On the Utility of Thinking in Terms of Jobs-to-Be-Done

Cottonball clouds In a recent post examining the future of retail, I used the jobs-to-be-done approach to break down the industry. And I’ve been using it more in other ways. It’s quite useful as a basis for innovation.

The premise of the jobs-to-be-done approach is that it provides a much better basis for innovation. The focus is on unmet needs of customers. Compare this to asking wide open, pie-in-the-sky types of questions.

I thought about this when I saw this question posted on Quora:

What currently nonexistent websites would you want to be created?

Wow. Talk about an open ended question. I don’t know about you, but that question doesn’t help me. I get brain freeze. I need a prompt to come up with something. Wide open questions like that are somewhat divorced from what people actually need. And will generate a lot of ideas off the mark, or none because it’s too divorced from what people are thinking about (although one guy has an idea there).

Now I’ll describe a different situation. For Spigit, I often find myself needing to come up with a new idea to show off the system functionality. If I used that question from Quora, I’d find myself straining to generate ideas that pass the smell test.

So instead, I’ve been using the jobs-to-be-done framework. I think of my own jobs-to-be-done. Here’s one I actually used to come up with an idea for a client demo:

When I’m traveling with my family on vacation, I want to keep the kids entertained happily the entire trip.

From this job-to-be-done, I came up with an idea for a long haul family SUV (or could be a minivan). It’d have storage for games, and a flat surface for playing them. A refrigeration unit on board to keep beverages and food fresh. Multimedia for videos, music and games. It would take some design genius to develop. But it’s a vehicle I’d actually take a good look at.

[tweetmeme source = “bhc3”]

And that’s the point. The jobs-to-be-done approach is incredibly useful for generating ideas that are relevant and actually have potential. You’re plumbing the depths of what people really feel and what they actually want to accomplish. A powerful head start on innovating.

OK, let’s take this one out with a little Holiday Road.


About Hutch Carpenter
Chief Scientist Revolution Credit

4 Responses to On the Utility of Thinking in Terms of Jobs-to-Be-Done

  1. Pingback: On the Utility of Thinking in Terms of Jobs-to-Be-Done « Serve4Impact

  2. mdf2u says:

    This is a great post, Hutch. It speaks to the power of describing needs and benefits as inspiration for ideation and problem solving. It also is a potent reminder that selling design and technical features without intrinsically linking these to user wants/needs is inherently less persuasive to customers (internal or otherwise).


    • Thanks Michael. That’s my thought as well. Before you go down the ideation path, understand customers’ jobs first. We think we know, but it’s actually not always clear what they’re want to get done, and the relative importance of different jobs.

  3. Alec Maki says:

    Jobs-to-be-done is a nice framework to think through needs and identify potential opportunities. The challenge is in deciding which are the right to pursue. As with most approaches to innovation, jobs-to-be-done fails to provide robust decision metrics at the front end. The approach is a step up from common “need state” or product-feature driven approaches, but it still lacks solid quantification to make robust decisions. The “opportunity algorithm” commonly associated with jobs/outcomes (which combines importance and satisfaction) is an okay proxy — but fails to provide any semblance of market size.

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