Jobs-to-be-Done: A framework for better products & happier customers

Jack Wolstenholm
February 2, 2024
Jobs-to-be-Done: A framework for better products & happier customers

At the heart of every successful product lies a fundamental understanding of what jobs customers are hiring that product to do.

This concept is the cornerstone of Jobs-to-be-Done, a powerful framework that has revolutionized the way businesses approach user research and product development. Rather than focusing solely on demographics or market segments, this framework zeroes in on the reasons behind customer choices, unraveling the 'whys' and 'hows' of their behavior.

It’s not just about what your customers are doing; it's about understanding their motivations, their challenges, and the outcomes they're seeking.

This shift in perspective can be a game-changer for any business striving to create more value for its customers. In this guide, we'll explore the jobs-to-be-done framework in detail to help you harness its principles to run better research and build better products.

What is Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD)?

The Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework helps businesses understand and innovate based on the specific needs and goals of their customers. JTBD is not about the product, service, or user, but about the underlying 'job' that a customer is trying to accomplish. This framework shifts the focus from demographic or product-centric views to a more purpose-driven perspective, asking the fundamental question: “What job is the customer hiring this product or service to do?”

The theory behind JTBD is that customers 'hire' products or services to fulfill particular jobs in their lives. These jobs can be functional (e.g., cutting a piece of wood), emotional (e.g., feeling secure), or social (e.g., gaining status). For instance, buying a smartphone isn’t just about making calls or sending texts; it's about staying connected, being socially relevant, or even feeling technologically advanced.

This framework emphasizes that the same person can have different needs in different situations, leading to different purchasing decisions. By understanding the jobs that customers are hiring a product to do, businesses can create or improve products and services that more effectively meet the real needs and desires of their customers.

The primary purpose of the JTBD framework is to guide businesses in developing products and services that are tightly aligned with what customers are actually trying to achieve.

It aims to provide deeper insights into customer behavior and motivations, going beyond superficial attributes like age, gender, or income. This understanding can help you tailor your offerings more precisely to customer needs. Understanding the job allows for more precise marketing messaging that resonates with the customer’s true motives.

Origin of the jobs-to-be-done framework

The Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework originated in the late 20th century, primarily influenced by the work of the late, great Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen. While exploring disruptive innovation, Christensen introduced the idea that customers 'hire' products to perform specific 'jobs' or needs. This idea shifted the focus from product features to the underlying reasons behind consumer choices.

Key contributors like Tony Ulwick and Bob Moesta further refined JTBD. Ulwick's Outcome-Driven Innovation process tied the framework directly to innovation strategies. He emphasized designing products around the outcomes customers seek. Moesta expanded its application, particularly in product design and development.

Over the years, JTBD has evolved from a theoretical concept to a practical tool across various industries. It has been used to drive product innovation, inform marketing strategies, and enhance customer experience across sectors.

Examples of JTBD in practice

The Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework has been effectively utilized in various industries, demonstrating its versatility and impact. These case studies from household  names illustrate the impact of JTBD in action.

IKEA's furniture design philosophy

IKEA, the Swedish furniture giant, effectively employs the JTBD framework in its design and marketing strategies. IKEA recognizes that customers don't just want furniture; they hire furniture to create a living space that is functional, aesthetically pleasing, and affordable.

This understanding led to the development of easy-to-assemble, stylish, and budget-friendly furniture designs. The JTBD perspective helps IKEA consistently innovate products that meet the evolving 'jobs' of creating comfortable and appealing living spaces.

Airbnb's market disruption

Airbnb's rise can be partly attributed to its understanding of the JTBD concept. Traditional hotels focused on providing a place to stay.

However, Airbnb recognized that travelers were hiring accommodations not just for a place to sleep but for authentic, local experiences and a sense of belonging. By offering unique homes and experiences, Airbnb tapped into these deeper jobs, disrupting the traditional hospitality industry and redefining the travel accommodation market.

