Good theory explains causation.
Great theory makes sense of the world.

In the 1960s, Theodore Levitt said, “People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.” His point was profound: people buy products and services to accomplish a task or achieve a goal. We call these tasks or goals jobs-to-be-done. Looking through a jobs-to-be-done lens, we see the world in a way that gives our clients the ultimate competitive advantage.

Jobs-To-Be-Done Theory

People buy products to get jobs done

People execute tasks all the time in their business and personal lives. Some tasks they can accomplish using personal skills, brainpower, and physical strength. Other tasks require something more sophisticated. For these more complicated tasks, people turn to products and services for help. The jobs-to-be-done theory explains that the reason why products are created and why people use them are one and the same: people buy products and services to get jobs done.

So how does this insight benefit the companies that create those products? In a nutshell, to be a market leader, companies must create product, service, and software solutions that help customers get their jobs done better than competing solutions. Thus, a company's success is dependent on its ability to understand the job (or jobs) its customers are trying to get done. This insight has provided Strategyn founder Tony Ulwick and his team with a very different perspective on how companies should execute what are arguably the three most important business processes: innovation, product development, and marketing. The result is Strategyn's powerful jobs-to-be-done methodology.

"Success in innovation doesn't come from understanding the customer. It comes from a deep understanding of the job the customer is trying to get done."

Tony Ulwick

Jobs-To-Be-Done Framework For Innovation

Reinventing innovation

Jobs-to-be-done theory advances the innovation process because it makes it possible to know all the customer’s needs in any new or existing market. A job-to-be-done has a beginning and an end. As such, it can be analyzed as a process: it can be broken down into process steps and analyzed, using six-sigma-like thinking, to see where customers struggle to get the job done. (See the jobs-to-be-done framework.)

It turns out that customers use between 50 and 150 metrics to describe the successful execution of a typical job-to-be-done. When looking at innovation through a jobs-to-be-done lens, these metrics are the customers' needs. We call them desired outcomes. We have developed methods to extract these outcomes from customers and built an innovation process that uses these outcomes as a key process input. We call this innovation process Outcome-Driven Innovation.

Knowing all the customers' needs in a market (and which are unmet) makes it much easier to construct a solution that will help customers get a job done significantly better. While traditional innovation methods have a less than 20 percent success rate, our application of Outcome-Driven Innovation results in success over 80 percent of the time. This is no accident. Our jobs-to-be-done approach to innovation mitigates the risks that cause traditional innovation methods to fail. It works because it makes it possible to know in advance of product development just how much better a new product concept will help customers get a job done. It provides a framework that makes success predictable.

Over the past 21 years, Strategyn has used jobs-to-be-done theory to reinvent the entire innovation process. It resulted in a new way to define customers, markets, and needs, a new way to segment and size markets, and a new way to construct and test ideas. All these advancements are embodied in our innovation process. Strategyn’s 12-step framework, outlined to the right, shows the order in which we execute the innovation process and what we accomplish at each step. Notice that it begins with jobs-to-be-done research that acquires the inputs (the insights and information) necessary to assure that an idea, when it is conceived, developed and launched, will be a winner.

  1. 1

    Define the customer as the job executor.

  2. 2

    Define the market as the customer (job executor) and the job the customer is trying to get done.

  3. 3

    Define customer needs as the metrics customers use to measure success when executing the job.

  4. 4

    Uncover market opportunities by discovering where customers struggle to get a job done.

  5. 5

    Discover the segments of customers that struggle most to get the job done.

  6. 6

    Size the market based on the number of underserved job executors and what they will pay to get the job done perfectly.

  7. 7

    Evaluate competitive products against the customer needs to see where those products fail to get the job done well.

  8. 8

    Decide which segments and unmet needs to target for value creation and decide whether to pursue a disruptive, breakthrough, sustaining, or product improvement strategy.

  9. 9

    Determine what price the target customers are willing to pay to get the job done perfectly.

  10. 10

    Construct the product or service concept that best addresses the customer's unmet needs, helping the customer get the job done significantly better.

  11. 11

    Test the concept against all the customer metrics to ensure it gets the job done well enough to justify the price point and win in the market.

  12. 12

    Position the concept to appeal to the customer's unmet needs and emotional jobs.

Jobs-To-Be-Done Framework For Product Development

The key to agile development

The ideal input into the product development process would be a perfectly defined product concept that would almost certainly win the marketplace. With a perfectly defined concept, there would be no need for design changes, modifications and feature creep in development. In fact, the concept that entered the development process would be the exact product exiting the process. In today's world, this is rarely the case because many of the activities that should take place during the innovation process end up getting executed, repeated, or corrected in the development process. This "pivoting" and "failing fast" mentality leads to long, expensive development cycles and it is unnecessary. Pivoting and failing fast become acceptable practices when companies cannot figure out how to get it right in the first place.

Using the Outcome-Driven Innovation process, Strategyn consistently produces robust and well-defined product concepts that require little to no change in development, thereby streamlining the development process. Strategyn clients have found that a robust product definition can cut the development cycle by up to 75 percent.

Our jobs-to-be-done approach to product and service development is unique in one other very important way: the development team is informed of all the customer-defined metrics that were used to define the product concept. In making design trade-off decisions, the team is guided by these metrics, which means the team’s decisions are the right ones. In conventional development processes, designers rarely have this type of customer input. Strategyn’s approach is the ultimate in agile development.

"The goal of agile development is to eliminate failures and pivots. That can only be achieved when your product concept is near-perfect to begin with."

Tony Ulwick

Jobs-To-Be-Done Framework For Marketing

Appealing to emotion and function

When marketing is examined through a jobs-to-be-done lens, it becomes apparent that the goal of marketing is to inform customers of a company's ability to help them get a job done better. Strategyn knows that customers have both functional and emotional jobs they are trying to get done. Marketing a product around its functional benefits and around the factors that bring it emotional appeal is the key to an effective product positioning strategy. This is part of our jobs-to-be-done methodology.

Jobs-To-Be-Done Examples

Defining the customer's job-to-be-done

The first challenge that companies face when applying this theory is defining exactly who the customer is and what job they are trying to get done. While on the surface this seems like it should be a simple task, it is rarely the case. The job must be defined as a process; an activity that consists of a series of steps that customers take to complete a task or achieve a goal or objective. This means that the job-to-be-done is always a functional job; not an emotional job. Here are a few jobs-to-be-done examples.

Jobs-To-Be-Done History

50 years in the making