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History of 

From a footnote in a book — to 30 years of developing winning products


Executives know that their company’s ability to innovate is the key to ongoing success. 

But for most companies, innovation remains a flawed business process, yielding failure rates that are consistently over 80%. 

The question is, why? 

Executives, managers and entrepreneurs agree that the goal of innovation is to create products and services that address unmet customer needs. But companies still struggle to predictably create winning products because they fail to define their customers’ needs with the rigor, precision, and discipline that is required to discover, prioritize and capitalize on opportunities for growth.

Jobs-to-be-Done theory, operationalized with Outcome-Driven Innovation, offers a framework for reliably uncovering customer needs, prioritizing opportunities — and turning your innovation practice into a predictable science.

This article will walk you through the entire history of Jobs-to-be-Done and how businesses are using the framework to create value for their customers. 

What does JTBD stand for?

JTBD is an acronym for ‘Jobs-to-be-Done.’ The Jobs-to-be-Done theory is an approach to innovation based on the premise that customers buy products and services to get a job done. Looking at the business through this lens helps companies streamline the innovation process by uncovering the true purpose of a product or service. 

Jobs-to-be-Done also helps businesses define and prioritize customer needs, making sense of all the data that is available to drive the innovation process, producing predictable results.

Who invented Jobs-to-be-Done?

Tony Ulwick is the mind behind Jobs-to-be-Done theory. 

Ulwick spent a decade in the 1980s working as a senior product manager for IBM — where he saw a problem with an ineffective and inefficient innovation process that produced more failed products than successful innovations.

After a significant product flop of his own, Ulwick set about finding a process that would make innovation more predictable. He spent several years studying and testing tools like voice of the customer, quality function deployment (QFD), TRIZ, Six Sigma, and conjoint analysis — then he had a breakthrough.

Ulwick realized Six Sigma could be applied to innovation, making the job process the subject of investigation. This would allow innovators to break the job down into process steps, study each step in detail, and attach metrics to each step that we could measure and control in the design of a product. 

He called this process Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI).

Ulwick’s first documented success with JTBD and ODI came in 1992 with Cordis Corporation. Since then, JTBD theory has helped big brands like Bosch, Microsoft, and Arm & Hammer reimagine possibilities.

While it was Tony Ulwick who invented JTBD, it was Clayton Christensen who first popularized it. After 10 years of localized success, Ulwick introduced his theory to Professor Clayton Christensen with the Harvard Business School. Christensen popularized the JTBD theory in his 2003 book The Innovator’s Solution.

When was JTBD created?

Officially, JTBD was created by Tony Ulwick in 1990 — but it was nearly a decade in the making. Ulwick was inspired by trade books that were written years earlier by the likes of Theodore Levitt and Peter Drucker, working out a solution to a common innovation problem that he saw day-in and day-out in his career as a product manager. 

In 1990, Ulwick created the JTBD theory, suggesting that companies should stop focusing on the product and the customer — and instead should understand the “underlying process” (or job) the customer is trying to execute when they are using a product or service.

JTBD timeline: A history of Jobs-to-be-Done through the decades



The business world began to examine the process of innovation with titles like Marketing Mode, published by Theodore Levitt, a book that would later inform the thought leadership behind JTBD methodology.


Practical experience in the business world paired with foundational ideas in books like Innovation & Leadership by Peter Drucker set ideas in motion to solve the inefficient innovation process in business.


An idea was born. Tony Ulwick hypothesized that companies could unlock powerful innovation by understanding that their customers buy a product or service to get a “job” done.



JTBD methodology helps Johnson & Johnson win an Edison Award.

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Launch your own phenomenally successful products with JTBD

Partner with Strategyn today to turn possibilities into predictable innovation outcomes. 

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