The Jobs to Be Done Innovation and the Getting of Wisdom

People hire products/services to do a job as they struggle to progress in their lives and herein lies the opportunity to disrupt established markets and build exciting new value propositions (Clayton Christensen et al.). As a research practitioner digging for the best articulation of a Jobs to Be Done insight, I too have struggled at times to gain its wisdom. From what I read, I’m not alone.

In a series of blogs on the Inside Story site, I will address several challenges for the research practitioner, including:

You say you want a Jobs to Be Done analysis, but which JTBD construct are you thinking of?

You say you want a Jobs to Be Done (JTBD) analysis, but what construct are you thinking of?

Several people seem to lay claim to having popularised the JTBD approach.  Tony Ulwick (Strategyn) and Clayton Christensen et al. (Competing Against Luck following The Innovators Dilemma) are two key players. As with quite a few game-changing ideas, the body of knowledge is ripe for some ideas to develop amongst several people.

The challenge is that each of the Jobs to Be Done conceptualisations are meaningfully different—each with merits.  My perspective is that Tony Ulwick (Strategyn) seems to come from a process engineering viewpoint focusing on functional job features and processes to develop a specification that can be taken more directly to R&D.  His claimed success rate in innovation is impressive. The Strategyn approach is comprehensive to say the least. In the book “Jobs to be Done: Theory to Practice,” Tony Ulwick outlines an 84-step process that his ODI practitioners use in client assignments. His approach seems to be closest to Peter Drucker’s ‘job to be done,’ originated in 1985 who says the primary task in innovation and entrepreneurship lies in perfecting an existing process, replacing a weak link, redesigning a current outdated process.

I’m inclined towards the circumstance and need-led approach advocated by Clayton Christensen et al., perhaps in line with my skill set and experience. My interest lies in value proposition development. In my view, the functional specification should be the next step after the opportunity is specified in terms of human needs and life circumstances. In my opinion, a later step is to translate these into an optimised set of functional product benefits and features according to a company’s capabilities, the competitive forces, and tastes of the times.

Putting more functional preferences first is to me like putting the horse before the cart. Functional specifications alone don’t enable a company to sufficiently empathise with the product experience to build appropriate experiences, connect emotionally with prospects through communications, and build in the emotional aspects of product design. Just as human insight alone is insufficient to brief R&D, both components are essential.

A dilemma is that on the one hand, you have Tony Ulwick’s approach, fully structured and quantitative with around an exhaustive set of items, and the Clayton Christensen camp, which follows a qualitative loosely structured approach.

Is there a more balanced approach?

Whatever direction you decide to take, the struggle for JTBD insight is worth it! The wisdom is gold.

Please contact the Liane Ringham CEO of Inside Story at for more about Jobs to Be Done and Value Proposition Design. See along Inside Story blog.

In future Jobs to be Done blogs we will be covering, for example:

How do you get potential customers (non-customers) to better articulate the jobs they hire products/services to do as they struggle to progress in their lives (Clayton Christensen et al.)?

Can you get good insights without using switcher interviews?  Do we have to select an existing product or service to explore the purchase process and use? When innovations are often cross-category, why not start with people’s lives?