Be-Done Canvas under a Creative Commons license (1). While this is a stand-alone jobs-to-be-done tool, it is nonetheless an integral part of the larger methodology that subsumes it, namely ODI.

As such, customer needs captured via the Jobs-to-be-Done Canvas will not be very useful without a way to prioritize those needs for the purpose of identifying innovation and cost reduction opportunities. Doing so will require the back end of the ODI process since the Jobs-to-be-Done Canvas is aligned with this methodology. Therefore, Ulwick’s job process framework is useful to the extent that it is paired with ODI. In some cases, a license or certification is required to practice Outcome-Driven Innovation.

I contend that the systematic and rigorous application of the jobs-to-be-done approach requires an understanding of both Christensen’s jobs theory model and Ulwick’s job process framework. That is because each perspective has certain limitations that are rectified by the strength of the other (i.e., method synergy). In many respects, both of these perspectives are “two sides of the same coin,” so to speak. Combining both into a single framework would—

  • Eliminate confusion about which approach to adopt;
  • Enhance the structure of the jobs theory model;
  • Provide a theoretical basis for the job process framework;
  • Offer practitioners a complete jobs-to-be-done methodology in the public domain. Doing so will make jobs-to-be-done more widely accessible and useful to a broad spectrum of innovation practitioners.

The problem is that there are also conceptual inconsistencies and disagreements between jobs theory and Ulwick’s job process framework that cannot be effectively resolved post hoc (that is, via mashup or simple combination). Specifically, the job process framework—

1) Does not explicitly recognize the concept of job circumstance;

2) Does not recognize that the functional goals and aspirations that customers are trying to achieve can have emotional and social dimensions (instead, Ulwick suggests that there are functional, social and emotional jobs);

3) Does not recognize that customer moments of struggle (MoS) can be identified apart from analyzing prioritized desired outcomes to identify unmet needs (In contrast, Christensen suggests that MoS and the circumstance causing those struggles can be identified via job stories).

On the other hand, jobs theory—

1) Does not explicitly recognize the logical structure of a job process as the means for making progress (although Christensen does imply this);

2) By extension does not recognize that this job process can be used to define a set of customer needs associated with every job (instead, Christensen suggests creating a “job spec” that informs how to resolve the MoS caused by job circumstance);

3) Does not explicitly recognize that moments of struggle can also occur as job executors are trying to perform job activities for the purpose of accomplishing job steps (but again, these kinds of struggles are implied by Christensen).

Pursuant to harnessing method synergies, Christensen’s jobs theory model and Ulwick’s job process framework are synthesized in a manner that resolves the aforementioned conceptual inconsistencies and disagreements while reconciling their common truths. I term this new conceptual structure the jobs-to-be-done framework (aka: JTBD framework).

The JTBD framework provides a well-structured and theory-based methodology for the systematic and rigorous practice of jobs-to-be-done. The approach for synthesizing the two schools of thought regarding the practice of jobs-to-be-done is subsequently discussed.

Refinements to Christensen’s Jobs Theory Model

The following is an overview of the synthesis approach. In the augmented jobs theory model, the progress construct is operationalized while the job process construct is implied (see Figure 14). Therefore, the basis for synthesizing the two schools of thought is to refine the augmented jobs theory model since this model already implies job process. Additionally, the jobs theory model has an inherent theoretical basis.

Ulwick’s job process framework is adopted to operationalize the job process construct. The progress and job process constructs are then further refined to align with each in a manner that is consistent with established jobs theory tenets. It is worth emphasizing that these operational refinements do not change the fundamental nature of Christensen’s jobs theory model since all the constructs and their causal relationships remain intact.

(Figure 14)


Recall that Christensen defines progress as, “the movement toward a goal or aspiration.” It should be clarified that although a goal and an aspiration are both a result, an aspiration is at a higher-level of abstraction than a goal. As such, reaching an aspiration involves achieving or obtaining a number of goals(n) and this can only be accomplished by successfully executing multiple related jobs. So, a goal and an aspiration represent different levels of progress and this has implications for operationalizing the progress construct.

