This blog first appeared as Steve Wunker's and Dave Farber's piece for Forbes
By Steve Wunker and Dave Farber
With more and more companies adding "jobs to be done" to their innovation tool kits, the amount of misinformation about Jobs Theory has grown enormously. Clayton Christensen – the Harvard Business School professor credited with popularizing the theory – has repeatedly spoken of the need to get the theory right and to be careful in how we use the terms associated with the theory. If we’re not clear about the boundaries of the theory and how we use words such as “jobs,” he warns, the theory can lose its predictive power and its utility. In the spirit of keeping the theory well-defined, we’ve decided to bust three common myths we’ve heard about "jobs to be done."
Myth #1: "Jobs to be done" is just another way of saying “voice of the customer.”
In recent years, understanding the voice of the customer has become an important concept for businesses. And, in fact, many companies have gotten quite good at hearing what their customers have to say, including what they think about the things they’ve purchased and what they would like to see in future products. "Jobs to be done," however, isn’t about listening to customers talk about what they want. It’s about figuring out why they’ll choose one product over another.
In particular, "jobs to be done" requires looking a level deeper than the customer. It forces you to look at the jobs that people are trying to get done in their lives, as well as the contextual factors that make some jobs more or less important for specific groups of people. While listening to customers is important, understanding what’s going on in their lives reveals so many more avenues for innovation. When customers tell you what they want, they tend to talk about things they’re already familiar with – things the competition is already doing. When you identify where customers are struggling to get jobs done, however, the opportunity to help those customers becomes a lot broader. You’re no longer bound by preconceived notions about what a solution should look like.
Customers are the key to innovation, but they are notoriously bad at articulating the things you’ll need to know to launch a breakthrough innovation. Listen to your customers, for sure. But also observe them, and find ways to understand what they’re struggling to get done and the circumstances in which they find themselves.
Myth #2: Jobs theory isn’t compatible with personas.
We’ve heard a variety of reasons that personas aren’t compatible with "jobs to be done." They make the customer the unit of analysis instead of the job. They encourage you to see things from a persona’s perspective rather than talking to real people. They’re too shallow. They’re based on the wrong variables. The list goes on.
The truth is that personas can be a valuable tool for innovators, as long as they’re used appropriately. Personas are a way to help others empathize with real customers that you can serve. "Jobs to be done" helps you identify where to play and how to win. Which segments of the population are under-served by existing solutions, and what does a new offering need to do to make those customers want to buy it? Personas are merely an illustration of who those customers are and what they’re looking for. They help those who are less steeped in the research understand the problems they’re solving for.
Part of the reason personas get a bad rap is that the focus is often on making them interesting and relatable at the expense of being informative. When they include extraneous language and made-up fun facts, personas can be unhelpful or misleading. On the other hand, when they identify the jobs that customers are struggling to get done and the context in which customers are making decisions about what to buy, they can be an invaluable tool.
Myth #3: "Jobs to be done" is only useful for developing new products.
One complaint we hear a lot is that jobs has only been applied to new product development. Where are the B2B case studies or the examples from the public sector? How does it work for designing services or platforms? In fairness, a lot of the literature around Jobs does focus on products. When explaining things to a large audience, it’s easier to use an example that everyone can relate to. While not everyone is familiar with the complexities of selling solutions to healthcare providers, most people have an idea of what it’s like to shop for a car or a pair of pants.
Even though there are fewer stories about "jobs to be done" being applied beyond products, it’s not true that it has only been applied there. Jobs Theory has been successfully deployed across countless industries, geographies, and innovation challenges. In fact, we often use "jobs to be done" to help companies improve their internal processes. This comes through a combination of understanding what really matters to internal stakeholders – including the jobs they’re trying to get done – as well as what jobs are most important to external customers. When you understand what’s important and what’s not, there can be substantial opportunities to redo product specs, cut operational costs, and rethink supply chains.
"Jobs to be done" can be a valuable tool to meet a number of innovation goals. Getting the most out of it, however, means understanding how the theory should be used, where its limits are, and how it fits with other innovation practices and processes. When used as part of a repeatable process, "jobs to be done" helps create solutions that others can’t wait to adopt.