Jobs to be Done Theory: Basics

Why Before What

I was scrolling at speed through my inherited product backlog — dusting off abandoned user stories, manoeuvring around overgrown bugs and hopping over hunches. I was a new product owner emerging from a design and development career. My previous engineering experience had not prepared me for my new role as much as I thought it had. “What are we working on this sprint?” My impatient software team were staring at me expectantly. I’d become a product owner so I could directly shape and create a product that people loved. But there was no love in this room.

..it’s not about who a user is, it’s about what they want to do.

Of course, we were all asking the wrong question. Instead of asking what we should work on, we needed to ask why. Unfortunately, It took me longer to realise this than I’d like to admit. Instead of talking to customers, I pontificated motivations, invented user personas, and drew imaginary causations from user data.

With little progress to show for my philosophical pseudo-data-science reasoning, I finally heeded my exacerbated designers advice. I purchased Competing Against Luck by Clayton Chrsitonson and started to learn about an oddly named theory called Jobs to be Done.

Suddenly it all made sense. Of course! 🤦‍♂️ It’s not who a user is, it’s what they want to do. It’s about their struggle and pain points, the progress they want to make, the Job to be Done. Finally, I had a way to uncover ‘the why’ so my team could create ‘the what’.

I shared my epiphany with Greg Le Sueur, a product design friend who was travelling a parallel journey to me. Over the next 3 years we tested everything we could find about Jobs to be Done, sharing our success…and failures.

…what if we write a book about Jobs to be Done Theory using Jobs to be Done Theory?

After several years of practising Jobs Theory in our product roles, we decided to compile a book of everything we’d learned. Even better, we thought, what if we borrow Ryan Singer’s method for writing books and use Jobs to be Done Theory and research methods to define the content?

And so here we are. This first article will form part of a Jobs to be Done book — written with the reader’s Job in mind. We’ll interview readers, uncover the Jobs, rework the text, open-source it and take contributions. If we fail, at least we’ll have honed our craft, shared our knowledge and hopefully helped other product teams succeed.

What is Jobs to be Done Theory?

Jobs Theory is a simple but powerful idea. It suggests that the key to creating and marketing a successful product (or service) is to uncover the progress your customer wants to make in a given circumstance. Uncovering why a customer is purchasing and how they hope to progress will guide strong innovation, marketing, and customer experiences.

Take this example of an electric drill. The product is the drill. The use could be drilling a hook into the wall. The progress or ‘Job to be Done’ might be to hang a picture. With this insight, there are many ways to innovate and better solve the ‘hanging a picture’ Job. What about a better drill? A more compact drill for more small jobs around the house? What about hooks that don’t need a drill? What about hanging strips?

When should you use Jobs to be Done?

Jobs Theory is useful in the early stages of research when you are trying to empathise with your customer. When you want to understand what’s pushing them to find a solution and what’s attracting them to a new solution. When you are seeking to uncover their anxieties and habits holding them to existing solutions.

It can be used when defining an overall product strategy or on a smaller scale, inside a customer journey. For example, if a customer is using your software and then changes their interaction with a feature, you can uncover the circumstance of the change and the customer’s Job to be Done. This can help you create a new or improved feature or product marketing strategy.

Why should you use Jobs to be Done?

Jobs Theory doesn’t give you a specific solution, but rather, it points you in the direction of solutions. Once you uncover a Job you can align a whole enterprise to the customer’s desired progress, creating fresh solutions which better serve them. This is because Jobs to be Done has three unique and extremely valuable characteristics.

1. Timeless

First, a Job is stable. It doesn’t change over time. Take for example human communication. Throughout history, the desire to communicate has stayed the same — it’s the means and technology that has changed. We’ve progressed from verbal language to written words. From letters to telegrams. From phones to video chat. From email to instant messaging. We’ve overcome struggles with semiotics and push barriers of distance and dialect, but still, the Job is the same.

2. No geographical boundaries

Second, a job has no geographical boundaries. For example, everybody needs fresh and edible food regularly. To help, humans have created a range of cold storage solutions and preserving methods to keep food. Alternatively, there is a solution to simply buy or collect food daily. The job is the same globally. It’s the cultural, technological and economic bounds of a region that frame solutions.

3. Solution agnostic

This leads to the third characteristic. A job is solution agnostic. Just because customers are hiring a solution today, doesn’t mean you couldn’t create an improved solution tomorrow. Take for example the Job of travelling to work. You can choose to walk, ride a bike, catch a train, drive a car, order a taxi or Uber, and even hire an electric scooter. I would even argue that the rise of working remotely using messaging and video chat is solving the “travelling to work” Job in a new way. The tradeoff of not being in person is often countered by the benefits of working with anyone anywhere anytime. Which means, with the occasional audio echo or pixelated images notwithstanding, you can still receive the full scorn of your team in the comfort of your home if you fail to uncover your customer’s Job.

This article is the first in a series about Jobs to be Done. The article will be combined into an open-source book about Jobs to be Done Theory, written using Jobs to be Done Theory. If you would like to be interviewed or contribute to this book, please direct message us on Twitter @DavidHerse @GregLeSueur

You can learn more about the principle authors David Herse and Greg Lesueur and the JobsToBeDone book project at JobsToBeDone.pro.

We’d like to acknowledge the Jobs to be done industry experts that have contributed their knowledge and resource to the Jobs Theory and helped many entrepreneurs and innovators like us create successful products and service. Bob Moesta, Chris Spiek, Clayton Chrsitonson, Des Traynor, Ryan Singer, and many others. Without your experience and resources, we would not be the successful professionals we have become. Please feel free to correct or guide us where we have misrepresented or misinterpreted the theory.

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Head of Product: fivegoodfriends.com.au. Loves turning ideas into reality to keep the world sustainable, beautiful and liveable for everyone.

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David Herse

David Herse

Head of Product: fivegoodfriends.com.au. Loves turning ideas into reality to keep the world sustainable, beautiful and liveable for everyone.

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