Further, customers are often trying to achieve multiple goals and aspirations—not just one—for any given job. Even though functional results are tangible occurrences, any functional result can have emotional and social dimensions. This means that emotional and social results are dependent on functional results for effect. Progress therefore is defined as the functional results and their emotional and social dimensions that customers are trying to achieve as they execute a job and these results can be at different levels of abstraction (Figure 15).

(Figure 15)

Following this rationale, the progress construct is operationalized as one or more results that a customer wants to happen and those results that a customer wants to avoid. I term these results “success outcomes” because a job gets done successfully in a customer’s mind to the extent that wanted results are achieved and unwanted results are avoided.

Further, lower-level success outcomes must be “stacked” (or rolled up) in a way that enables a customer to achieve higher-level results. Therefore, customers must stack jobs to make desired progress at higher levels of abstraction (i.e., job stacking behavior).

As previously stated, functional success outcomes can have emotional and social dimensions. The dotted line indicates that emotional and social success outcomes are dependent on functional success outcomes for effect. Customers struggle to make progress when any success outcome falls short of expectation or is not generated at all (see Figure 16).

(Figure 16)

Job Process

As previously noted, Christensen’s states that “a job is always a process to make progress” meaning that individuals must execute a job process to make progress. This assertion is axiomatic (self-evident) in the sense that it is not possible for a job executor(s) to achieve results without taking action—either performing all activities required to execute a job process or performing those activities in concert with a service provider(s), which includes physical service appliances.

Further, Christensen posits that any job is executed under a particular circumstance; that the inability of solutions to accommodate or resolve job circumstance is what ultimately causes individuals to struggle to make desired progress.

Given that progress is made by executing a job process, the only way that circumstance can cause a customer to struggle to make progress is to influence job process. As such, the job process construct must be operating in the jobs theory model, albeit non explicit. This means that 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 (Figure 17).

The causal relationship between circumstance and the struggle to make progress simply cannot be explained without the mediated role of job process. Since customers must execute a job process to make progress, moments of struggle associated with performing job activities can occur. For this reason, job process must be made explicit to systematically identify all struggles with respect to job execution.

(Figure 17)

To address this, the job process framework suggested by Anthony Ulwick is adopted to operationalize the process construct implied in the job theory model. As previously discussed, a job process is comprised of a number of logical objectives called job steps that customers are trying to accomplish as they (and co-job executors) perform required job activities.

Job executors must accomplish all job steps to get a job one well regardless of the solutions that could be used to execute that job. Stated another way, job steps are the intermediate goals associated with discrete job activities and these job steps are the same regardless of the solutions customers may use to perform those activities—today and well into the future.

Each discrete job activity is associated with a number of desired outcomes (aka: customer needs) which are the performance metrics customers use to gauge how well each job step is accomplished. The better a solution satisfies these needs, the more valuable that solution is in the mind of a customer—which is why these needs are called metrics of value. But rather than calling them “desired outcomes” as Ulwick does, I term these “customer value metrics” (CVMs) to convey the relationship between customer needs and customer value.

Revision to Ulwick’s Job Process Framework

Ulwick’s job process framework is not completely compatible with the augmented jobs theory model because the framework does not recognize success outcomes as they have been defined here. Instead, there are desired outcomes associated with a job process that express the probability (aka: likelihood) that a particular end result will happen or will not happen. That is, these kind desired outcomes are stated as probabilities of wanted results in Ulwick’s job process framework. For example, “Increase the likelihood that the package is delivered on time” (wanted result) and “Minimize the likelihood that the package is not damaged” (unwanted result).

Success outcomes, on the other hand, externalize or objectify wanted results as though they have already happened (expressing desired future states). As such, success outcomes are stated in the simple present tense indicating a wanted one-time result.

For example, “The package arrives on time” (wanted result) and “The package is not damaged” (unwanted result). Success outcomes are also stated in the present continuous tense indicating that a wanted result is being maintained. For example, “I am maintaining a good credit score” and “Bills are continually paid on time.” Conversely, a customer may want to continuously avoid an unwanted result—“I am protected against identity theft.”

Still there are other desired outcomes in the job process model that state the probability of intermediate outcomes occurring while performing activities. These intermediate outcomes are desired by customers because they are necessary precursors for achieving wanted (end) results. I term these precursor CVMs.

