The Milk Shake Dilemma
Disruption, a theory of competitive response to an innovation, provides valuable insights to managers seeking to navigate threats and opportunities. But it leaves unanswered the critical question of how a company should innovate to consistently grow. It does not provide guidance on specifically where to look for new opportunities, or specifically what products and services you should create that customers will want to buy.
This book introduces the Theory of Jobs to Be Done to answer these questions and provide clear guidance for companies looking to grow through innovation. At its heart, Jobs Theory explains why customers pull certain products and services into their lives: they do this to resolve highly important, unsatisfied jobs that arise. And this, in turn, explains why some innovations are successful and others are not.
Jobs Theory not only provides a powerful guide for innovation, but also frames competition in a way that allows for real differentiation and long-term competitive advantage, provides a common language for organizations to understand customer behavior, and even enables leaders to articulate their company’s purpose with greater precision.
Progress, Not Products
While many in the business world associate the word “theory” with something purely academic or abstract, nothing could be further from the truth. Theories that explain causality are among the most important and practical tools business leaders can have.
The field of innovation is in need of better theory, especially for the foundational question “What causes a customer to purchase and use a particular product or service?”
Jobs Theory answers this question by asserting that customers purchase and use (or “hire” in our jobs metaphor) products and services to satisfy jobs that arise in their lives. A job is defined as the progress that a customer desires to make in a particular circumstance.
This definition is specific and important: Fully understanding a customer’s job requires understanding the progress a customer is trying to make in particular circumstances and understanding all of its functional, social, and emotional dimensions—as well as the tradeoffs the customer is willing to make.
Once you understand the customer’s Job to Be Done, it brings into sharp relief the true competition you face to be hired. This provides critical information for how to innovate to make your solution more attractive than any competitor’s.
Jobs in the Wild
Organizations that lack clarity on what the real jobs their customers hire them to do can fall into the trap of providing one-size-fits-all solutions that ultimately satisfy no one.
Deeply understanding jobs opens up new avenues for growth and innovation by bringing into focus distinct “jobs-based” segments—including groups of “nonconsumers” for which an acceptable solution does not currently exist. They choose to hire nothing, rather than something that does the job poorly. Nonconsumption has the potential to provide a very, very big opportunity.
Seeing your customers through a jobs lens highlights the real competition you face, which often extends well beyond your traditional rivals.
Jobs Theory provides a clear guide for successful innovation because it enables a full, comprehensive insight into all the information you need to create solutions that perfectly nail the job.
There are many ways to develop a deep understanding of the job, including traditional market research techniques. While it’s helpful to develop a “job hunting” strategy, what matters most is not the specific techniques you use, but the questions you ask in applying them and how you piece the resulting information together.
A valuable source of jobs insights is your own life. Our lives are very articulate and our own experiences offer fertile ground for uncovering Jobs to Be Done. Some of the most successful innovations in history have derived from the experiences and introspection of individuals.
While most companies spend the bulk of their market research efforts trying to better understand their current customers, important insights about jobs can often be gathered by studying people who are not buying your products—or anyone else’s—a group we call nonconsumers.
If you observe people employing a workaround or “compensating behavior” to get a job done, pay close attention. It’s usually a clue that you have stumbled on to a high-potential innovation opportunity, because the job is so important and they are so frustrated that they are literally inventing their own solution.
Closely studying how customers use your products often yields important insights into the jobs, especially if they are using them in unusual and unexpected ways.
Most companies focus disproportionately on the functional dimensions of their customers’ jobs; but you should pay equally close attention to uncovering the emotional and social dimensions, as addressing all three dimensions is critical to your solution nailing the job.
How to Hear What Your Customers Don’t Say
Deeply understanding a customer’s real Job to Be Done can be challenging in practice. Customers are often unable to articulate what they want; even when they do describe what they want, their actions often tell a completely different story.
Seemingly objective data about customer behavior is often misleading, as it focuses exclusively on the Big Hire (when the customer actually buys a product) and neglects the Little Hire (when the customer actually uses it). The Big Hire might suggest that a product has solved a customer’s job, but only a consistent series of Little Hires can confirm it.
Before a customer hires any new product, you have to understand what he’ll need to fire in order to hire yours. Companies don’t think about this enough. Something always needs to get fired.
Hearing what a customer can’t say requires careful observation of and interactions with customers, all carried out while maintaining a “beginner’s mind.” This mindset helps you to avoid ingoing assumptions that could prematurely filter out critical information.
Developing a full understanding of the job can be done by assembling a kind of storyboard that describes in rich detail the customer’s circumstances, moments of struggle, imperfect experiences, and corresponding frustrations.
As part of your storyboard, it’s critically important to understand the forces that compel change to a new solution, including the “push” of the unsatisfied job itself and the “pull” of the new solution.
It is also critical to understand the forces opposing any change, including the inertia caused by current habits and the anxiety about the new.
