ACM Digital Library

Volume 26, Number 1 (2019), Pages 80-83
Maximize business impact with JTBD
Jim Kalbach
DOI: 10.1145/3292021

Table of Contents

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This forum is dedicated to maximizing the success of HCI practitioners within the frenetic world of product and service design. It focuses on UX strategy approaches, leadership, management techniques, and above all the challenge of bringing HCI to peer-level status with longstanding business disciplines such as marketing and engineering. — Daniel Rosenberg, Editor

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Why isn't Intuit dead? After all, the average lifespan of companies on the S&P 500 is half what it was a generation ago—now under 20 years. Yet as competitors die out, the tax software giant continues to deliver double-digit growth after 25 years of existence.

back to top  Insights


There are reasons. For one, Intuit takes courageous leaps. It expands into new markets quicker than others, often through acquisition (e.g., and Quicken Loans). Employees are also encouraged to take risks; experimentation is part of the company culture.

But Intuit doesn't just make guesses. Underpinning its seemingly leap-of-faith decisions is a firm grounding in customer needs. Focusing on customer jobs to be done (JTBD) allows Intuit to find opportunity for growth from the outside in. As founder and chairman Scott Cook says, "Jobs Theory has had—and will continue to have—a profound influence on Intuit's approach to innovation" [1].

At its core, JTBD is simple: People "hire" a product or service to fulfill a need. Starting with the objective shifts the focus from features and capabilities to outcomes. For instance, razor manufacturers may focus on sharpness or the number of blades. But the underlying intent is to remove body hair, which can also be achieved with an electric razor, waxing strips, hair-removing lotions, or laser removal.

To anyone in design, focusing on the goal, not the means, should feel natural. But while there is overlap with design approaches, there are differences too. Chief among these is that JTBD is not a design method, but rather a way of understanding market needs. JTBD is about getting the right direction from the beginning to make subsequent solution design and development smoother.

More important, JTBD also comes from the management community and is well socialized in business circles. Having a common language around needs makes our job as designers and researchers easier because communication with stakeholders is naturally grounded in customer-centric insights and thought. Ultimately, JTBD presents an opportunity for designers to leverage their skills for greater business impact.

back to top  Origins of JTBD

Early origins of JTBD thinking point to Theodore Levitt, the famous business professor who told students, "People don't want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole." This quote captures the essence of JTBD: Focus on the outcome, not the technology. The drill is a means to an end, not the result.

Peter Drucker, a contemporary of Levitt and the father of modern management, first used the phrase jobs to be done in relation to customer needs. In his 1985 book Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Drucker writes, "Innovation does not start out with an event in the environment, whether internal or external. It starts out with the job to be done" [2].

Neither Drucker nor Levitt developed their ideas in a direction that resembles modern JTBD. It wasn't until Clayton Christensen popularized the concept that it became widespread. Nearly every contemporary mention of JTBD links back to Christensen's use of the concept outlined in The Innovator's Solution [3], the follow-up to his landmark work, The Innovator's Dilemma [4].

Unfortunately, since Christensen's introduction of JTBD, the field has split into different schools of thought. Newcomers may find an array of opinions on the topic, leading to confusion.

The simplest way to describe the difference in perspectives on JBTD is by making a distinction between the problem space and the solution space. Problem-space JTBD is a view of the world from an individual's perspective, separate from a given product or service. Tony Ulwick has done some of the most extensive work in this area with his Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI) process, detailed in his book Jobs To Be Done [5].


Solution space JTBD is also concerned with understanding human needs, but it's grounded in some existing feature set, product, or service. Here, Bob Moesta has focused on the motivational forces behind switching from one product to another. His popular Switch interview technique starts with an existing product and works back to the underlying objective.

My interpretation of JTBD is largely influenced by Ulwick and Outcome-Driven Innovation. But I also believe that techniques from other perspectives can be used and combined. I see a broad collection of techniques in the JTBD playbook that can help design and designers be more successful.

back to top  Core Elements of JTBD

A strength of the JTBD approach is its structure, which separates different aspects of achieving an objective. The who, what, how, why, and when/where are analyzed individually, giving the approach both precision and flexibility.

My simplified model of JTBD has five elements, shown in Figure 1:

ins03.gif Figure 1. Simplified model of JTBD with five core elements.

Job performer. Who is trying to get the job done? JTBD starts by identifying the primary job executor or the person who is striving to achieve a goal. The purchase decision process and buying motivations are considered later but are separate concerns.

Jobs. What is the job performer trying to achieve? There are different types of jobs to consider. First, the main job is a broad, functional objective that frames your field of inquiry. For example, you use an audio system to listen to music. Or you enlist the services of a meal-kit service to help you prepare a meal. You might also rely on a financial planner to help you grow a retirement portfolio. Think of the main job as the container that sets the parameters of your innovation effort.

While the main job is expressed in functional terms, JTBD also considers emotional and social aspects. How does the performer feel while executing the job? How do they wish to be perceived? These are an important part of the JTBD approach, framing analysis and how you'll approach finding solutions.

Process. How does the performer reach their goal? The job performer moves through different stages or sub-goals to accomplish the main job. The process of the main job is best visualized in a map, which breaks the main job into stages. The stages are then broken down further into steps. Note that steps are not tasks, but rather are themselves smaller objectives. Means are always excluded from both the stages and the smaller steps within each.

Needs. What does the job performer require in order to complete a job? The needs, or intended outcomes, reflect how the job performer measures success in completing the job. These are customer needs, not product requirements. They reflect the desires of the job performer.

For example, take the main job prepare a meal. Some needs might be minimize time to process ingredients, reduce the risk of injury, or increase the likelihood that others will enjoy the meal. Again, technology or means of execution are omitted from the resulting statements, which can total 50 to 150 for any given main job.