For example, “increase the likelihood that a support person will know how to resolve my problem” (a desired outcome of explaining the problem to a support person—a job activity). A support person that knows how to resolve a customer’s problem (i.e., capability) is a necessary precursor to taking the appropriate action to actually resolve the problem (a wanted result).

Because precursor CVMs are intermediate outcomes that customers (and co-job executors) experience as they are performing job activities, they remain associated with job process execution in the augmented jobs theory model. Unlike Ulwick’s job process model, however, customer needs that state probabilities of wanted (end) results are expressed as success outcomes.

To be clear, customer needs relating to wanted results are not associated with job process execution in the augmented jobs theory model. That’s because customer expectations around success outcomes are met to the extent that a job has been successfully executed.

As such, success outcomes are lagging indicators of job execution effectiveness. Although precursor CVMs can predict the satisfaction of success outcomes to some extent (in a customer’s mind), the satisfaction of these needs is ultimately a function of solution efficacy (which is a matter of solution design). The efficacy of a solution, beyond which customers can experience while performing job activities, is beyond the purview of customers. Accordingly, precursor CVMs (predictive indicator) and success outcomes (lagging indicator) are both customer needs that have to do with job execution effectiveness.

The Jobs-to-be-Done Framework

Post synthesis, there are two distinct categories of customer value metrics recognized by the augmented jobs theory model—

1) Job process CVMs (aka: job action CVMs);

2) Success outcomes

There are two types of Job action CVMs—

1) Efficiency CVMs expressing a desire to minimize the time, effort and additional expense of performing job activities (reflecting that customers want to perform job activities as efficiently as possible);

2) Precursor CVMs expressing a desire for intermediate outcomes that customers perceive to be necessary precursors to achieving wanted results (reflecting that customers want to perform job activities as effectively as possible)

All job action CVMs (relating to performing job activities) are structured as directional metrics of value—that is, customers either want to minimize or increase something relating to job process execution. Success outcome CVMs are structured as desired future state targets and they are stated in the present or present continuous tense.

Based on the aforementioned rationale, the transformation from the augmented job theory model to the jobs-to-be-done framework is complete (see Figure 18).

(Figure 18)

The JTBD framework provides a comprehensive and nuanced perspective with respect to the execution of any job, which makes the following apparent. The purpose of executing any job is to generate wanted success outcomes (i.e., purposeful behavior). Success outcomes are generated as expected to the extent that job action is capable of producing those results—which reflects that customers have needs relating to job execution effectiveness.

Customers not only want to generate success outcomes, but they also want to minimize the time, effort and additional expense of performing the job activities required to generate those results—which reflects that customers have needs relating to job execution efficiency.

From a customer’s perspective, getting any job done well means performing job activities as efficiently and effectively as possible to generate success outcomes (as expected), given the trade-offs the customer is willing to make. Moments of struggle relating to job execution efficiently occur to the extent that job activities require too much time, effort and expense to perform in a customer’s mind. Moments of struggle relating to job execution effectiveness occur to the extent that precursor CVMs are not satisfied, and success outcomes fall short of expectations.

Customers hire solutions to help them execute jobs. Solutions not only provide the necessary resources to perform job activities, but solutions also structure those activities by design. That is, solutions determine what kind of activities must be performed and how those activities must be performed. When the design of a solution-in-use cannot adequately accommodate or resolve the circumstance in which a customer is trying to execute a particular job, the customer experiences a moment(s) of struggle. In such cases, inadequate solution design (a limitation) is exploited by circumstance. Therefore, the limitations of solutions-in-use are caused by circumstance, and these limitations create moments of struggle for customers.

In short, the JTBD framework establishes a predictive relationship between circumstance, job process, desired progress and moments of struggle. This is useful because innovators can distinguish between customer moments of struggle relating to job execution efficiency and moments of struggle relating to job execution effectiveness. With this insight, innovators can design solutions that help customers more efficiently and effectively execute jobs in a particular circumstance.

Continue to Part 6 0f 6


1. Strategyn. The Jobs-To-Be-Done Canvas.

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