If the forces opposing change are strong, you can often innovate the experiences you provide in a way that mitigates them, for example by creating experiences that minimize the anxiety of moving to something new.
Building Your Résumé
After you’ve fully understood a customer’s job, the next step is to develop a solution that perfectly solves it. And because a job has a richness and complexity to it, your solution must, too. The specific details of the job, and the corresponding details of your solution, are critically important to ensure a successful innovation.
You can capture the relevant details of the job in a job spec, which includes the functional, emotional, and social dimensions that define the desired progress; the tradeoffs the customer is willing to make; the full set of competing solutions that must be beaten; and the obstacles and anxieties that must be overcome. The job spec becomes the blueprint that translates all the richness and complexity of the job into an actionable guide for innovation.
Complete solutions to jobs must include not only your core product or service, but also carefully designed experiences of purchase and use that overcome any obstacles a customer might face in hiring your solution and firing another. This means that ultimately all successful solutions to jobs can be thought of as services, even for product companies.
If you can successfully nail the job, over time you can transform your company’s brand into a purpose brand, one that customers automatically associate with the successful resolution of their most important jobs. A purpose brand provides a clear guide to the outside world as to what your company represents and a clear guide to your employees that can guide their decisions and behavior.
Integrating Around a Job
the key to successful innovation is to create and deliver the set of experiences corresponding to your customer’s job spec. To do this consistently, a company needs to develop and integrate the right set of processes that deliver these experiences. Doing so can yield a powerful source of competitive advantage that is very difficult for others to copy.
Despite the value of developing a set of processes integrated around the customer’s job, it does not come naturally to most companies. Processes abound in all companies, of course, but in most cases they are aimed at improving efficiency or achieving a narrow outcome within a specific function. Delivering a complete set of experiences to nail the job usually requires that new processes be deliberately defined, and new mechanisms put in place to coordinate functions that are usually siloed.
A powerful lever to drive job-centric process development and integration is to measure and manage to new metrics aligned with nailing the customer’s job. Managers should ask what elements of the experience are the most critical to the customer, and define metrics that track performance against them.
Most organizations do not have one person who is the “steward” ensuring the company consistently delivers against the customer’s job. Traditional organizational structures and siloes do have value and are likely to endure, and large-scale reorgs are not usually practical. Therefore, the best way to move toward a more jobs-centric organization is to carefully set up and integrate the right processes, measure the right things, and over time embed jobs centricity in the culture.
How you solve for a customer’s job will inevitably change over time; you need to build in flexibility to your processes, to allow them to continuously adapt and improve the experiences you deliver.
Keeping Your Eye on the Job
The origin story of most companies typically involves an entrepreneur identifying an important job that does not have an existing satisfactory solution, and developing a creative way to solve it.
As a company grows up, however, it’s very common for it to lose focus on the job that sparked its existence in the first place. Despite the best intentions and a century of marketing wisdom, companies start to act as if their business is defined by the products and services they sell (“quarter-inch drills”) instead of the jobs that they solve (“quarter-inch holes”).
While there are many drivers of this drift away from the true north of the customer’s job, foremost among them is the tendency of managers to fall prey to the Three Fallacies of Innovation Data:
The Fallacy of Active Data Versus Passive Data: Instead of staying cognizant of and focused on the type of data that characterizes the rich complexity of the job (passive data), growing companies start to generate operations-related data (active data), which can seduce managers with its apparent objectivity and rigor but which tends to organize itself around products and customer characteristics, rather than Jobs to Be Done.
The Fallacy of Surface Growth: As companies make big investments in customer relationships, they focus their energies on driving growth through selling additional products to those customers or solving a broader set of their jobs, what we call surface growth—as opposed to staying focused on solving the core job better.
The Fallacy of Conforming Data: Managers focus on generating data that conforms to their preexisting business models.
Awareness of these fallacies is the first step toward preventing them from taking over innovation in a company, but doing so on an ongoing basis requires constant vigilance and intervention.
The Jobs-Focused Organization
Understanding the most important jobs your company solves for customers can be translated into a rallying cry that aligns individuals across the organization behind a common purpose and functions as an enduring innovation North Star.
In contrast to the usually generic nature of most companies’ mission statements, a well-crafted statement of the jobs a company exists to solve can be both inspiring and practical.
An organization explicitly focused on a clearly defined job enjoys four key benefits:
- Distributed decision making: Employees throughout the organization are empowered to make good decisions that align with the job, and to be autonomous and innovative.
- Resource optimization: The jobs focus shines a light on which resources are aligned against what matters most and which are not, and enables them to be rebalanced accordingly.
- Inspiration: Solving a customer’s job is inherently inspiring to individuals in an organization, as it enables them to see how their work enables real people to make progress in their lives.
- Better measurement: With a focus on the job, people will naturally seek to measure and manage to more customer-centric metrics.
Finding the right way to articulate the job your company is in business to solve—and driving this deeply into your culture—can be difficult and takes real work, but the benefits are worth it.