The concept of Jobs To Be Done provides a lens through which we can understand value creation. The JTBD approach can be boiled down to one principle: people “hire” products and services to complete a job. For example, you can “hire” an anecdotal quater-inch drill, not only to make a quarter-inch hole, but to eventually place a painting on your wall, or Spotify to help you focus while working on a creative task. You can also “hire” a beer to reward yourself after work. These are all examples of jobs and the products “hired” to get them done.

The most famous example of a JTBD implementation is probably Clay Christensens’ Milkshake story. A fast-food restaurant chain wanted to improve its milkshake sales. The company started by segmenting its market both by product (milkshakes) and by demographics (a marketer’s profile of a typical milkshake drinker) and psychographics. The marketing department asked people who fit the demographic to list the characteristics of an ideal milkshake (thick, thin, chunky, smooth, fruity etc.). The potential customers answered honestly about their preferences, and the company responded to the feedback. But unfortunately, milkshake sales did not improve.

The company then hired Christensen’s fellow researchers, who approached the situation by trying to deduce the “job” that customers were “hiring” a milkshake to do. First, they spent a full day in one of the chain’s restaurants, observing and documenting who was buying milkshakes, when they bought them, and whether they drank them on the spot. They discovered that 40% of the milkshakes were purchased first thing in the morning, by commuters who ordered them to go.

The next morning, they returned to the restaurant and interviewed customers who left with milkshake in hand, asking them what job they had hired the milkshake to do. Christensen details the findings in a lecture called Integrating Around the Job to be Done:

Most of them, it turned out, bought [the milkshake] to do a similar job. They faced a long, boring commute and needed something to keep that extra hand busy and to make the commute more interesting. They weren’t yet hungry, but knew that they’d be hungry by 10 a.m.; they wanted to consume something now that would stave off hunger until noon. And they faced constraints: They were in a hurry, they were wearing work clothes, and they had (at most) one free hand.

The milkshake was hired instead of other things (such as a Snickers bar, a doughnut, or a bagel) because it was relatively tidy and filling, and because the activity of sucking a thick liquid through a straw gave people something to do with their long, boring commute.

By understanding the different jobs they were able to design the optimal solution for those customers. What they eventually realized was that it wasn’t about developing a new milkshake but making sure they innovated and optimized the process of buying the milkshake. The chain could also respond to a separate job that customers needed milkshakes to do: serve as a special treat for small children—without making the parents wait a half hour as the children tried to work the milkshake through a straw. In that case, a different, thinner milkshake was in order.

With this realization, they also differentiated themselves from their competitors, who were still focusing on the features of the product. In Christensen’s example, the product itself didn’t need to change.

This simple example became the most popular application of the JTBD methodology. There are plenty of similar B2C case studies out there. And yet, this is not a method that only works for customer-facing products. It is more than feasible to apply this approach to enterprise solutions or complex services as well.

The JTBD Framework Beyond B2C

JTBD isn’t limited to product design alone. JTBD can also be applied to B2B cases, service design and processes design. You can use it by classifying JTBDs in sales, marketing, customer support, and more.

For example, if you’re a Subscription-as-a-Service business, you could use JTBDs to understand why customers unsubscribe from your service. They provide a framework that allows you to look at the whole context, customers motivations, and their desired outcomes. For example, Intercom, a customer engagement platform and B2B software offering, structured their business around JTBDs, as they detail in their ebook on the subject. The JTBD framework was first a way to inform their product strategy, and later their market entrance. Eventually, they incorporated it into the foundation of their product and marketing strategies. They have architected the entire company around the idea that people experience problems in their lives or businesses and they buy products to solve those problems. This is just one example of the complex application of JTBD, its potential uses are as numerous as those of many other research methods.

The general goal of UX research is to gather insights and/or increase empathy through empirical observation. How this goal is achieved depends on many factors, such as methodology and research techniques. The JTBD framework’s unique characteristic is the targeting of experiences that contribute to desirable changes in user behavior by focusing on their ultimate, desired outcome – the job to be done.

This formula is expressed particularly well in the JTBD research tool called Job Map, which focuses on the steps in a particular Job. The goal of creating a Job Map is not to find out how the customer is accomplishing a job (which might be already illustrated in a Customer Journey Map, Process Map etc). Instead, the aim is to discover what the customer is trying to get done at different points along the way and what must happen at each juncture in order for the job to be executed successfully.

How JTBD Revealed Enterprise Needs

At DKA we were tasked with an extensive research project for a tech-fashion company. This company consists of design teams that work with multiple internal and external teams to create, buy, and successfully sell fashion collections to their clients. What they struggled with (according to their self-assessment) was a lack of tools for (fashion) product management within the organization.

