Nolan Phillips

What is Jobs to be Done?

2 years ago · 5 min read min read

“Jobs to be Done” helps you understand the role a product plays in people’s lives. It’s a great idea but I dislike most what’s been written on it. This post lists the questions I had about Jobs and the answers I discovered. If you’d like to dig deeper there are some resources listed at the end.

What are Jobs?

Jobs are the processes that people go through to make progress in their lives.

What is the value of framing our conversation around Jobs to be Done?

The value of the Jobs Framing is it helps us in constructing models about why people make the choices they make.

How do Jobs help us understand customer behavior?

When a customer has a Job to be done, they “hire” a product to fill that role. They fire that product if they find that it does not adequately do the job.

Why not talk about customer needs?

Needs are evergreen, independent of context, and too general to be a useful guide. There are many ways for people to get their needs met, and the method chosen depends on the person’s context. For example, everybody needs to eat, but the process that a person lost in the woods uses is very quite different than an office worker on a lunch break, or that of a Muslim during Ramadan. By framing the conversation around Jobs (i.e. people’s attempts at satisfying a need in a particular context) we are better able to discover the causal mechanism for their decisions.

Why not talk about problems?

Like needs, problems are too abstract to be useful. A problem is a discrepancy between things as desired and things as perceived. The purpose of a job is to solve a problem, but a problem may also exist within the job itself. Some problems arise because we forget what the job really is and go down the wrong path. In those cases, the best solution is not to “solve” the problem but to go back and avoid dealing with it altogether. Because of this, framing the conversation around the people’s problems isn’t necessarily useful. Without knowing what Job they’re trying to perform, we don’t know if the problem is one that should be solved or not.

Why not talk about the customer’s behavior?

Many approaches to HCI/UX research are behavioral. They involve watching the customer perform actions and collecting data to try and find ways to improve the process. Although these approaches are can be helpful in explaining what people do, they do not necessarily answer why. Because of that, these research activities are of limited value unless performed with the purpose of discovering which Job the customer is trying to perform.

How does Job help us understand the competition?

When the product is the focus, the discussion around competition is often myopic. Obviously the Ford Focus competes against other cars, but it also competes against Uber, bicycles, grocery delivery services, and working from home. By framing the conversation around Jobs we are encouraged to look at the competitive landscape with a wider lens.

What are the relevant factors to consider when we’re trying to define a Job?

You need to look at the context of a job to really understand them. The functional component is obviously important, but so are the emotional and social aspects of the job. Customers perform one or more of the following four actions when evaluating and choosing solutions to their job to be done:

  • Big hire: the point when they decide to select a given solution, after weighing all of the options.

  • Small hire: the point when they decide to continue using a given solution when the job needs to be done in their daily lives.

  • The fire: when a solution no longer meets the functional, emotional, and social constraints of the job the way it used it, the customer stops using it.

  • The avoid: when the emotional or social constraints are so strong, that the customer chooses to avoid doing the job altogether.

How do Jobs relate to the Theory of Constraints?

These two ideas fit together quite well. Theory of Constraints (ToC) is the more general of the two. ToC provides the fundamental thinking required to improve the performance of systems. Much of the literature of ToC is centered around product delivery systems, but it applies just as well to product design. Why? Because a Job is a process (i.e. system) for accomplishing a goal! We frame our conversation around Jobs to help us identify the poorly performing systems people’s lives, and then use the Theory of Constraints to discover the constraints that limit those systems. Once the system and it’s constraints have been identified, we can apply our myriad of problem-solving skills to remove the constraints and help people achieve their desired progress.

Notes & Quotes

  • There are jobs people want to do, and there’s jobs people don’t want to do

  • Look for ways that people use your product that you never intended

  • You need to look at the context of a job to really understand them. The functional component is obviously important, but so are the emotional and social aspects of the job.

  • “You can’t do design requirements in a conference room”

  • It’s important to make it clear what job your product is meant to be hired for. If you don’t, people will come back and claim that you have a crummy product.

  • It’s not so much the specific tactics you use as the questions that you try to answer

  • Look for the non-consumption situations; for places where people opt to not hire anything for a job because all the existing candidates are inadequate

  • Sales data is incomplete. The purchase is the initial hire, but customer’s re-hire your product every time they use it. A product that is bought but never used will not be terribly successful. Just ask the Italian Seasoning that has been sitting unopened in my cupboard for the last 4 years.