Jobs to be Done (JTBD) – Understand the tasks and needs of your customers

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In the past, customer-centric work almost always meant the same approach: Getting to know your customers as well as possible and characterizing them in order to be able to draw conclusions about their (consumer) behavior and needs from their characteristics.

What sounds reasonable at first glance, is however not entirely flawless.

The still fairly new principle of “jobs to be done” represents an alternative approach that allows you to gain more direct access to your customers.

Jobs to be done - That's what it is about

The basic problem

So far, the basic principle has been: the better you know your target group and can describe them, the better are the products and services you can develop on the basis of these considerations. Therefore, with the help of data, an attempt was made to find out as much as possible about the customer and what makes him tick. Detailed personas were used to give customers a face and a personality. The purpose of all this was to be able to put oneself in the shoes of one’s own customers – after all, the service or offer provider is often not even part of the target group oneself.

One thing should be borne in mind, however: You cannot simply predict a person’s actions from their characteristics. There are many correlations between a person’s characteristics and their actions. But often these are not causal at all.

You can easily visualize this for yourself with the following question: Do I act in a certain way because I am me? Or do I act this way because I want to fulfill a task, to achieve something?

Another common mistake is to focus too much on the particular product or misunderstood customer needs. The following famous quote from Theodore Levitt sums it up:

“Customers don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”

So instead of focusing on developing a better driller, the focus should be on the actual problem. The underlying task, for example, hanging a (heavy) picture or fixing a wall shelf. 

Jobs to be done - Bohrer

The Jobs to be done-theory

One approach to avoid these errors can be found in the JTBD theory. It states that purchasing decisions are primarily about completing a task, i.e., a job. Users don’t “buy” products or services, they “hire” them to do a job.

Clayton M. Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, is considered the inventor of the jobs to be done theory. He summarized his theory in the following quote:

„Customers don’t just buy products, they hire them to do a job.“

 

At the center of your considerations should be the question of why customers buy a product or use a service, or to put it another way: what job they want to have done. The more useful your product is in doing this job, the more satisfied your customers will be with it.

The theory is based on three assumptions:

  • Customers buy a product or service to accomplish a specific task
    • Ultimately, it’s about achieving a higher-level goal. A passenger doesn’t want a ride in a cab, but to reach a place. A construction worker doesn’t want to push a wheelbarrow, but to transport material.
    • Such a task becomes a job to be done

 

  • The task is the center of strategies and innovations
    • Not the product or the customer itself is this center of attention
    • Products evolve over time, but the job to be done remains fundamentally the same
    • This results in: If the customer needs are determined at the job to be done, they remain just as stable and valid in the long run

 

  • Your customers’ jobs open up completely new perspectives for you
    • Strategy and innovation can be based on stable customer needs through JTBD – the customer needs that offer the greatest value creation potential.

How the Jobs to be done principle can help you

The JTBD principle can be applied in many areas and support you and your company in various ways. The following application areas are just a few of them: 

  • Customer Centricity – Creating shared awareness of customers and their needs for you and your team.
  • Customer Segmentation – JTBD can serve as the basis for a new form of segmentation by asking about different jobs.
  • Marketing – customer approaches can be made more accurate, for example by addressing relevant product features
  • Competitive intelligence – Jobs to be done can provide a different perspective on the market and the competitive landscape.
  • Innovation – JTBD enables you to develop new products and business models that are more closely aligned with customer needs.

Jobs to be Done are only the beginning!

Customer Insights Suite Light dark version

Dimensions of the observation

The goals, the jobs, of your customers can be divided into direct and indirect goals. The direct goals represent the obvious tasks that are in the forefront. Indirect goals, on the other hand, are not so easy to identify. To determine them, you need to examine them closely, for example using the “5 Why Method”.

In addition to the direct and indirect goals, other aspects must also be considered. A job has functional, emotional and social aspects. As a rule, the functional aspect represents the direct goal, while the emotional and social aspects are often not so easy to recognize and represent indirect goals. 

