The Jobs Theory Model—JTBD Progression Part 3

This post is PART 3/6 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

In the book “Competing Against Luck” published in 2016, Christensen defines a customer “job” as the “progress that an individual is trying to make in a particular circumstance,” where progress is “the movement toward a goal or aspiration.” Since customers “hire” products and services (solutions) to help them get jobs done, solutions facilitate the movement towards progress.

Even though a job is always functional in nature, there are often emotional and social dimensions associated with the progress customers want to make which is why jobs are “complex and multi-layered.” In some cases, emotional and social dimensions can have a higher priority than functional aspects of progress. Further, “jobs to be done are ongoing and recurring. They’re seldom discrete events.”

According to Christensen, circumstance is intrinsic to the definition of a job which is why “a job can only be defined—and a successful solution created—relative to the specific context in which it arises.” Broadly speaking, job circumstance can be characterized as the totality of contextual factors associated with or emerging from a situation and/or condition that affects the kind of progress customers want to make and how they want to make that progress. As Christensen states, “the nature of progress desired will always be strongly influenced by the circumstance” (1).

To put a finer point on it, an undesirable situation or condition can motivate a customer to transition that current state to a desired future state, which is the progress the customer wants to make. Conversely, a customer may wish to avoid an undesirable situation or condition—a potential hazard which can have functional, emotional and/or social dimensions.

Christensen calls these “negative jobs” because customers are trying to get these jobs done expressly to avoid undesired or negative results. Therefore, a current situation, condition and/or the perception of a potential hazard causes a customer to want to make a certain kind of progress.

With these constructs defined and their relationships made explicit, the original jobs theory model suggested by Christensen is depicted as Figure 4.

(Figure 4)

Christensen goes on to posit that “a job is always a process to make progress,” which implies customers must execute a job process in order to make progress. 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 is substantial evidence in his writings and presentations to represent job process as an implied construct in the jobs theory model.

For instance, Christensen states 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 for the purpose of making progress, this implies a relationship between job process and desired progress.

Since a customer job is the “progress that an individual is trying to make in a particular circumstance” and “a job is always a process to make progress,” then circumstance has an effect on job process execution. Because customers have limited resources to work with and virtually unlimited jobs they want to get done well (that is, unlimited needs they want to satisfy), customers always want to minimize the time, effort and resources required to make process.

In other words, customers want to execute any job process as efficiently as possible. That being the case, circumstance not only affects the kind of progress customers want to make but also how they want to make that progress. In short, getting a job done well means executing a job process as efficiently as possible to make expected progress (1).

Replacing the “movement towards a goal or aspiration” with the job process construct yields an augmented jobs theory model depicted as Figure 5. Since circumstance has an effect on job process execution, and by extension the progress customers expect to make, circumstance is associated with the job process construct in the augmented model.

(Figure 5)

But it is worth repeating that circumstance also influences the kind of progress that customers want to make. Christensen states this causal relationship as a jobs theory tenet. However, since the intention is to transition the augmented job theory model towards a jobs execution framework, the focus of the model is exclusively on the influence of circumstance on job process.

It should be noted that this augmentation does not fundamentally change the original jobs theory model since the job process construct and its relationship with progress is already implied in that model. The difference is that the job process construct is now formally recognized in the model.

However, the augmented jobs theory model is incomplete because the job process construct is not operationalized. If job process construct were operationalized, then Christensen’s jobs theory model could transition to an applied jobs job done framework. Such a framework would make it easier to understand and apply jobs theory.

As previously discussed, I argue that the foundation of jobs theory is built on means-end theory. To show this, the comprehensive means-end model and the augmented jobs theory model are juxtaposed. To make a clear comparison, the means-end model is shown with its constructs translated into their jobs theory equivalents (see Figure 6).

(Figure 6)

In this model, an entire “means-end chain” can be defined as a “job.” The “means” can be defined as “job process”; the “ends” sought by customers can be defined as “desired progress”; and “use context” can be defined as “circumstance.” Both models suggest that solutions enable customers to perform the activities required to achieve wanted results. With this comparison, it is apparent that the jobs theory model and the means-end model are quite well aligned.

