The Roots of Jobs-to-be-Done

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.

It’s important to note that the Jobs-to-be-Done approach wasn’t created by any one person. Rather, the various aspects that comprise Jobs-to-be-Done — namely the concepts and theory, framework, methods, and dynamics — were introduced by a number of people over the years and called by different names. The confluence of all of these contributions has created what we now call Jobs-to-be-Done.
So, let’s travel back in time and then go forward to understand where these various contributions came from, how they converged over time, and where we are today.

Now, the genesis of the Jobs job be done concept dates back to two marketing professors — Chester Wasson and David McConaughy. In 1968, they suggested that customers use a particular product to execute what they called a “use system” in order to satisfy certain physical, emotional and social needs. That what customers want is not a product, per se.

Rather, the demand is for what they called a “bundle of satisfactions” with respect to getting “something” done. At this point, Wasson and McConaughy were the first to establish that the value of a product, from the customers’ perspective, is grounded in the use system rather than product attributes.

About a year later in 1969, the late Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt suggested that people don’t actually buy products, rather they buy the expectation of benefits; that products have no intrinsic value, per se. From his perspective, the perceived value of a product in the eyes of a customer is purely driven by the “problem” that customers are trying to solve by using the product.

He advised that the focus should be on what the customer is actually trying to do with a product instead of the characteristics of the product itself. Dr. Levitt further developed this line of thinking in his book “Marketing for Business Growth” published in 1974.

Then some years later in 1985, the late management writer Peter Drucker suggested that innovation is about identifying what he called “incongruities” between the value that customers want in a product and the value they actually receive. And that these incongruities originate in what he called a “job to be done.” Drucker described a “job” as the goals that people want to achieve, and the process involved in achieving those goals.

He goes on the say that incongruities can be defined as “process needs” within the Job-to-be-Done and that the aim of innovation is to satisfy these “process needs” so that people and businesses can get jobs done better. So, at this point, Drucker synthesizes the prior work, coins the term “Jobs-to-be-done” and makes explicit the basic concepts and structure of the Jobs-to-be-Done approach.

Jobs-to-be-Done lay dormant for some years until in 2003 Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor publish their book “The Innovator’s Solution.” Building on the prior work, they suggest that the job should be the primary unit of analysis for innovation work rather than solely on the attributes of customers themselves – that is, demographic, psychographic and behavioral data. That such attributes apart from the context of the job are poor indicators of customer choice.

That’s because it’s job circumstance that ultimately explains why customers make the choices they do, not their personal characteristics. And for this reason, it’s far more effective to segment customers by the jobs they’re trying to get done and the specific circumstance that surrounds getting that job done for certain groups of customers. And here we see the genesis of Jobs Theory that’s discussed in detail in other posts.

Like Drucker and Levitt, Christensen and Raynor suggest that the aim of innovation is finding ways to help customers get jobs done better, faster and cheaper. But differing a bit from Drucker, they define a job as the “outcomes” or goals customers are trying to achieve. In contrast, Drucker, defines a job as both the job process and the desired goals. Now, as a result of the popularity of their book The Innovator’s Solution, awareness of Jobs-to-be-Done is catapulted into the mainstream.

A few years later in 2005, Anthony Ulwick publishes his book, “What Customers Want” in which he describes the Job-to-be-Done as a process that can be broken down into a number of discrete job steps, resulting in what he called at the time the customer’s value model. Ulwick and his colleague Lance Bettencourt later developed this concept into what they now call a Job Map.

Once a job map is delineated, it provides the framework to capture what Ulwick calls desired outcomes, which are the metrics associated with each job step that customers use to determine how successfully a job is executed. Today, Ulwick calls this the Jobs-to-be Done Needs Framework.

Simply put, desired outcomes are the customers’ needs with respect to executing a job and they enable innovators to quantify precisely what “better” means from the customer’s perspective. So, while Christensen and Raynor define a job in terms of the goals that customers want to achieve (which is later framed as “desired progress”), Ulwick was working in parallel to develop the Jobs-to-be-Done Needs Framework. He further refines this framework in his recent book, “Jobs to be Done.”

In 2016, the late Clayton Christensen and his co-authors publish the book Competing Against Luck where they further refine the work on Jobs Theory that Christensen developed years earlier. Specifically, the book expands on the dynamics of job circumstance and how dissatisfactions can arise when circumstance causes customers to struggle to get a job done well.

When this happens, people may “fire” an existing solution and “hire” another solution that enables them to get a job done better. So, the key to predicting customer choice is understanding the nuances of job circumstance and the progress that customers want to make in their lives and businesses.

Another key influence on Jobs-to-be-Done is Bob Moesta, a seminal thinker and an early Jobs-to-be-Done practitioner. Moesta collaborated with Christensen for years, even before the publication of the Innovator’s Solution. His influence was significant in shaping Christensen’s view that a job is the progress that people want to make in a particular circumstance.

Moesta is sometimes called the “milkshake man” because he and his business partner conducted one of the first Jobs-to-be-Done research studies for McDonalds, which became the basis for Christensen’s well-known milkshake marketing example.  And more recently, Moesta and his business partner Chris Spiek developed a model they call the Forces of Progress that describes the dynamics involved when customers switch from one product to another.

Synthesizing Two Schools of Thought

Today, there are two schools of thought for practicing Jobs-to-be-Done. There’s the job-as-a-process approach promoted by Anthony Ulwick, which focuses primarily on job execution. The practice involves delineating a job map, capturing desired outcomes for each job step, prioritizing the desired outcomes to determine which ones are unmet for distinct customer segments (aka: segments of opportunity) and then directing innovation efforts to satisfy those needs better than competing solutions. Ulwick combines the Jobs-to-be-Done Needs Framework with his proprietary Outcome-Driven Innovation methodology (ODI) for a complete innovation solution.

Then there’s the job-as-progress approach promoted by the late Christensen and Bob Moesta, which focuses primarily on the goals and aspirations (aka: “progress”) that individuals are trying to attain or achieve in a particular job circumstance. The practice involves defining a job and the progress desired, developing customer stories to acquire a deep understanding of the job circumstance, and identifying how this job circumstance causes customers to struggle to make desired progress. With this understanding, innovation efforts then focus on creating products and services that removes those struggles, enabling customers to make desired progress better than competing solutions.

We suggest that the best way to practice Jobs-to-be-Done is to combine both schools of thought into a comprehensive approach we call the Job-to-be-Framework. This approach synthesizes the jobs-as-a-process and jobs-as-progress schools which harnesses the best of both approaches. This synthetic approach is discussed in detail in the forthcoming posts.

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