Spotify's music streaming service

Spotify transformed music consumption by aligning with the JTBD framework. Rather than just selling music, Spotify realized that people hire music services for continuous access to a vast range of music without the hassle of downloading or purchasing individual tracks.

Spotify offers a user-friendly, subscription-based platform with personalized playlists and recommendations. This way, it addresses the job of providing convenient, customizable, and comprehensive access to music, changing the way people listen to music.

Uber: Revolutionizing urban mobility

Instead of viewing its service merely as a taxi alternative, Uber identified the broader job of "providing reliable, efficient, and accessible urban transportation." By focusing on this job, Uber innovated in areas like app-based booking, dynamic pricing, and driver-partner models. This approach not only solved the functional job of getting from point A to point B but also addressed emotional jobs like feeling safe and in control of one's travel experience.

Fitbit: Personal health empowerment

Fitbit leveraged JTBD by recognizing that consumers weren't just buying fitness trackers for the sake of tracking. They were seeking to fulfill the job of "managing and improving personal health."

Fitbit's devices and software were therefore designed to provide not just data, but insights and motivation for healthier living. This included features like sleep tracking, heart rate monitoring, and personalized fitness regimes, aligning with the broader job of leading a healthier lifestyle.

Pros & cons of JTBD

The JTBD framework offers a unique lens through which businesses can view customer needs and motivations. However, like any tool, it has its strengths and limitations.

Pros of JTBD

The JTBD framework offers several key benefits that can significantly enhance how you develop, market, and position your products and services. The benefits include:

Enhanced customer insight

JTBD provides a deeper understanding of what customers truly want, going beyond superficial needs. For instance, when Snickers focused on the job of providing a quick, satisfying snack for people on the go, it led to their long-running successful marketing campaign Hungry? Grab a Snickers.

Driving innovation

When you focus on the job rather than the product, it becomes easier to innovate more effectively. Apple’s iPhone is a classic example. Apple didn’t just create a phone; they addressed the job of providing a single device for communication, entertainment, and information, revolutionizing the smartphone industry.

Better product-market fit

Leveraging the JTBD framework can enhance your product-market fit. This approach centers on deeply understanding the 'jobs' your customers need to accomplish when they choose your product or service.

It's about aligning what your product offers with the specific needs and desires of your target audience. For example, Airbnb understood the job of offering authentic travel experiences, leading to its significant success in the lodging industry against traditional hotels.

Facilitating market differentiation

As a business owner, embracing the Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework can be your secret weapon for standing out in a crowded marketplace.

When you focus on the unique 'jobs' your customers are trying to accomplish, you can differentiate your products and services from competitors in meaningful ways.

Consider Dyson's approach: They transformed the vacuum cleaner market not by just selling another appliance but by providing efficient, user-friendly cleaning solutions. Their focus on the job of making cleaning easier and more effective set them apart, redefining customer expectations in the home appliance sector.

Predicting future trends

Harnessing the Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework empowers your business to anticipate and lead market changes, rather than reacting them. This forward-looking approach is pivotal in staying ahead of industry trends and evolving customer expectations.

Netflix exemplifies this advantage. By recognizing early on the job of providing convenient, on-demand entertainment, Netflix positioned itself at the forefront of the streaming revolution. They anticipated the shift in how viewers wanted to consume media, away from traditional schedules to a more personalized, accessible format.

Cons of JTBD

While the JTBD framework offers substantial advantages in understanding customer needs and driving innovation, it also comes with its own set of challenges. Some potential drawbacks include:

Risk of over-abstraction in research

While the Jobs-to-be-Done framework dives deep into customer motivations, there's a danger of becoming too abstract. It challenges teams to translate high-level customer goals into tangible product features.

However, this process can sometimes lose sight of practical considerations. For example, a team might focus on the idea that users want to excel in their hobbies, leading to ambiguous product development directions that don't concretely address specific user needs.

