What is the jobs-to-be-done framework?

The jobs-to-be-done framework (JTBD) is a tool for product managers to better understand and empathize with customers. Using a framework like JTBD can help you make more informed decisions about what to build next.

The premise of JTBD is that customers buy products to complete specific jobs. Think of a job as any action that a user wants to take. In the case of a fitness app, for example, jobs could be tracking workouts or measuring heart rate over time. The user wants a product that allows them to complete these jobs in order to achieve the outcome of greater fitness.

The JTBD framework gives product teams a way of thinking through the underlying reasons for why people choose (or do not choose) a product or service. The ultimate goal is to improve the user experience and deliver greater value to customers.

What is a job statement?

The jobs-to-be-done framework is complex — it encompasses several theories and concepts. But the simplest way to begin to capture exactly what customers want to do is by writing a job statement. This is a short, precise sentence that explains the job and desired outcome from the customer's perspective. A job statement can convey what customers are trying to accomplish or a problem they are trying to solve.

Here is the basic format of a job statement:

[Verb] + [Object] + [Context]

For example, "improve physical health to live longer " or "reduce body fat to increase fitness." If you are familiar with user story mapping, you have probably noticed the similarities between job statements and user stories. The fundamental difference is that job statements are more holistic and abstract — they represent what a user wants to do in the future. User stories, on the other hand, describe how a user would actually use a specific product or technology to complete a task.

Build exactly what customers want

As a product manager, you have a variety of methodologies you can use to home in on what customers need and how you can help them achieve their goals. What makes JTBD unique compared to similar business model exercises or product prioritization frameworks is its emphasis on delivering meaningful outcomes. Instead of focusing on product features or buyer personas, JTBD encourages you to build what is most relevant to what your customers want.

The way to accomplish this (according to JTBD) is to internalize your customers' motivations — the results they are trying to attain, how they want to feel while using your product, and how they measure success when completing a job. We will discuss more about how to use JTBD later in this guide.

A brief history of the jobs-to-be-done framework

Jobs-to-be-done grew out of outcome-driven innovation (ODI), a strategic innovation process invented by Tony Ulwick in the late 1990s. As the founder and CEO of an innovation consulting company, Ulwick realized that his most successful clients adopted a customer-centric approach to product development. In other words, they focused on giving customers the specific outcomes they were seeking rather than the product features they might want (or say they want).

Ulwick formalized his ideas into the JTBD framework and began writing articles and books on the topic. The thrust of his argument is that businesses should think about the value they create according to what customers want to achieve with a product. By focusing on what a customer's desired outcome is, product teams can build a product that helps people reach that goal. In turn, companies can spot more opportunities for innovation and deliver greater value for customers and the business.

There are some overlaps with other approaches to product building and prioritization, like contextual design, design thinking, user personas, and journey maps. Some critics complain that JTBD is really no different from what product builders have been doing since the early days of computer science — seeking to understand how users interact with technology to achieve their goals. However, supporters of the framework contend its benefits lie in its clear principles and processes.

Let's take a closer look at the principles behind the JTBD framework, then explore how you can use the framework in your own product development work.

Principles of the jobs-to-be-done framework

Jobs-to-be-done practitioners have written lots of in-depth content on the theory and principles underlying the framework. For the purposes of this guide, we will take a high-level view of the most important concepts so you can decide whether you want to apply any of them to your product development work.

According to Ulwick, there are nine core tenets behind the JTBD theory:

  1. People buy products and services to get a “job” done.

  2. Jobs are functional, with emotional and social components.

  3. A job-to-be-done is stable over time.

  4. A job-to-be-done is solution agnostic.

  5. Success comes from making the “job”, rather than the product or the customer, the unit of analysis.

  6. A deep understanding of the customer’s “job” makes marketing more effective and innovation far more predictable.

  7. People want products and services that will help them get a job done better and/or more cheaply.

  8. People seek out products and services that enable them to get the entire job done on a single platform.

  9. Innovation becomes predictable when “needs” are defined as the metrics customers use to measure success when getting the job done.

In addition to the principles of JTBD, it is also worth mentioning the six facets that every job can have. By investing time in thinking through each facet of a job, you can gain perspective on what customers truly need.

Here are the six components of a job, using our earlier example of a fitness app:

Core functional job-to-be-done

What the customer is trying to do— for example, tracking daily workouts in a mobile app

Desired outcomes tied to the core functional job-to-be-done

The result the customer wants to accomplish as a consequence of doing the job — such as improving fitness or lowering body fat percentage

Related jobs

Secondary or tertiary objectives the customer is trying to achieve — for instance, monitoring exercise frequency or connecting with fitness-minded friends

Emotional and social jobs

How the customer wants to feel when completing the core functional job — such as competent, accomplished, or calm

Consumption chain jobs

How the customer learns to use the product and interacts with customer-facing groups such as support. For example, asking a question or seeking help for a problem that occurs when using the app

Buyer's financial desired outcomes

What the buyer considers before making a purchase — including financial goals or metrics that must be met. (Note that the person deciding whether or not to make the purchase might be different than the actual user.)

The point of distinguishing between the different facets of a job is not to confuse but to encourage you to consider all the different needs, motivations, and experiences that customers will have with your product. Being thoughtful about what customers want can help you better evaluate ideas and decide what to build next.

Applying the JTBD framework

Product managers who use jobs-to-be-done typically do so during the planning stage of the product development process. This is when you are refining ideas and prioritizing which product features the team will build. In this context, JTBD entails collaborating with the product team (including developers and UX designers) on which features will resonate most with customers, as well as how to best improve existing features. The goal is to understand who is using your product so you can create the best possible user experience.

You may also find value in applying JTBD principles during the strategizing and ideating phases of product development — when you are defining goals and capturing promising ideas. This tends to be a more theoretical exercise as you seek to understand who your potential buyers are and what type of offering they would benefit from. Instead of prioritizing features for a product that already exists, a business or product leader would think strategically about how to develop a new product or enter an underserved market.

Of course, the JTBD framework is not the only approach for clarifying what customers need or better prioritizing product work. Some folks choose not to use JTBD because it can be too high-level, abstract, and time-consuming. (Especially compared to user stories, which are typically more specific, concrete, and concise.) Depending on the type of organization and offering, it might make sense for you to follow a different prioritization framework, such as the Kano model, MoSCoW method, or user story mapping. Or you might want to use multiple frameworks or even create your own — it is up to you and what works best for your product team.

Whether or not you use JTBD, your ultimate aim is to come up with innovative solutions and deliver an experience that customers truly love. Cultivating greater customer empathy is key. After all, you are responsible for thoughtfully considering what your customers need and how they interact with your offering. When you deeply understand the people you are building for, you are better able to deliver a lovable product and Complete Product Experience (CPE). Consequently, customers tend to be happier and more likely to support the business over the long run.

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