Jobs to Be Done, Milkshakes, and Online Learning

Ameet Ranadive
Dec 16, 2016 · 10 min read

The Job to Be Done for milkshakes

The canonical example that Christensen uses to illustrate Jobs Theory is a milkshake. Upon first thinking about the milkshake product category, you might think that customers are buying milkshakes because they’re hungry, they like the flavor, they like the consistency. And if you asked customers if they would like bigger milkshakes that made them feel full, or milkshakes with new flavors (like root beer or orange), or thicker milkshakes — the answer to all of these questions might be “yes.” However, you could modify the milkshake to meet what you think their needs are, only to find that this doesn’t cause customers to buy more milkshakes.

Understanding the Job to Be Done

So how do you define a Job to Be Done? Christensen writes:

The Job to Be Done for online learning

In Competing Against Luck, Christiansen shared the experience of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) as they used the Jobs to Be Done process. SNHU was a relatively slow-growth university in the northeastern US. In the early 2000s, they were primarily focused on serving the needs of full-time, in-person college students — the typical 18–22 year-olds who attend college right after high school graduation. They had an online learning program, but that was really a small part of their operations and was treated like a side project.

Key take-aways from the Jobs to Be Done process

Christensen’s book Competing Against Luck is filled with a number of important insights. Here are some of my key take-aways from his discussion on Jobs to Be Done.

  • If you segment customers by demographics or buyer characteristics, you miss the insights on why they hire a particular product. Similarly, if you segment by product characteristics or features, you miss the same insights. Instead, segment customers by the Job to Be Done. You will find that the Job to Be Done can extend across various buyer characteristics or product categories.
  • In order to determine the Job to Be Done, you have to understand the progress that the customer is trying to make in a particular circumstance.
  • To understand the progress that the customer is trying to achieve, ask what problem they are trying to solve, what situation they are trying to improve, what goal they want to achieve.
  • To understand the circumstance, learn more about the context when they hired the product. Who were they with, what were they doing before/after, etc.? Consider the social and emotional context, in addition to the functional.
  • Jobs to Be Done insights are qualitative, more than quantitative. They require us to synthesize findings from interviews and observations into a coherent story — a mini-documentary.
  • Jobs insights are multifaceted and complex. Chances are, if you have nailed a Job to Be Done, you have created an end-to-end experience for your customer — not just built a product. SNHU redesigned the overall experience for their online learning program, from the response time to an inquiry, to the decision on financial aid, to the assignment of a personal adviser.
  • When you segment your customers by Job to Be Done, you may identify other competitors that are not even within your formal product category. Pay attention to these indirect competitors (or substitutes). For example, milkshakes competed with doughnuts and bagels. SNHU competed with online for-profit universities like University of Phoenix.
  • Some of the best business opportunities exist when the competitor for your Job to Be Done is nothing. This is how you create a new product category, or disrupt existing product categories by bringing in a large new market of customers.

PM Insights

A collection of posts that contain lessons learned from my time as a product manager.

Ameet Ranadive

Written by

Entrepreneur. Product management @ Instagram.

PM Insights

A collection of posts that contain lessons learned from my time as a product manager.