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Jobs to be Done: Theory to Practice

Anthony W. Ulwick

How strongly I recommend it: 3/10 Last read: March 8, 2018

The title of the book is Jobs to be Done: Theory to Practice but should be Jobs to be Done: Why You Should Hire My Company. The bulk of the book explains how the author and his team developed Jobs to Be Done Theory into a repeatable, predictable process called ODI (Outcome-Driven Innovation). The book explains the steps in the ODI process and shares case studies of how the author's consultancy helped clients make fistfuls of cash, but the book never tells you how to implement the process yourself. Instead, the book is one big buildup to a pitch on why you should pay thousands of dollars to be a certified ODI Practitioner.

There's parts I found useful, but for the most part, the book seems to be part of a growing trend of consultants writing books as a long form sales tool rather than a teaching tool. If this was a free book, I wouldn’t mind at all. But I’m annoyed that I paid $9.99 for an elaborate bait and switch. If you want to get any value from it, read my notes and don’t buy the book. 90% of it is a waste of time.

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My notes and highlights:

A recent research study by pricing firm Simon-Kucher & Partners shows that 72% of all new product & service introductions fail to live up to expectations.

Tying customer-defined metrics to the underlying process the customer was trying to execute was the key to success.

We have collected data through formal research that supports Christensen’s claim and shows just how much more predictable innovation becomes when using Jobs-to-be-Done Theory.

A company can dramatically increase its chances for success at innovation if it knows precisely what metrics customers use to measure success and value when getting a job done.

The goal of innovation is straightforward: to come up with solutions that address unmet customer needs.

Today’s most popular approaches to innovation fall into one of two types: those that begin with a focus on solutions (or ideas) and those that begin with a focus on customer needs.

In what I call the “ideas-first” approach, companies brainstorm or otherwise come up with product or service ideas and then test them with customers to see how well the ideas address the customer’s needs. In the “needs-first” approach, companies first learn what the customer’s needs are, then discover which needs are unmet, and then devise a solution that addresses those unmet needs.

The “ideas-first” approach is inherently flawed and will never be the most effective approach to innovation. It will always be a guessing game that is based on hope and luck, and it will remain unpredictable.

The “needs-first” approach to innovation, while not inherently flawed, is often flawed in its execution. Recognizing why it is flawed and executing it correctly is the key to success in innovation.

Despite its popularity, academic support, and widespread use, the ideas-first approach to innovation cannot be counted on for predictable growth and is inherently doomed to failure. There are three reasons for this:

  1. Generating more ideas does not meaningfully improve the probability that someone will come up with the optimal idea to satisfy unmet customer needs.

  2. The evaluation and filtering processes are flawed.

    Because the customer’s unmet needs are unknown, the evaluation and filtering processes used today can easily miss great ideas and fail to filter out bad ideas.

  3. Customers cannot articulate the solutions they want.

    “Why are we even asking customers what solutions they want?”

    Why should a company depend on the customer to know the best solution?   Why hire the customer to do the job of the marketing, development, and product planning team? Coming up with the winning solution is not the customer’s responsibility. It is the responsibility of the company.

“Studies comparing successful and unsuccessful innovation have found that the primary discriminator was the degree to which user needs were fully understood.”

Despite the available needs-gathering methods, companies nearly always fail to uncover all or even most of the customer’s needs.

While nearly every manager agrees that the goal of innovation is to devise solutions that address unmet customer needs, a common language for communicating a need does not exist.

Despite all the talk about satisfying customer needs, there is very little understanding of what characteristics a customer need statement should possess and what the structure, content, and syntax of a need statement should be.

Today we know that obtaining inputs in the customer’s own words will more often than not result in the wrong inputs.

Companies routinely try to satisfy customers’ needs without a clear definition of what a need even is.

Jobs-to-be-Done Theory provides a framework for (i) categorizing, defining, capturing, and organizing all your customer’s needs, and (ii) tying customer-defined performance metrics (in the form of desired outcome statements) to the Job-to-be-Done.

Because customers are loyal to getting a job done, customers will switch to new solutions when they are able to get the job done significantly better. In our experience, new products that get the job done 20 percent better or more are very likely to win in the marketplace.

