Defining the customer’s job-to-be-done correctly is fundamental to a company’s success. Don’t let these two common mistakes derail your innovation efforts.
“People don’t want a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”
This quote, which was made popular by Theodore Levitt, forms the foundation for Jobs-to-be-Done Theory: the notion that people buy products (like drills) to get a “job” done (e.g., create a quarter-inch hole). Sounds simple enough — companies are in business to create products and services that help customers get a job done.
Jobs-to-be-Done Theory goes on to say that a deep understanding of the job the customer is trying to get done will reveal unique insights that can make innovation more predictable, which is proven to be true (see Core JTBD Tenets). But exactly what customer and what job is it that a company should study?
In Levitt’s statement he implies that the job to study is the job of creating a quarter-inch hole. But what if, as a researcher, you notice that people are creating the quarter-inch hole because they are trying to hang a framed picture on the wall? And they are hanging the picture on the wall because they want to create an attractive workspace? And they want to create an attractive workspace because they want to be successful in their profession? People may be trying to get all these jobs done, so which job should be the unit of analysis? What is the correct level of abstraction?
As a researcher, you may also decide to talk with buyers and users of drills. In doing so you may discover very different sets of customer needs. Then the question becomes, “Which customer should be the focal point for data collection and innovation?”
You can see from Levitt’s example that defining the customer and the customer’s job-to-be-done can quickly take you down a rabbit hole if you fail to consider two very important factors:
The customer’s job-to-be-done that is pertinent to a company is dependent on that company’s business objectives. While a customer may be trying to get a variety of jobs done, a company may have a mission, the capabilities or the desire to address only one of them. This is a market selection decision.
The user of a product is the only person capable of providing the inputs needed for product innovation. Buyers, in many cases, are not users and while they can help you understand the buyer’s journey, they are not qualified to speak about the user’s core functional job.
These factors form the foundation for advice to avoid the two most common mistakes companies make when starting to apply Jobs-to-be-Done thinking in their organization.