JTBD (Jobs To Be Done) – An Intro

Jobs to be Done is a way of thinking about products and services. Using JTBD as a way of thinking brings a different perspective that helps us:

  1. Avoid building things that no one wants.
  2. Understand at a deeper level what a product needs to do
  3. Reveal why and how people choose a product or service

It’s a useful “Framing” of the problem space, and way to “Focus” what we do and how we learn about what we do.

Imagine you’re a Product Manager and while having a shower you have a genius idea for a new product. What is the probability/likelihood of that idea becoming a successful product?

Well, a study in 1997 by Stevens and Burley looked at project literature, patent literature/experience, and data from venture capital. Their research reported that the ratio was between 0.008% (Low estimate) up to 0.059% (High Estimate). It’s of course different for different industries. For pharmaceuticals, it’s as high as 9000:1. For mature companies launching additional adjacent products (e.g. extending a product line), it’s a bit lower, but the middle ground, looking across different industries was 0.033%: 1 in 3000.

What we envisage looks like this. You’ve lined it all up, built it, done all the work. And you’re excited about launching. It’s gonna be great!

You’ve done all the thinking. You’re hoping for a nice, smooth launch, popular product, that everyone loves. You hit go, and…

Not quite what you were hoping for. Products that don’t satisfy the JTBD go a bit like this. “Agile” and “Lean Startup” might help you get here more quickly, but they can’t tell you why it didn’t go well.JTBD at least gives you some theory and insight into why.

Most of us probably aren’t working on brand new products though. More likely we are working on making improvements to existing products, right? What does Jobs To Be Done have for us? Well, quite a lot, actually. The reason is that there is a second category of product failure that Jobs To Be Done can help us avoid. Disruption.

Disruption of course has become one of those buzzwords that’s become so overused that it’s almost meaningless, but back when Clayton Christensen wrote “The Innovator’s Dilemma” it actually meant something quite specific. Something that is relevant for those of us seeking to improve our products. It was rooted in “over serving” the Job To Be Done. The gif form of over serving looks a bit like this:


An example might help in understanding JTBD

Advanced Photo System, or “APS”, is one of my favourite examples of “overserving”. Launched in 1996, Kodak listened to its customers and gave them a bunch of things they wanted, improving existing parameters of performance a number of ways:

  • New features, like High Def. and Panoramic shots.
  • An easier way to load film. 
  • A more compact and secure way of storing negatives.

APS was an attempt at a major upgrade of photographic technology aimed at amateurs, giving them professional features and taking away a bunch of easily observed pain points.

But of course, in only a few short years APS was dead, completely overtaken by an initially inferior product: Digital Photography. It’s the fact that the new technology is initially inferior that makes it what Christensen termed “disruptive innovation”.

Next: JTBD Lesson #1: Focus on the higher purpose

Want more on JTBD? Here’s 5 lessons you can get from Jobs to be Done (JTBD):

JTBD Lesson #1: Focus on the higher purpose

JTBD Lesson #2: The JTBD doesn’t change. The product we hire does.

JTBD Lesson #3: Beware of Overserving

JTBD Lesson #4: Segment by JTBD

JTBD Lesson #5:

(Above will get updated with links as they are published!)

Previous Posts on Jobs to be Done:

Health Tracking Jobs to be Done

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