While a job describes the overall task the customer is trying to execute, an outcome is a metric the customer uses to measure success and value while executing a job.

The Jobs-to-be-Done Needs Framework reveals the complexity involved in understanding all the needs in a market.

A diverse group of customers in a given market often collectively have well over 100 needs. In more complex markets such as health care and social media, customers may have 200 needs or more.

The customers’ needs are multilayered and complex.

Customers have needs related to buying, using, and owning a product.

Customer need statements are mutually exclusive—they are defined independent of each other.

The goal of innovation is to devise solutions that address unmet customer needs. For a company to be successful at innovation, this means it must not only know all the needs in the market, but it must be able to determine which needs are unmet.

But how long would it take a product planning team to conceptualize a solution that addresses those same 14 unmet needs if they knew the segment existed and exactly what those unmet needs were? In the case of the Bosch circular saw product team (see the case study in chapter 5), it took just 3 hours.

One important factor that cannot be overlooked is that most markets are not homogeneous—meaning in nearly every market, customers do not agree on what needs are unmet.

A deep understanding of the core functional job enables a company to create product or service offerings that get the job done significantly better than competing solutions.

The core functional job is defined in a single statement, such as “cut a piece of wood in a straight line”, “pass on life lessons to children”, or “monitor a patient’s vital signs”.

The core functional job is the anchor around which all other needs are defined.

Companies routinely want to know the functional jobs that customers are trying to get done for two reasons: (1) so they can discover new jobs to address (or new markets to target), and (2) to define a market they are already serving in a new way so they can use Jobs-to-be-Done Theory to discover how to serve it better. While the first activity requires a company to discover multiple functional jobs a customer is trying to get done, the latter requires a clear definition of just one functional job.

Market selection, the more complex scenario, is defined as the process of deciding what new markets a company should enter to establish attractive new revenue streams. To execute this process a company should first pick the customers (job executors) it would like to target and then determine all the functional jobs those customers are trying to get done. Next, through quantitative research, a company can determine which of those jobs are most important and least satisfied and will make the most attractive markets to target for growth. This exercise is critical for startups and established companies who are making investment decisions that will drive their growth.

When defined correctly, a functional Job-to-be-Done has three unique and extremely valuable characteristics:

  1. A job is stable; it doesn’t change over time.
  2. A job has no geographical boundaries.
  3. A job is solution agnostic.

While defining the functional job correctly is important, uncovering the customer’s desired outcomes (the metrics they use to measure success when get the job done) is the real key to success at innovation.

Desired outcome statements explain precisely how customers measure success and value as they go through each step of the core functional job. They describe how it is possible to get the job done more quickly, predictably, efficiently and without waste.

It is common to find that between 50 and 150 desired outcomes statements are applicable to the core functional job.

We follow a strict set of rules when constructing desired outcome statements—for example, they are purposely designed and structured to be measurable, controllable, actionable, devoid of solutions, and stable over time. They are also structured so they can be prioritized for importance and satisfaction using statistically valid market research methods.

While getting the core functional job done, it may be important to the end user to get other functional jobs done as well. Knowing what those related jobs are is important as it can lead to the creation of a platform-level solution that gets many jobs done.

It is not uncommon to find that 5 to 20 related jobs might be on the mind of the end user.

Emotional jobs define how customers want to feel or avoid feeling as a result of executing the core functional job.

Social jobs define how the customer wants to be perceived by others.

It is not uncommon to find that 5 to 25 emotional and social jobs may be on the mind of the end user when executing the core functional job.

The jobs along the product lifecycle are called consumption chain jobs.

Consumption chain jobs impact the customer journey and experience. Understanding the desired outcomes associated with relevant consumption chain jobs gives designers and engineers the information they need to be proficient at design-centered innovation.

In the case where the buyer is also the user, it is important to make sure the buyer is wearing the buyer’s hat when describing the financial metrics used when making the purchase decision. Otherwise outcome statements regarding the core functional job may uncovered instead.

A company must decide what strategy should be pursued to ensure it wins in the marketplace.

