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Product Management: Jobs-To-Be-Done Framework

What is the jobs to be done framework?

The jobs-to-be-done framework is an approach to developing products based on understanding both the customer’s specific goal, or “job,” and the thought processes that would lead that customer to “hire” a product to complete the job.

When using this framework, a product team attempts to discover what its users are actually trying to accomplish or achieve when they buy a product or service.

How the jobs-to-be-done theory applies to product development

Like other prioritization frameworks for product development, the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) approach removes the focus from the product itself, and places it on the customer.

Where this framework differs, though, is that it then takes the next step to explore customers’ true motivations for buying. In the often-used example, the surface-level explanation is, “I need a drill.” Probing a little deeper, we discover the customer actually needs a well-drilled hole.

But the jobs-to-be-done theory takes this probing deeper still. As a result, it can help a product team uncover the underlying goal that users are trying to achieve: the enjoyment of seeing a picture hanging in their living room.

As entrepreneur and author Guerric de Ternay explains, product managers can use the jobs-to-be-done framework in two ways:

1. To get a better understanding of what their market wants or needs

2. To create a compelling customer experience

As the book The Innovator’s Toolkit explains, a job to be done is neither a product nor a solution itself; rather, it is the higher purpose for which a customer would buy a product and solution.

Origin of the jobs-to-be-done framework

The jobs-to-be-done framework was developed by Tony Ulwick, founder of the innovation consulting firm Strategyn. In fact, JTBD began as Ulwick’s patented process called Outcome Driven Innovation (ODI), a framework focused on identifying outcomes that customers seek, as opposed to products they want.

According to Ulwick’s book, Jobs to Be Done, since taking the theory to market in 1991, his company Strategyn has used the JTBD framework with hundreds of client companies, and those businesses have enjoyed an 86% success rate applying the jobs-to-be-done theory to develop and improve their products.

Pros and cons of JTBD

Pros of jobs-to-be-done

1. It can help you better align what you’re building with what your users really want.

Because the job metaphor forces product teams to delve deeper into what their customers actually want, JTBD can help focus product development on solving problems as opposed to building features.

2. It can keep you from building “a faster horse” that nobody wants.

Part of the JTBD approach involves asking “Why” and “What.” Why do your customers want a specific feature? What is their true desired outcome? What is the emotional state they’re hoping your product will give them?

With many approaches to product development, organizations ask their target user personas what they want —and then build what their users tell them to. The problem with this approach is that your users often don’t have the vision or vocabulary to explain exactly what they want, especially if nothing like it has reached the market yet.

This is why when Henry Ford asked potential customers what they wanted in terms of better transportation, many answered, “A faster horse.” By applying the jobs-to-be-done framework, you can help uncover not just what your users think they want, but what your users actually want — and why.

Cons of jobs-to-be-done

1. It can lead your user research to become too abstract and high-level.

Although it involves a lot of probing to uncover your customers’ true motivations, JTBD still requires you to translate those underlying customer goals or “jobs” into practical tools or solutions to build.

One risk with this framework is that product teams can get lost in the abstract — “Our users want to become the hero at work” — which can lead to difficulty in prioritizing the strategic roadmap for the actual product.

2. Some product teams believe it can lead to lackluster design and user experience.

JTBD has become extremely popular with the product and innovation community. But some worry that because the framework places so much emphasis on the product’s ultimate purpose for a user, the product team will focus only on this purpose — to the exclusion of other important elements such as design aesthetics and overall user experience.

In other words, if your users want a drill only for the enjoyment of seeing a beautiful painting hanging on their wall, your product team might become exclusively focused on meeting that single objective, which could lead to a drill that isn’t designed with comfort or ease-of-use as a priority.

Jobs-to-be-done is worth a try for any product team

JTBD begins with the logical theory that people buy any product or service to get something done, or to achieve a specific desired state.

Even if your team typically uses a different prioritization framework in your product development, applying the jobs-to-be-done theory is a worthwhile effort. It can help give your team a different perspective — and possibly a deeper level of understanding — about why your customers buy your products, and how you can make them better.