A practitioner’s view of ‘jobs to be done’ theory

Many people are now familiar with the ‘Jobs to be Done’ or JTBD theory of innovation and it is becoming a prominent model that is deployed in successful businesses, big and small, as they look to grow through innovation.

Stated simply, the JTBD theory is grounded on the understanding that people ‘hire’ products to enable them to get a job or jobs done. The jobs, or goals, can be functional, emotional, or social in nature. New innovation opportunities are based on discovering and addressing the jobs people are struggling to get done. The JTBD theory allows for an inherently solution-agnostic approach to insights capture for innovation through a job-based frame of the problem. Instead of focusing on existing products and services; instantly time-stamping and limiting insight, JTBD defines time-stable innovation measures of unmet need and unshackles creative teams from existing technologies and platforms when considering how to address that valuable, newly uncovered opportunity.

Simple enough in its conception, confusion with JTBD can arise with specifics of the language used in its practice and you could be excused for thinking that an explanation somebody has provided on how they will “do” JTBD for you does not match your own understanding of how it is applied.

The confusion arises because there are a number of different JTBD schools of thought. Whilst each of them is grounded on the same simple premise outlined above, we would argue that each teaches a practice that harbours particular strengths well-suited to addressing different business growth challenges – from the near-term new product development to the long-term strategic direction-setting and within the three-dimensional functional, emotional, social needs space occupied variously by healthcare, consumer and industrial markets.

Here we briefly introduce the three most prominent forms of JTBD practice as a means of demystifying the language and comparing their application strengths.

Jobs and forces (the Switch approach)

Established by Bob Moesta of The Rewired Group, the Switch approach to JTBD focuses on the reasons why people fire and hire products and services. It strives to understand the moment of ‘switching’ and the (im)balance of forces that ultimately compels someone to make a purchase. The switch happens when combined forces of the switch enablers – problems with the existing solution (the push) and the benefits of the new solution (the pull) – overcome the switch blockers – the worries about the new solution (anxiety) and existing habits and switching costs (inertia).

In practice, Switch is applied by dissecting the purchasing timeline from the moment of the very first thought of switching through passive looking (for a new solution), active looking, deciding on a solution, to buying; to uncover the pushes, the pulls, the anxieties and the habits. Very quickly, emotional jobs that augment the assumed functional job begin to materialise providing new insight into the real struggles that customers face.

Jobs, pains and gains

Developed by Alex Osterwalder at Strategyzer, the Value Proposition Canvas provides a framework that enables businesses to develop and implement value propositions by identifying the jobs that customers are trying to get done, the negative pains they experience when doing so and the positive gains that they desire from product and service solutions; providing a focused customer profile to design for.

Jobs and outcomes

Pioneered by Tony Ulwick at Strategyn, and productised by their Outcome-Driven Innovation method, jobs and outcomes approaches break a job down into the many metrics (outcomes) that customers use to define job success (how well they are able to get a job done).

By identifying which outcomes on a job are most important and least-well satisfied, companies are able to uncover detailed descriptors of innovation opportunity ripe for product or service development.

At a higher level, applying the same principles within a broad market space allows companies to uncover the most important and poorly satisfied jobs; helping to answer the more strategic question of ‘where to play’?

Then there is…

The CDP way

Well actually, at CDP we don’t have a way of “doing Jobs to be Done” we have many! We like to practice what we preach by first listening to our customers – our clients – at the earliest stage of engagement to discover their jobs to be done. We will then devise an insight for innovation enquiry that selects the most appropriate JTBD approach; even merging them where required, to develop a front-end innovation solution that best meets our client’s needs.

We find that using outcomes as the unit of research analysis provides the precision required to translate insight directly into requirement specifications. This approach is particularly powerful when dealing with highly functional jobs to be done; as often seen in healthcare and medical device development. It can define, with precision, what your next product should be. On the other hand, considering firing and hiring forces using the Switch method can wrap a layer of emotional insight around the functional and rational dimension; ripe for product and experience innovation in consumer-focused markets. Whilst defined jobs, pains and gains provide targeted creativity input to conceptualise new products and services with specific pain-relieving and gain-creating features.

There are also occasions when JTBD isn’t even the most appropriate theory or tool at all. Just as we wouldn’t use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, nor would we use one to tighten a screw and so we will draw upon other research tools as demanded by the goals and scope of the research enquiry. These include stakeholder co-creation, expert interviews, global trends mapping and client research synthesis.

In short, we believe that there is no one template or blue-print for front-end innovation success. Our insight for innovation team can pool decades of aggregated innovation experience applying JTBD theory in its many guises and other research tools, across multiple market sectors; to match front-end solutions to business challenges on a case-by-case basis.

As end-to-end innovation partners, we progress from insight to concept to product, applying our Potential Realised innovation process from opportunity definition to product realisation. We are as invested in ensuring that insight is appropriate to our clients’ needs and relevant to their market as they are.

So, you may know of innovation research as jobs, push, pull, anxiety, habits, pains, gains or outcomes… whatever your innovation language, rest assured that, at CDP, we have people who speak it!

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Nicki Sutton

Partner, Healthcare Insight, Strategy and Human Factors