New products and services win in the marketplace if they help customers get a job done better (faster, more predictably, with higher output) and/or more cheaply.

Our experience and the work of others in this field led us to the following five conclusions regarding the four quadrants:

“What unique strategy can be employed in each of these five situations?”

Differentiated strategy. A company pursues a differentiated strategy when it discovers and targets a population of underserved consumers with a new product or service offering that gets a job (or multiple jobs) done significantly better, but at a significantly higher price.

Dominant strategy. A company pursues a dominant strategy when it targets all consumers in a market with a new product or service offering that gets a job done significantly better and for significantly less money.

Disruptive strategy. A company pursues a disruptive strategy when it discovers and targets a population of overserved customers or nonconsumers with a new product or service offering that enables them to get a job done more cheaply, but not as well as competing solutions.

Discrete strategy. A company pursues a discrete strategy when it targets a population of “restricted” customers with a product that gets the job done worse, yet costs more. This strategy can work in situations where customers are legally, physically, emotionally, or otherwise restricted in how they can get a job done.

Sustaining strategy. A company pursues a sustaining strategy when it introduces a new product or service offering that gets the job done only slightly better and/or slightly cheaper. Examples of offerings that successfully employ a sustaining strategy are plentiful.

A company may have many products and services in one market, each employing different strategies, as defined above. For that reason, it is important to source examples at the product level, not at the company level.

The Job-to-be-Done Growth Strategy Matrix can be used to prescribe proactive short- and long-term strategies for success, but to use it, a company must know whether or not there are underserved and/or overserved segments of customers in the target market. Without this knowledge, there is no way to know which strategy to adopt, and the chances of picking the wrong one are high.

The most effective way to discover whether or not there is an under-or overserved population is to segment a market around a complete set of prioritized customer desired outcome statements.

A differentiated strategy works when a highly underserved segment of customers is targeted with a premium-priced offering that gets the job done significantly better.

A differentiated strategy is attractive because it enables a company to enter a market at the high end, capture significant profit share, and work its way down market over time to gain additional market share.

A dominant strategy is always the most appealing approach for a new market entrant to take because incumbents cannot defend against it. Our experience suggests that companies can win with a dominant strategy if they introduce a product or service that gets the job done (addresses the customer’s unmet desired outcomes) at least 20% better and at least 20% more cheaply.

The term disruptive innovation, was correct: companies can win in overserved segments with products that enable customers to get a job done more cheaply, but not as well as competing solutions. Based on our model, we also agree with Christensen that a disruptive strategy successfully serves two customer segments: highly overserved customers (like users of Microsoft Word who switched to Google Docs) and nonconsumers—people who do not buy currently available products.

Christensen also correctly identified another phenomenon that occurs in the marketplace when he described disruptive innovation as “a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.”

A discrete strategy is employed as a separate (discrete) part of an existing product strategy: with a discrete strategy, a company takes an existing product and sells it in a unique situation that justifies a higher price. A discrete strategy is best suited for situations in which a higher-priced version of the existing product would be very welcome—or where a captive clientele cannot object.

The key to a successful discrete strategy is the ability to identify situations in which the customer, in need of the company’s product, has restricted or no access to it.

It should be noted that although employing a discrete strategy may hold the potential for high profits, it can also be viewed as exploitative by customers and result in public backlash and/or reputational damage as it has with pharmaceutical giant Mylan over the high cost of EpiPens.

A sustaining strategy is good for products or services that get the job done just slightly better and/or more cheaply.

A company’s success at innovation is dependent on the innovation process it choses to employ. A process fraught with defects and deficiencies will produce unpredictable results.

Before a company can understand the customer’s needs, company managers must agree on exactly who the customer is. Gaining such agreement is not easy.

Why do we need to know who the customer is?

We must identify the customer so we can gain the insights we need to create products and services that will get the job done better and/or more cheaply.

There are three key customers types (or job executors) that must be considered: the end user (or functional job executor), the product life cycle support team, and the purchase decision maker.

The end user is the person who uses the product or service to get the core functional job done.

In many situations, the end user and the purchase decision maker are different people.