The initial challenge was the selection of areas of improvement and innovation to focus on. To that end, we provided practical and needs-based insight into processes and tools improvement.

We needed a solid theory to connect user insights to process development decisions. We knew that JTBD could be applied to complex enterprise problems and combined with other methods. Therefore, our approach began by mapping the processes and then combining elements of Outcome-Driven Innovation and Jobs to be Done theory to prioritize user needs, existing pain points and desired outcomes. The overall process had several steps.

Knowledge Acquisition via Workshop Series

To distinguish areas of improvement we decided to create complex Process Maps over multiple workshops with different groups of customers. In each one, we documented process steps, needs and tasks, and highlighted points of friction, showing how they influence the efficiency of the process and perceived quality of work. Stakeholders (including team members) were involved in the interviewing and workshopping process. The procedure also included mapping both data flows and the current tools that support customer goals. This allowed the team to see how current offerings fit into a process map. This type of workshop is always intense. However, gathering all the relevant people in one place in groups helped us acquire the overall understanding required more quickly than individual interviews would have. Most importantly though, their involvement earned the buy-in of every interested party.

Maps Lead the Way

Based on the Process Map, we secured the stakeholder team’s preliminary agreement on the project plan and focus points. But the Process Maps were just the beginning. They gave us a deep understanding of the dependencies throughout the process and the plenitude of existing modes of working between different roles and teams. At this point, the high granularity of the findings needed a structure and attempts at synthesis. On this basis, we were able to frame the basic Core Functional Jobs and start creating Job Maps and gathering Desired Outcome Statements on each Job’s step by conducting in-depth interviews with the employees (who were, in this case, the stakeholders and the customers). We decided to work with Job Maps in order to re-frame the findings described in the Process Maps, enable ourselves to look at them from another angle, and discover opportunities for innovation.

As we found dozens of jobs and desired outcome statements that employees were trying to accomplish, we had to prioritize them by their potential to create value. In most situations, the jobs provide the greatest opportunity for innovation are the ones that customers want to get done for which no good solutions exist are the ones that provide the greatest opportunity for innovation.

The prioritization of a job is a function of how important it is, how satisfied customers are with the existing solution, the general potential for developing a more ideal solution, and the service provider’s potential for creating new solutions to better meet outcome expectations. Quantitative survey respondents rate each outcome’s importance and satisfaction level 1 to 10. Descriptive instructions for this process can be found in Anthony W. Ulwick’s ebook on Jobs to be Done.

During the course of the study, we distinguished the core functional jobs for different roles within teams from the emotional jobs (addressing the feelings and emotions the customer is seeking, such as a need for peace of mind, or safety) and social jobs (these jobs describe how a customer wants to be perceived by others).

We also managed to uncover factors that explained why some team members (representatives of different team roles) struggled more than others in the collaborative process. These factors provided us with the basis for developing ideas to reinvent team structures.

Different Perspectives

One of the most profound discoveries was that the company – who believed their main issue was a lack of tools to facilitate the fashion product development process – was, in reality, dealing with a more profound problem: a lack of effective processes. The most fundamental first step towards innovation was, in this case, to focus on re-inventing processes and re-designing the roles within the organization, before beginning to build complex tools for managing product creation.

It is worth noting that, despite all the differences in the results from different phases of the research process, the actual UX research methods underlying JTBD do not differ from the methods used to create journey maps or personas. While creating Job Maps, we conducted contextual in-depth interviews, think-aloud observations, co-creative workshops and complementary surveys. The main difference and value came in the way we analyzed, organized, formatted and presented data. This is what makes JTBD so different and powerful. It allows us to look at the problem from a different perspective and see opportunities in a new light.

A Practical Framework with Potential

UX research sometimes aims to answer high-level strategic questions and provide tangible insights. It can be challenging to deliver an output that communicates findings alone. It is more challenging to do so while facilitating tactical decision making and a more innovative perception of the problem. The Jobs to be Done framework is often a practical approach to accomplishing all of these. Sharing the findings of user research using the JTBD framework provides a platform for data-inspired innovation and sheds new light on the results. Its structure helps to turn abstract, and sometimes very complex and fuzzy, problems into tangible takeaway concepts that stakeholders can understand.

Even though Jobs to be Done thinking is not new, it’s been getting more attention recently and chances are it will only move further into the spotlight. Understanding the richness and variety of its possible applications leads to new ways to utilize the framework.

Correctly applied JTBD research and analysis enables companies to discover hidden opportunities, formulate market and product strategies that may undermine established market leaders, and expose their customers’ needs in an actionable way which, most importantly, enables a business to better serve them. JTBDs can be used to guide decisions and craft solutions for many aspects of any business.