February 1

What Is Jobs To Be Done Framework & How To Apply JTBD

When you work on a product as a product manager, there are a variety of techniques you can use to decide what you’re going to build.

You could make your decisions based on the features you think your problem should have, or your can base your decisions based on what will meet your customers’ needs.

The Jobs-to-be-done frameworks provides a guide for understanding customer behavior so that you can satisfy your customer’s needs.

What is the jobs to be done (JTBD) framework?

The JTBD framework is a methodology your product team can use to structure product discovery and market research to identify outcomes and problems rather than features and solutions. JTBD helps your product team discover what people are trying to accomplish – the “jobs” they are trying to get done.

When you use the JTBD framework, you seek to understand customer needs based on what progress they are trying to make in their lives-their desired outcomes. Contrast that with using personas, where you try to understand customers by looking at demographics and correlations.

The JTBD framework is a practical application of jobs-to-be-done theory.

What is the Jobs-to-be-Done theory?

Simply stated, the theory of jobs-to-be-done is “customers want to make progress in their lives and they hire products to help them get that job done.”

JTBD theory helps you better understand customer behavior by exposing the functional, social, and emotional factors that cause customers to make their choices.

You can use this understanding of customer choices to develop new products and improve the customer experience on existing products.

Four fundamentals of the jobs-to-be-done innovation theory

Jobs-to-be-Done is a complicated concept, so it’s helpful to understand the following fundamentals of JTBD theory that make the JTBD framework work.

People buy products and services to get a “job” done

People have problems they are trying to solve and things they are trying to accomplish. In the product management world, these are often referred to as outcomes and according to jobs-to-be-done theory, those are the customer’s jobs.

As a product manager, you’re interested in these jobs because customers look to “hire” a product or service to get their jobs done. The job describes what the customer is trying to accomplish, not the solution that they use to accomplish it.

Jobs are functional with emotional and social components

At first glance, the definition of jobs as things people want to accomplish may make them seem purely functional. But job-to-be-done are also concerned about emotional and social components which explain why people are trying to accomplish a specific job.

When you dig into these emotional and social components, you’ll pick up the language customers use to describe their unmet needs. When you can describe your value proposition using your customer’s words that improves your go to market message.

A Job-to-be-Done is stable over time

What someone trys to accomplish stays pretty consistent over time. How they try to accomplish that job changes as they become aware of new and different products.

Because the jobs stay stable over time, understanding the job customers are trying to get done is a good way to describe value which you can then use to make decisions about your product.

It also provides a language you can use to market your product to help people realize how your product helps them get their jobs done.

The Job is the unit of analysis

The JTBD framework places the focus of discovery on your customers want to accomplish in a given circumstance-the job-rather than your product or your customer’s characteristcs.

Use your understanding of customer jobs to define customer needs and create the metrics you use to measure progress and success.

When you focus on customer jobs, you fall in love with the problem rather than the solution. That improves the chances that your product design addresses customer’s needs rather than blindly delivering functionality that adds limited value.

What is the origin of the Jobs-to-be-Done Framework?

Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen introduced JTBD theory concepts when he explored disruptive innovation in his books “The Innovator’s Dilemma” (1998) and “The Innovator’s Solution” (2003).

In the Innovator’s Solution, Christensen credited Rick Pedi, the CEO at Gage Foods, with coining the term job to be done.

According to Andrea F Hill, there are two perspectives on how practically apply JTBD Theory.

Bob Moesta and Chris Spiek with the Rewired group expanded JTBD Theory when they introduced the Switch Interview technique. The Switch interview technique helps product managers gather insights into why a customer shops and buys.

Tony Ulwick, founder and CEO of Strategyn developed the Outcome-Driven-Innovation (ODI) process in the early 90’s. After Christensen introduced JTBD Theory, Ulwick described ODI as a way to apply the theory In his 2016 book “Jobs to be Done: Theory to Practice

How does the JTBD framework apply to the product development process?