Not all aspects are always equally relevant and not all must always be addressed. It is rather a matter of developing an awareness of the needs that go beyond functional benefits. Asking about social and emotional factors creates a broadening of one’s horizons, which provides the aha moments when working with the JTBD method.

The milkshake example

The most famous example of the Jobs to be done method comes from Christensen himself. He describes how he and his colleagues were commissioned by a fast food chain to boost sales of milkshakes. 

The company had already tried to increase sales itself by asking customers in the target milkshake group about possible improvements to the product and implementing their feedback. However, the changes had no impact on sales figures.

Milkshake
Job to be done "milkshake insight" by Clayton M. Christensen

One of Christensen’s colleagues took a different approach and asked about what “jobs” customers wanted done. The team interviewed customers on site and asked different questions than the company had previously, namely about jobs. The results showed that a great deal of milkshakes are sold in the morning and that they are particularly popular with commuters. Through the interviews, the following goals and aspects could be identified that play a role in the purchase decision for milkshakes:

  • Direct goals 
    • Occupation on the car ride – pastime and distraction on the way to work.
    • Saturation – become full and also stay full for a longer time 
  • Indirect goals  
    • Consumption without crumbs or sticky fingers 
    • Convenient storage in cup holder

In this video, you can review the example and Clayton’s thoughts yourself.

The following lessons can be derived from the example:

  • The main job of the milkshake can be summarized as a “second breakfast”
  • So the market environment is not other dairy drinks, but alternatives to breakfast to go such as sandwiches, sandwiches or banana.

 

The following changes to the product were then derived from these findings, which ultimately led to the desired increase in sales:

  • Firmer ingredients and tighter straws lead to longer consumption time and thus more distraction while driving
  • Optimization of cup size with regard to cup holders in cars lead to more content that can still be stored safely and conveniently in the car
  • Introduction of a self-service lane for less complicated and faster ordering
 

How you can apply Jobs-to-be done yourself

This method can of course be applied not only to milkshakes, but also to many other fields. The following basic steps offer you a common thread that supports you in the application. The inspiration for this comes from digitalization coach Andreas Diehl (Digitale Neuordnung) and is best implemented in the form of a workshop.

  • The question of why: Ask yourself why customers want to use your product and what tasks they want to perform with it. Not only the functional aspects should be considered, but also emotional and social aspects. Each participant formulates their ideas on moderation cards, with one need on each card.
  • Evaluate answers: Collect answers so that each preparer briefly explains them. Group similar ideas under one phrase. You can also optionally organize by type of need (emotional, functional, social).
  • Translate goals into user stories: Formulate both direct and indirect goals as user stories, such as “I am buying the product to…”. Each goal should result in a user story.
  • The question of why not: Think about why customers are not buying your product and also consider alternatives, competition or workarounds that customers are using instead. Evaluate your product and the alternatives in terms of customer goals and needs.
  • Find potential for improvement: Using the previous steps, identify where your product, service, or strategy has room for growth. Formulate hypotheses for better fulfillment of customer needs and define metrics that you can use to evaluate success.
  • Talk: Speak to customers and non-customers. Ask the “why” and the “why not” questions. Watch users as they use your product or prototype, if applicable. Use the exchange and observations to test the hypotheses.
 
For practical application, a JTBD canvas can be helpful as well. It works similarly to other canvases from Design Thinking.

Conclusion

Jobs to be done is a still young theory or methodology that does not examine the characteristics of customers, but rather the higher-level tasks (jobs) that they want to fulfill. 

This opens up a new perspective on the product, the user and the competition. In practical application, the approach can be combined well with familiar methods, such as those from design thinking.

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About Me

As a customer insights expert and certified Scrum product owner, I experience the importance of customer-centric product and marketing development on a daily basis. 

In combination with agile optimization processes and a corporate culture open to experimentation, you will bring your growth fully on track.

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