Jobs to Be Done, The Secret Sauce Behind Great Ideas

October 1st, 2017

The Garage Group specializes in codifying startup principles for corporates. We love rolling up our sleeves and figuring out how to leverage emerging thinking along with tried and true methods on each of our projects. Increasingly, we’ve been using foundational Jobs to Be Done theory to ensure the innovation that we’re leading is powerful and resonates with consumers (because who needs more irrelevant innovation?!).

We’re not engineers…so what does Jobs to be Done theory have to do with engineering? It was actually born out of a meeting in six sigma process improvement when Anthony Ulwick realized that corporations should be studying the process people are trying to execute when using a product, rather than making improvements to the product itself.

You’ve probably heard that classic line, “People don’t want to buy a 1/4 inch drill, they want a 1/4 inch hole!” Jobs to be Done theory is just that; consumers aren’t looking to merely purchase a product or service, they are looking to “hire” a product to get a job done and fulfill a desired outcome, which in turn requires a current solution to be “fired.” Clayton Christensen later popularized the idea through his Harvard platform; you can check out one of our favorite recent JTBD case studies featured in HBR here which discusses McDonald’s milkshake.

The reason why most new products fail in market isn’t because they’re a bunch of bad ideas. In fact, they might have been great ideas. But as ideation worksessions become increasingly commonplace within companies big and small, innovation teams run the risk of assuming that a larger number of creative ideas will solve growth challenges…even without fully understanding the consumers’ needs. Unfortunately, a higher number of “good ideas” that don’t fully meet consumers’ needs is just invention, not innovation.

Unfortunately, a higher number of “good ideas” that don’t fully meet consumers’ needs is just invention, not innovation.

What we love about Jobs to Be Done is that it takes the guesswork out of why an innovation is successful in market vs. why it’s not. When a product or service expertly connects the consumer pain points and unmet needs to their desired outcome for that job, and then delivers better than the current solution for the same price (or less), there’s a high likelihood the product will be successful in market. In fact, according to Ulwick’s research, product or service ideas using Jobs to Be Done Theory have a success rate of 86% compared to a success rate of 17% using traditional ideation methods.

It’s not as simple as walking up to consumers and asking, “what Job is this fulfilling for you?”, though. We’ve found that it takes some intentional research design, some dot connecting, and even some practice translating pain points into “jobs” in order to put the full Job to Be Done consumer story together. At The Garage Group, we go about this using a number of qualitative research methods such as Digital Ethnography, In-Person interviews, team-led “missions,” and Social Media Ethnography.

Once consumer needs have been fully flushed out, pain points have been transferred into Jobs to Be Done, and new concepts have been built to better deliver against them, it’s great to do a check-in with the target audience to see if the new concept actually delivers better on the Job, warranting them “hiring” the new concept.

Two practical questions to ask about new concepts:

  1. What situations would you picture using this in? (Does it match the Job situation it was designed for?)
  2. Would you purchase this in addition to what you’re already buying, or would this be a replacement? (Did they see enough merit in the new product to fire the old one? Or, is this incremental growth?

Whether you’re using the full Jobs to Be Done framework or using it as a lens to push your team to drive more consumer-relevant innovation, Jobs to Be Done thinking is a valuable principle to explore across all industries.

Want more JTBD resources? This interview script from Alan Klement breaks a Jobs to Be Done Interview down into more granularity.

The Garage Group helps corporate teams and brands innovate and grow like startups.

Explore More