Potential neglect of design and user experience

JTBD's strong focus on the functional purpose of a product can inadvertently lead to a downplay of design and user experience. Some product teams, driven by the framework, may overly concentrate on a single aspect of the product's utility.

For instance, in designing a kitchen appliance solely for efficiency in cooking, a team might overlook aspects like aesthetic appeal or ergonomic design. The result is a product that meets its functional job but falls short in user satisfaction and design quality.

Risk of overgeneralization

There's a risk of oversimplifying or overgeneralizing the job, leading to misguided product development. For instance, if a fitness app interprets its job too broadly as 'improving health,' it may fail to address specific user needs like workout tracking or diet planning.

Rapid market changes

Rapid changes in technology and customer preferences can make a once-relevant job obsolete. This challenge is evident in the taxi industry, which struggled to adapt when the job of efficient urban transportation shifted towards ridesharing apps like Uber.

How to write Jobs-to-be-Done for your product

Here's a step-by-step guide to effectively integrate this powerful framework into your business strategy:

Identify your customers' jobs

Begin by identifying the specific 'jobs' your customers are hiring your product or service to do.

These jobs can be functional (e.g., cutting a piece of wood), emotional (e.g., feeling secure), or social (e.g., gaining status).

To uncover these jobs, conduct customer interviews, surveys, focus groups, and observational studies. Listen not just to what customers say but to the underlying tasks they're trying to accomplish. UX research tools like Great Question can streamline your research process by making it easy to recruit the right participants, manage your panel of customers, and of course, run the actual research.

Create a free Great Question for your JTBD research here.

Segment your market based on jobs

Traditional market segmentation often focuses on demographics, but JTBD requires segmenting your market based on the jobs customers are trying to accomplish. This approach allows you to tailor your products or services more effectively to meet these specific jobs.

Analyze customer jobs in detail

Break down each identified job into specific tasks, pains, and gains. Understand what customers are trying to achieve (gains), their struggles in doing so (pains), and the steps they take (tasks). This detailed analysis will give you a clear picture of how well your current offerings meet these jobs and where there are opportunities for improvement.

Analyze the competition

Understand how current solutions in the market are addressing these jobs. This includes direct competitors and alternative solutions your customers might be using. Analyzing the competition through the lens of JTBD can highlight areas for innovation and differentiation.

Develop solutions aligned with jobs

Based on your analysis, develop or modify your products and services to better align with the identified jobs. This step might involve innovating new features, removing unnecessary ones, or even creating entirely new products.

Align internal teams around JTBD

Ensure that all departments—from product development and marketing to sales and customer service—understand and embrace the JTBD philosophy. Alignment across the organization is crucial for a consistent approach to addressing customer jobs. It ensures consistent messaging, product development, and customer experience.

Iterate based on feedback and market changes

The JTBD framework is not a one-time exercise. Regularly gather customer feedback and stay attuned to market changes to refine your understanding of the jobs. Be prepared to iterate your offerings as customer needs evolve.

Communicate your value prop

Articulate how your product or service does the job better than alternatives. Your marketing and sales messages should clearly convey how you address the pains and enhance the gains associated with the customer's job.

The bottom line on JTBD

The heart of innovation lies in understanding not just what your customers are buying, but why they're buying it. Treat the Jobs-to-be-Done framework as a compass, guiding you to uncover the deeper needs and aspirations driving your customers' choices.

When you embrace the JTBD framework, you're fulfilling a crucial job in your customers' lives. This mindset shift can unlock unprecedented opportunities for growth, innovation, and connection with your market. So, gear up, dive deep into the world of your customers, and use the JTBD framework to build a better product and business.

Jack is the Content Marketing Lead at Great Question, the end-to-end UX research platform for customer-centric teams. Previously, he led content marketing and strategy as the first hire at two insurtech startups, Breeze and LeverageRx. He lives in Omaha, Nebraska.

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