To be clear, Christensen does not mention means-end theory in any of his writings and presentations. Therefore, it cannot be known with certainty that Christensen was aware of this body of work. However, it is highly likely that Christensen was aware of means-end theory since this stream of research in particular is highly relevant to the question he was trying to answer—Why do customers make the choices they do to buy/use certain products and services vis-à-vis competing alternatives?

Regardless of whether Christensen was aware of means-end theory or not, the alignment of the two models is self-evident. Therefore, I conclude that means-end theory is the forerunner of jobs theory. Since means-end itself is built on value expectancy theory, this means that jobs theory represents the continuation of a stream of scholarly research dating back to the 1950’s.

By the late 1990’s, research and practitioner activity around means-end theory went mostly dormant and remained so until Christensen introduced jobs theory in 2003. Although it is not apparent to most that the core of jobs theory is means-end theory redux, it is important to recognize previous theoretical contributions. For one, a good understanding of means-end theory can provide a nuanced understanding of jobs theory.

That said, Christensen’s contribution to this rich stream of research is significant. He creates a new theory of customer choice built on means-end theory and wraps an intuitive language around the theory that substitutes for less intuitive (formal) constructs. He relates all the constructs around the job-to-be-done in such a way as to tell the story of what customers are trying to do as they use solutions.

Further, Christensen expands the role of circumstance in customer choice. Circumstance not only affects how customers want to get a job done (i.e., job process execution), but also the kind of progress they want to make (wanted results). In means-end theory, the role of use context (circumstance) is restricted to specific customer-product interactions. Christensen also incorporates switch forces into jobs theory which is not addressed in means-end theory (discussed next).

Lastly, Christensen popularizes jobs theory with his famous milkshake marketing story which is a part of nearly all his writings and presentations. At some point, jobs theory starts to get significant traction among mainstream innovators. Today, most innovators understand the basic premises behind jobs theory, and many are applying jobs theory in their work. We can thank Christensen for carrying the torch forward on this rich body of work, which has been evolving over the last 5 decades

However, it is rather curious that Christensen chose to leave the job process concept non explicit in the jobs theory model. He could have incorporated this aspect of means-end theory to define this construct. Instead, he puts the focus on creating job stories that surface how customers are struggling to get a job done well (per expectation).

Once struggles are identified, the focus shifts to understanding the circumstance causing those struggles. With this understanding, solutions can be created that accommodate or resolve the circumstance associated with a particular job. Customers will want to hire these kinds of products and services because those solutions can get jobs done better than competing alternatives.

That said, job stories that are not connected to an explicit job process can get a bit amorphous, among other things. Christensen may have taken this direction to keep jobs theory conceptually simple and easy to apply. However, I suggest that the lack of structure around the job process construct has impeded its widespread use—ironically. Going forward, I will discuss the advantages of operationalizing the job process construct to quickly and precisely identify customer needs and the value that customers want to get jobs done better, faster, and cheaper.

The Forces of Progress

All too often it is assumed that because a new product or service offers a significant improvement over competing solutions that customers will recognize the difference and make the switch. But once a new solution is launched, providers are often surprised when customers do not switch as expected, despite being offered a seemingly superior solution.

Bob Moesta and Chris Spiek introduced a conceptual model circa 2012 called the Forces of Progress, which offers insight into customer switching behavior (2). In the book “Competing Against Luck,” Clayton Christensen positions the Forces of Progress as an extension of jobs theory to help explain the dynamics involved when customers hire and fire solutions.

The Forces of Progress is an adaptation of the force field model developed by the late Kurt Lewin, a social psychologist who studied how individuals and organizations change in response to their environment. Lewin’s model suggests that there are two opposing forces that are always in play when trying to change a current situation to a desired future state.

First, there are forces pushing for change, which are called driving forces. Second, there are forces resisting change, which are called restraining forces. When the driving forces become stronger than restraining forces, change will happen. Else the equilibrium of the current situation will be maintained (3).