The product lifecycle support team is comprised of the people who install, set up, store, transport, maintain, repair, clean, upgrade, and dispose of the product.

A product that does not have to be installed, set up, stored, transported, and so on, is far more valuable than one that does.

Simplifying or eliminating these consumption chain jobs has two key benefits: (i) it can lower the cost of product ownership, which satisfies the needs of the purchase decision maker, and (ii) it makes the product more convenient to use, which satisfies the needs of the end user.

The purchase decision maker is responsible for seeking out and evaluating alternative offerings and deciding which to buy. The purchase decision maker can provide your company with the financial desired outcomes it needs to figure out how to create a product or service that will get the job done more cheaply.

Defining the core functional Job-to-be-Done correctly is a prerequisite to predictable success. Getting it wrong is a big problem, and getting it right is not that easy. Defining the job too narrowly will limit the discovery of growth opportunities. Defining the job too broadly will result in non-actionable insights.

From our experience, most products only get part of a job done. The goal is to discover the entire job the customer is trying to accomplish. This is why it is incorrect to ask a customer, “What job did you hire that product to do?” as this may not reveal the entire job. Asking this question is a common mistake. It is indicative of a product-centric mindset.

To avoid defining the job to narrowly, work directly with customers to understand not why they bought your product, but how your product fits into what they are trying to accomplish. Ask, “Why are you using that product, what job are you ultimately trying to get done?”

Take the customer’s perspective: When defining the core functional job, think about the job from the customer’s perspective, not the company’s.

Don’t overcomplicate it: While the Jobs-to-be-Done Needs Framework is multilayered and complex, a functional job statement is not. It is important to emphasize that a well-defined functional job statement, and all the need statements we describe, are one-dimensional and mutually exclusive. Cramming everything into one complicated statement or a “job story” makes it impossible to later quantify exactly where the customer is underserved.

Leave emotion and other needs out of it: When defining the core functional job make sure it is defined as a functional job, not as a hybrid functional/emotional/social job. A functional job does not have social and emotional dimensions.

Do not include desired outcomes in the functional job statement. They too must be stated separately. So if the job is to “cut a piece of wood in a straight line”, don’t say “accurately, safely and quickly cut a piece of wood in a straight line”. Accurately, safely and quickly vaguely describe outcomes associated with getting the job done.

Define the job, not the situation: Do not define the Job-to-be-Done as a situation that a customer finds himself or herself in. Rather define the job around what the customer decides to do in that situation.

Define the job statement in the correct format: A job statement always begins with a verb and is followed by the object of the verb (a noun). The statement should also include a contextual clarifier.

Job statement = verb + object of the verb (noun) + contextual clarifier


Analysis of hundreds of jobs has revealed that all jobs consist of some or all of the eight fundamental process steps: define, locate, prepare, confirm, execute, monitor, modify and conclude

For any given Job-to-be-Done, we often uncover between 50 and 150 desired outcome statements.

When creating a desired outcome statement, remember the following structure:

Outcome statement = direction of improvement + performance metric + object of control + contextual clarifier

Desired outcome statements can be uncovered using any of the popular interviewing methods, such as personal interviews, focus groups, or observational or ethnographic interviews.

We have conducted hundreds of segmentation studies for companies in dozens of industries and have concluded that the differences in people’s needs do not come from different demographics or psychographics.

We have proven that demographic, psychographic, and behavioral and attitudinal data will nearly always fail to explain why customers have different unmet needs. A 28-year-old man from Montana with a college degree can have the same unmet needs as a 55-year-old woman from Florida who dropped out of high school. Both, for example, may be unhappy with their Internet service.

The only way to discover segments of customers with unique sets of unmet needs is to segment the market around unmet needs.

Comparing feature sets—“speeds and feeds”—of competing products is a waste of time. It’s an outdated approach that provides irrelevant information.

We conduct competitive analysis by having customers quantitatively evaluate competing offerings against a complete set of desired outcome statements. That process reveals precisely which offerings get the job done better and which get it done worse.

Companies do not lack ideas. They often have thousands of ideas. What they need is insight into the customer’s underserved outcomes.