The JTBD framework is helpful in a couple of ways in the product development process. You can use it to structure your customer interviews and to identify customer outcomes.

Looking at customer interviews through a jobs lens helps you to clarify what you’re hoping to get out of the interviews, who you should interview, and how to conduct those interviews.

When you’re working on a new product, ask people who you want to help solve a problem to tell you about the last time they faced the situation you want to address.

When you’re working on an existing product, ask new customers to talk about why they bought your product, or customers who stopped using your product to describe when they decided to stop using your product.

In both of these cases, you talk to people to understand the jobs they’re trying to accomplish. Those jobs represent customer outcomes. If you’re working on a new product, you want to know what your product should help customers accomplish. If you’re working on an existing product, you’re finding out how to help customers reach those outcomes more effectively.

How do we use jobs-to-be-done?

Sunita Mohanty, suggests this approach to using the JTBD framework:

First, create with an outcome statement that captures the underlying motivations, triggers and context for the problems your user faces. Sunita likes to use this structure: When I……[context] But…… [barrier] Help me…. [goal] So I….. [outcome]. For example, an outcome statement for Peloton might be “When I need an option to workout, but I can’t go to my favorite studio, help me to get a convenient and inspiring indoor workout, so I can feel my best for myself and my family.

Second, define your potential customers clearly. Identify the defining characteristics of the people you will serve so that you gather information from the right people. This is where personas are complimentary to a JTBD approach.

Third, research your potential customer’s behavior. Find out what they currently use to solve a specific problem and what issues they run into with their customer experience. You want to understand the products that they currently “hire” or “fire” to accomplish their job and why.

Fourth, use interviews and surveys to get insight into your customer’s mindset and decision process related to your product. You want to understand:

  • What they hope to accomplish and why
  • What prevents them from accomplishing their job
  • What they currently do to get the job done.

Finally, look for the themes that emerge in terms of jobs that people are trying to get done. Then, focus on the jobs that most of your potential customers are trying to accomplish and where good solutions don’t currently exist.

What are some example applications of JTBD?

The jobs-to-be-done model works in a variety of different situations. Here are some examples.

Why do people drink milkshakes for breakfast?

Clay Christensen told the story of research on milkshake consumption to describe the JTBD framework. A fast food chain wanted to improve their milkshake sales. They started by spending months asking customers questions about their milkshakes but found they didn’t get any helpful insights.

The chain then hired consultants to help them out. The consultants observed customer’s behavior and took a close look at the milkshake sales data. When the consultants found out that the chain sold several milkshakes in the morning, they focused their interviews to understand why the customers picked milkshakes in the morning and what they were trying to accomplish.

The focus on what customers were trying to accomplish rather than the features of the product drove helpful insights that helped the restaurant improve their milkshake sales.

Why do people buy the house they do?

The Harvard Business Review article Know Your Customers’ “Jobs to Be Done” describes Bob Moesta‘s experience selling houses. 

Moesta was charged with helping bolster sales of new condominiums for a Detroit-area building company. The company had targeted retirees looking to move out of the family home and divorced single parents. Its units were priced to appeal to that segment with high-end touches to give a sense of luxury.

The units got lots of traffic, but few visits ended up converting to sales. Any change that the building company made based on focus group feedback had little impact on sales.

Moesta took a different approach to figuring out what drove sales. He talked to people who bought units and sought to understand the timeline of how they made the decision. He found that there wasn’t a clear demographic profile of new home buyers, nor a common set of features in the house.

He found that the biggest factor that drove the decision to move was anxiety around moving. The building company made changes to decrease the anxiety that surrounded downsizing and saw their sales increase even after they raised their prices.

Why do people use Basecamp?

Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp appeared on JTBD Radio to discuss how Basecamp used the JTBD framework to guide their conversations with customers.

Jason explained that they regularly talked to customers, but JTBD interviews gave them more perspective on the root cause of why people hired Basecamp. Those interviews helped Jason and the folks at Basecamp understand the language that their customers use when talking about basecamp.

