Jobs-to-Be-Done: A Guide to Maximizing the JTBD Approach

What does an Iron and an iPod have in common? On the surface, not much. But each was “hired” to a job for the customer. The Jobs-to-Be-Done (JTBD) framework is an approach to developing products based on understanding the customer’s goal (job) and the thought processes behind creating a product to accomplish that goal (do the job).

The JTBD framework is beneficial for keeping Product teams focused on the problem space long enough to determine a customer’s needs. Jumping into the solution space too quickly could risk time, money, and energy in creating products that solve the wrong problem or a problem that doesn’t exist. Focusing on what jobs the customer is doing aides in addressing presumptions about known or anticipated solutions and helps clarify the customer’s needs.

Applying the JTBD framework correctly can empower Product teams to create relevant and innovative products. We’ve outlined this guideline for success to empower your team’s approach.

Understanding the Jobs-to-Be-Done Approach

While traveling for work, 280 Group Principal Consultant and Trainer Tom Evans became frustrated with the lack in hotel space to accommodate an ironing board. His initial thought – adding an outlet in a specific area would solve the problem. Later, a colleague pointed out he had jumped to the solution before examining the real problem.

Tom’s job to be done: Look professional for meetings and presentations by eliminating the wrinkles his clothes accumulated in the suitcase.

The solution: Far less complex than pitching new outlets in hotel chains. Instead, he resolved his need by packing a bottle of Downy Wrinkle Release in his carry on.

By taking the time to define the job, Tom discovered a simple solution that provides added benefits.

I can spray Downy on my clothes to ensure my shirts look professional and, at the same time, free up time previously spent ironing to do other things,” Tom said. “One product can address multiple jobs, so it’s important to take the time to understand what those jobs are.”

Three Guidelines for Success Using JTBD

#1: Know the different types of jobs.

People don’t buy products as much as they “hire” them to do jobs. These may be a combination of core functional jobs, emotional and social jobs, or financial jobs. In our ironing example with Tom, one job was to remove wrinkles from his clothes (functional), and another was to look professional in meetings (social). Both help him to be more successful in his career (financial).

This step is essential, understanding all the jobs accomplished by the product ensures you are solving for the right issue.

#2: Focus on a particular circumstance.

Clayton Christensen, developer of the theory of “disruptive innovation,” tells a story about how researchers determined that people were buying McDonald’s milkshakes in the morning to keep themselves occupied during long commutes. The job they were “hiring” the milkshake to do was to satisfy their hunger, but they were also solving for a particular circumstance – the long drive to work. This helped McDonalds understand the competitive landscape: they weren’t competing against ice cream stores but the breakfast bagel shops instead.

#3: Describe jobs as solution-agnostic.

Cue the iPod. The device solves the ability to listen to your favorite music on the go – something people have been doing for centuries. In Medieval times, minstrels would follow royalty, singing songs to entertain them. In the 1950s, Westinghouse invented bulky portable radios, enabling listeners to tune into music wherever desired. In the 1980s, the Walkman came onto the scene, a less bulky and more portable solution to the issue. Everything changed in the early 2000s when the iPod put “1000 songs in your pocket,” opening the door for continuous innovation.

Looking at jobs in a solution-agnostic approach showcases their stability over time. Despite multiple solutions, the underlying need did not change. While the iPod has been upstaged by streaming services like Spotify and iTunes, the job that spurred this innovation plays on.

Steps to Defining Jobs-to-Be-Done

  • Focus on the actual job. The Customer Profile taken from the Value Proposition Canvas is a handy tool for this step.
  • Understand the pains and gains relative to current solutions for accomplishing the job.
  • Identify the most underserved needs to innovate.

The process outlined below can help guide conversations with executive sponsors, and other stakeholders, and align teams to think creatively about how to meet customer needs.

Another essential tool, the Job Map, helps to better understand the “job.” Once you identify the solution-agnostic jobs, you can develop a more insightful understanding of the pains and gains based on the market’s experience with their current solution(s).

The Job Map includes the following set of activities:

  • Prepare: Determine goals, plan resources, gather needed items, and set up a job.
  • Execute: Carry out the job as designed.
  • Monitor/modify: Monitor for successful execution and make changes to improve.
  • Conclude: Finish the work and prepare to repeat.

The example below shows a Job Map for sending payment to a friend:

Tom cautioned that customer expectations and outcomes would change over time. A solution that works today could evolve tomorrow. This requires a to return to the steps outlined above and Job Map with a solution-agnostic approach to understanding Jobs-to-Be-Done.

The fundamental starting point for design and any other innovation technique is ensuring you understand the problem space first, before moving to the solution space. Always begin with understanding the problem.

Open the Door to Product Innovation

The JTBD framework helps Product teams stay in the problem space ensuring any product they developed addresses actual customer needs. Understanding the jobs and identifying the different events that demonstrate what these customer groups are trying to accomplish is key.

“The JTBD theory opens you up to more innovation because you’re truly thinking about the market need versus already having a specific solution in mind.” –280 Group Principal Consultant and Trainer, Tom Evans

To learn more about how to stay focused on the problem space and innovate on customer needs, sign up for our Optimal Product Management Course to get the skills and practice you need.

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About the Author


Tom Evans is a Principal Consultant and Trainer at 280 Group.
Tom Evans is a Senior Principal Consultant and Trainer at 280 Group and is an internationally recognized authority in product management, product marketing, international business, go-to-market strategies, business partnerships, and entrepreneurship. In his extensive experience, he has helped start-ups through Fortune 500 companies create and launch winning products and has led business development efforts in the US and global markets. Tom has been responsible for successfully developing and implementing Product Management & Product Marketing methodologies at multiple companies.

280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We empower Product Professionals with the knowledge and tools to create products that matter.

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