The Forces of Progress is the application of Lewin’s model in the context of customer switching behavior. Here the focus is not on situational change, per se, but rather on the dynamics involved when customers fire a solution-in-use and hire a competing solution that can get a job done better.

Specifically, there are two driving forces and two restraining forces that surround customer choice like an invisible force field. The Forces of Progress model suggests that it is ultimately the dominant force, either driving or restraining, that determines whether a customer is motivated to switch to a competing solution (see Figure 7).

(Figure 7)

There are two driving forces working for a switch. The first driving force has to do with the moments of struggle relating to a solution-in-use. Moments of struggle cause customers to push away or reject a solution-in-use. The greater this push force the more motivated customers are to fire that solution.

The second driving force has to do with the attractiveness of a competing solution. The extent to which a competing solution is better than the solution-in-use (in a customer’s mind) exerts an attraction or pull force on customers. The greater the pull of a competing solution, the more motivated customers are to hire that solution. Although solution pull is a driving force, it is positioned on the right side to indicate that it is an attraction force rather than a repulsion force. To be clear, both push and pull are driving forces.

The Forces of Progress model suggests that to acquire customers for a new or existing offering, those customers must be pulled away from competing solutions-in-use. Simply put, customers must switch to that offering. It should be noted that the premise of switch assumes that competing solutions are exclusive in nature (aka: exclusive solutions), meaning that only one of those solutions is needed to get a particular job every time it arises.

For exclusive solutions, a switch will only happen if there is enough push away from a solution-in-use and enough pull towards a competing solution. Therefore, enough push without enough pull does not create demand. Conversely, enough pull without enough push does not create demand either. Customer demand is created only when there is enough push and enough pull forces at work.

There are two restraining forces working against a switch. The first restraining force is the anxiety associated with adopting a new solution. Concerns arise such as, “Will the solution work as promised?” and “Can I trust the company selling the solution?” and “Will the new solution cause potential problems or hazards down the road?” The greater the anxieties surrounding the adoption of a new solution, the greater the resistance will be to switch to that solution.

Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky studied individuals who are faced with a choice that involves giving something up in order to get a potential gain from making a new choice (Prospect Theory). They found that individuals weight the loss of what is in hand twice as much as a potential gain (4).

Applying this to the Forces of Progress, customers can be strongly biased when it comes to firing a current solution and hiring a new solution, even if the new solution can get a job done significantly better. Therefore, solutions-in-use become sticky to the extent that customers have anxiety about switching to a competing solution.

A second restraining force is a well-established habit which involves familiar routines associated with a solution-in-use. It has been widely studied that individuals are remarkably resistant to changing their habits. The stronger the habit of using a particular solution, the greater the resistance to switching to a new solution. Stated another way, a solution-in-use gets stickier to the extent that a competing solution requires a change in established routines to get a job done.

Although habit is a restraining force, it is positioned on the left side to indicate that customers resist changing established routines that take little to no effort to maintain. As such, a superior competing solution that requires significant change in habit can reduce the perceived value of that solution vis-à-vis the solution-in-use. Therefore, when a competing solution requires some change in established routines, more pull force may be required to overcome the stickiness of habit.

To recap, the two driving forces of push and pull work for a switch. The two restraining forces of habit and anxiety work against a switch. If the driving forces become dominant, customers will fire a solution-in-use and hire a competing solution. If the restraining forces remain dominant, then customers will continue to hire the solution-in-use, rejecting competing solutions. Looking at customer switching behavior through the lens of the Forces of Progress explains how a seemingly superior solution can fail to motivate a switch.

Continue to Part 4 of 6


1. Christensen, C. M., Hall, T., Dillon, K., & Duncan, D. S. (2016). Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice. Harper Business.

2. Moesta, B., & Spiek, C. (2014). Jobs-To-Be-Done: Practical Techniques for Improving your Application of Jobs-To-Be-Done. The Re-Wired Group.

3. Lewin, K. (1938). The Conceptual Representation and the Measurement of Psychological Forces. Durham: Duke University Press.

4. Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1979). Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision Under Risk. Econometrica, 47, 263-291.

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