For example, Jason was surprise to find out that Basecamp customers rarely used the words “project management” when they described why they used Basecamp.

This understanding helped Jason and his team revise their product marketing to better align with the jobs that potential customers were trying to get done.

Job to be done: 3 pros and cons of JTBD

As with all other techniques there are some definite pros and cons to using the the jobs-to-be-done approach. Let’s take a look.

Jobs-to-be-done pros

The benefit of using JTBD framework comes from the focus it provides. Specifically it helps you to:

  • Align your product team on solving your customer’s problems by placing your focus on addressing outcomes rather than delivering outputs.
  • Avoid building products no one wants by giving you the information you need to pick the right outcomes.
  • Build a strong understanding of your customers by guiding your user research efforts.

Jobs-to-be-done cons

The JTBD framework does have some downside, mostly because it tends to be more theoretical than practical. Three things you need to watch out for include:

  • There are various (conflicting) versions of JTBD. Andrea F. Hill did a good job of describing the two different versions and the attempt of a third version to rewrite history. Read up on the approaches and pick the one that seems to best fit your situation.
  • Your user research results can be too abstract. The purpose of JTBD is to understand what your customers are trying to accomplish so that you can create a product that helps them do that. Don’t get too wrapped up in describing the job “just right”.

Because JTBD places so much emphasis on the product’s ultimate purpose, product teams are tempted to address that ultimate purpose without regard to design aesthetics and overall user experience.

Key Takeaways about JTBD

Even though jobs-to-be-done can seem quite theoretical, it provides a handy framework for building a deep understanding of your customers and what they’re trying to accomplish.

Remember that customers don’t care about your product, they care about what it will do for them. The JTBD framework helps you understand what they need your product to do for them.


Who invented jobs to be done?

Clayton Christensen introduced the jobs-to-be-done theory in his book The Innovator’s Solution. In that book, Christensen credits Rick Pedi, the CEO at Gage Foods, with coining the term job to be done.

Bob Moesta along with partner Chris Spiek founded the ReWired group and created an alternative version of the JTBD framework.

Tony Ulwick, Founder and CEO of consulting firm Strategyn co-opted JTBD theory as the theoretical foundation of his proprietary Outcome Driven Innovation process.

What is a jobs-to-be-done canvas?

The Jobs-to-be-done canvas is a template created by Tony Ulwick and Strategyn to help product teams apply the ODI influenced version of the JTBD framework in their product development efforts.

The canvas provides a blank job map that your team can use to investigate your customer’s job-to be done.

What is the relationship between personas and jobs to be done

Some people view jobs to be done as a replacement for personas. That doesn’t have to be the case. They can be complimentary approaches. You can use personas to group together the people you are trying to serve and then pick people from that group as the subjects of your JTBD interviews.

What are the three dimensions of the jobs to be done?

According to Clay Christensen, there are three dimensions to customers jobs. Those dimensions are:

  • Functional – what do my customers want to accomplish?
  • Emotional – how do my customers feel when doing the job, how do they feel when they aren’t able to complete the job?
  • Social – what effects will completing the job, or failing to complete the job have on those around our customers?

Which companies use jobs to be done?

There are several companies that have used jobs to be done, some of which have described how they have used it. Here are three along with links to a more detailed description of how they used the JTBD approach.

What management theory is jobs to be done?

Jobs-to-be-Done theory is a product development theory based on the idea that you should develop products based on what outcomes your customers seek to accomplish. These outcomes are the jobs they want to get done, hence the name.

Kent J McDonald

About the author

Kent J McDonald writes about and practices software product management. He has product development experience in a variety of industries including financial services, health insurance, nonprofit, and automotive. Kent practices his craft with a variety of product teams and provides just in time resources for product people at KBP.media and Product Collective. When not writing or product managing, Kent is his family’s #ubersherpa, listens to jazz and podcasts (but not necessarily podcasts about jazz), and collects national parks.


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