Exactly what jobs will self-driving cars satisfy?

On Twitter, I made this observation about the future of self-driving cars:

A moment later, Megan Panatier made this skeptical counterpoint:

This is a great example where it pays to consider the jobs-to-be-done. Self-driving is in the realm of experimentation right now. There’s no hindsight of how obviously this was going to be a success. Self-driving vehicles could end up being the next Segway. An interesting technology that never catches on.

Image via Engadget

How can we begin to know self-driving cars’ fate? Do some outside-in market analysis. Understand what jobs-to-be-done relate to the act of commuting. Know those, and you can determine what opportunities exist for self-driving cars.

To that end, here are four relevant jobs-to-be-done that I see:

  1. I want to get from point A to point B
  2. I want to get work done
  3. I want to improve the environment
  4. I want to enjoy my personal interests

Where can self-driving help? Know that, and you can see how it will fare in the future. In the analysis that follows, self-driving is compared to two common alternatives: regular, manually driven cars; and public transit like buses and trains. Concepts from the Strategyn jobs-to-be-done innovation approach are used to assess the alternatives: outcomes and satisfaction with those outcomes. While a typical job has 50 – 150 outcomes, we’ll focus on a few summary level outcomes here.

Job #1: Point A to Point B

This is the core job of driving. Getting from one place to another. What’s key here is understanding the important outcomes that are desired for this job. The table below shows outcomes for this job, and how well satisfied they are for different transit alternatives.

Outcomes Regular car Bus & train Self-driving
Minimize commute time Satisfaction - medium  Satisfaction - low Satisfaction - medium
Minimize accident risk  Satisfaction - medium  Satisfaction - high  Satisfaction - high
Minimize commute stress  Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - high Satisfaction - high
Increase driving enjoyment  Satisfaction - high  Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - low

Reviewing the desired outcomes, where might self-driving vehicles provide an advantage? It’s dependent on how the different alternatives are considered. For instance, self-driving vehicles will not provide better commute times than manually-driven cars. But they are better than what buses and trains provide. Buses and trains are bound by set routes and schedules. These inject delays in commute times. Cars generally have an advantage here because of their direct door-to-door operation.

But self-driving vehicles do provide improvements over regular cars on two other outcomes: accident risk and commute stress. A great opportunity in ‘accident reduction’ applies to driving under the influence of alcohol. Self-driving cars will get you home safely. In this sense, they are more akin to what Megan Panatier tweeted. They’re like trains.

Taking those three outcomes together, it becomes clearer that self-driving vehicles will provide greater satisfaction on the Point A to Point B job-to-be-done.

There is one outcome where self-driving cars are a step backwards: driving enjoyment. Think about those commercials with high performance vehicles speedily taking curves on beautiful rural roads. The high performance manually driven car market will still be intact even in a world of self-driving vehicles. People will want that visceral pleasure.

Job #2: Get work done

A recent survey sponsored by Jive Software highlighted that people are working outside office hours more and more. While the causes of this vary, the result is that this has become an important job-to-be-done for many. Let’s look at the key outcomes for this job.

Outcomes Regular car Bus & train Self-driving
Increase digital work completed  Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - medium Satisfaction - high
Increase availability for conference calls  Satisfaction - medium  Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - high
Minimize distractions  Satisfaction - medium Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - high

Self-driving vehicles really shine in this job-to-be-done. They essentially become traveling offices. Fewer distractions and the ability to focus on the work tasks at hand.

The other advantage is better availability for conference calls. Ever tried to be on a work call while driving? Your focus is diverted by driving issues. And you really don’t want to be one of those people who loudly talks on the phone while commuting on a bus or train. When a conference call includes a shared screen, you can participate on that via the self-driving vehicle vs. driving a car.

Getting work done is one of those jobs that you might not associate with commuting. But self-driving opens up the ability to better satisfy this longstanding job.

Job #3: Improve the environment

Improving the environment continues to be an important job-to-be-done for a majority of Americans, and the world. And driving is a critical aspect of environmental impact. Two outcomes are assessed for this job below.

Outcomes Regular car Bus & train Self-driving
Reduce emissions  Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - high Satisfaction - low
Reduce fossil fuel consumption  Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - high  Satisfaction - low

When self-driving vehicles are considered as replacements for trains and buses, it’s possible that environmental benefits may be conflated between the two alternatives. Public transit is often touted for its environmental benefits.

But self-driving cars are not public transit. They will still have the same environmental impact of regular cars. Now, as automakers continue to improve the environmental impact of vehicles (electric vehicles, hybrids), then self-driving cars will follow the same improvement curve as regular cars.

However, self-driving vehicles provide no improvement on satisfaction for the key outcomes of the environmental improvement job. Indeed, to the extent they replace public transit (bus, train), they could contribute to increased environmental issues.

Job #4: Enjoy personal interests

Enjoying personal interests is a job that we do everywhere. Read in bed. Crochet during a television program. Engage in physical activity. Video gaming. There are numerous individual jobs-to-be-done here, but we’ll lump them into a summary job for this analysis. Below are two outcomes for this job-to-be-done.

Outcomes Regular car Bus & train Self-driving
Increase time spent on activity  Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - high  Satisfaction - high
Minimize distractions  Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - low  Satisfaction - high

Similar to the ‘get work done’ job, this job is well served by self-driving cars. Regular cars really prevent the ability to enjoy a range of personal interests, due to the majority of time spent on…actually driving.

The individually controlled environment of a self-driving car also facilitates more engagement in personal interests. No competing phone calls, loud conversations, crowded space.

Self-driving vehicles will be fantastic for this job-to-be-done.


Based on analyzing the jobs-to-be-done, two conclusions can be drawn about self-driving vehicles.

Target market: urban areas. The jobs and outcomes outlined herein point to a better fit of self-driving vehicles to urban areas and the surrounding suburbs. People have longer, more stressful commutes than in rural and lower population areas. They also tend to have professional employment where digital work and conference calls are more the norm.

Urban areas do not lend themselves to driving enjoyment. Hard to take those curves when there are red lights, sharp corners and lots of traffic around you. So the ‘increase driving enjoyment’ outcome – a weakness of self-driving – is less relevant in these geographies.

Future design. The current look of a self-driving vehicle is essentially that of a regular car. And why not? The technology is being tested and iterated. No need to adjust a car while the technology is on that stage.

Eventually, self-driving technology will be perfected and be ready for broader adoption. Then the jobs and outcomes outlined herein become more relevant. What we currently know for car interiors and shapes will most certainly change. The basis of design changes from optimizing the driving experience (the outcomes) to optimizing for other jobs-to-be-done. One can imagine basic manual override driving capability for vehicles as a back-up in case the self-driving technology fails.

But the focus of design changes. Vehicles will be optimized for existing jobs-to-be-done that can now be newly satisfied via the self-driving technology. And new internal accessories will be developed to take advantage of this expansion of the market through increased jobs-to-be-done. Like a little exercise during the commute? How about a modified stationary bike inside your car?

Self-driving vehicles will be a source of significant new market opportunities.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.