Circumstances. When and where does the job get done? JTBD also takes the context of getting the job done into account in order to be relevant to an organization. For instance, get breakfast is a very broad job that could apply to many situations. But for a fast-food restaurant, get breakfast on the go is a more precise main job to focus on. Circumstances are the factors that influence the job and include time (get energy in the morning), manner (listen to music on the go), and place (secure entrance of a private home).

back to top  Principles of JTBD

In the broadest sense of the term, JTBD is a theory that predicts human behavior. The approach holds that individuals are motivated to make progress toward an objective. If an organization knows in advance what underlying needs drive behavior, it has a better chance at creating successful solutions. Regardless of technique or interpretation of JTBD, there are common principles many people in the field agree upon.

People hire products and services to get their job done, not to interact with your solution. JTBD doesn't look at how people fit into a given offering, but rather how a solution fits into their world. Mapping the process of a main job is not like creating a customer-journey map or a service blueprint. Instead, a job map looks at the context of achieving a goal independent of a provider's solution.

The difference is one of perspective. Customer-journey mapping focuses on the relationship between a customer and a provider: When do customers first hear about the brand? How did they decide to select the services? What keeps them loyal? Job maps, on the other hand, expose the relationship that the individual has with the job they are trying to get done.

Jobs are stable over time, even as technology changes. The jobs people are trying to get done are solution agnostic; They don't change with technology advancements. Any reference to products, services, solutions, methods, or techniques is thus carefully avoided in JTBD vernacular. Consequently, JTBD work enjoys longevity and proves to be foundational research.

Those familiar with Alan Cooper's Goal-Directed Design will see overlap with his notion of goals [6]. Cooper writes in About Face, "Goals are driven by human motivations, which change very slowly, if at all, over time."

Cooper, of course, encapsulates the notion of a goal in a persona. In fact, the distinction between persona types in his approach is not psycho-demographic but goal-based. The goals define the different personas. Similarly, personas from a JTBD perspective focus on goals. But unlike Goal-Directed Design, JTBD is not a software design method. Instead, JTBD has a broad application inside organizations, informing everything from company strategy to solution development to delivering a product to the marketplace.

People seek services that enable them to get more and more of their job done. Think of JTBD as an engine of up-front inquiry, detached from implementation. It's about understanding the broader landscape of human activity independent of a solution. In this respect, JTBD calls to mind Indi Young's work. In her 2008 book Mental Models [7], Young details an approach for visualizing people's motivations and goals.

The method starts by defining the domain, such as "movie going" (see Figure 2). Then, through research and observations, the researcher collects a comprehensive set of insights that reflect a person's thought process. Like JTBD, mental models are devoid of any reference to technology or methods. The resulting diagram is a model of all of an individual's actions, thoughts, feelings, and goals.

ins04.gif Figure 2. An example of a mental model diagram.

Making job the unit of analysis makes innovation more predictable. In a time when businesses are encouraged to "fail fast" and "break things," JTBD offers a more structured way to find solutions that resonate with customers up front.

Simply analyzing a job map for strategic opportunities may provide sufficient insight for some companies, such as a start-ups. In other cases, organizations may need to know which needs to specifically address. Here, JTBD offers powerful insight.

Figure 3 shows the basic idea of unmet needs with a simple matrix: Find needs that are important but not well satisfied. The vertical axis shows how job performers rate each need statement for satisfaction, from low to high. The horizontal axis shows how important each need is, from low to high.

ins05.gif Figure 3. Find underserved needs and fulfill them for a better chance of success.

JTBD isn't confined to one discipline; it's a way of seeing that is applicable to an entire organization. JTBD gives a consistent, systematic approach to understanding what motivates people. As a result, it has broad applicability inside of an organization, beyond design and development. Consider some of the ways in which different teams can leverage JTBD:

What's more, JTBD is compatible with modern methods like design thinking, agile, and lean. For instance, a prioritized need can feed into design thinking exercises as "How might we...?" statements. Or user stories in agile can be generated and organized based on customer jobs. Lean experiments can be framed around hypothesis statements that are grounded in JTBD research as well.

back to top  Our Opportunity

I believe JTBD presents an opportunity for design and designers. We have the necessary skills to apply JTBD within our organizations: Observing the human condition, understanding needs, and turning insights into action are skills we already possess.

More important, because JTBD is not a design method, it has the potential to elevate our conversations with stakeholders and decision makers. JTBD is not only about creating a great product experience, but also about directing the strategic attention of an organization.

And since JTBD comes from the business community, its relevance to strategic decision making is inherently stronger than many other approaches. This accelerates good design and enables us to create great experiences, where we are sure that we are designing the right thing, not just designing it the right way.

If JTBD feels obvious to you, then you're in a good position to work with the approach. I encourage you to learn more and to embrace JTBD to help drive more strategic conversations with greater business impact.

back to top  References

1. Christensen, C. et al. Competing Against Luck. HarperBusiness, New York, 2016.

2. Drucker, P. Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Harper, New York, 1985.

3. Christensen, C. and Raynor, M.E. The Innovator's Solution. Harvard Business Review Press, 2003.

4. Christensen, C. The Innovator's Dilemma. Harvard Business Review Press, 1998.

5. Ulwick, T. Jobs To Be Done. Idea Bite Press, 2016.

6. Cooper, A. About Face. Wiley, 2003.

7. Young, I. Mental Models. Rosenfeld Media, 2008.

back to top  Author

Jim Kalbach is an author, speaker, and instructor in user experience design, information architecture, and strategy. He is currently head of customer experience at MURAL, the leading online whiteboard. He has published two books, Designing Web Navigation (O'Reilly, 2007) and Mapping Experiences (O'Reilly, 2016]. He blogs at and tweets under @jimkalbach.

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