Jobs to be done explained – the framework for every visionary, product and marketing manager

Jobs to be done explained – the framework for every visionary, product and marketing manager

You might have read about Jobs to be done book; or heard about Jobs to be done theory and roadmaps. I have read the book quite a few times and now I decided to dive into it, analyze the concept, explain and summarize it using many great examples from the book and write this article – jobs to be done explained.

I would say “Jobs to be done” is not only a framework — it is more similar to a pair of eccentric glasses that you can use to take a look from a completely different perspective. It is not necessarily a framework that will replace other frameworks — Jobs to be done helps you look at your products and their value from a vastly different perspective and reveal new strengths that you may have missed before, as of result — it gives you a new opportunity to use the new findings to market your product even better!


In this article you will read about:

  • Hiring not buying a milkshake to do a job,
  • Skype and Facetime competing with American Airlines,
  • Simple playing field cutting in McDonalds business,
  • Forces pushing and pulling customers, and how to make them switch to your product,
  • Intercom’s real example about worse product doing a better job,
  • Similarities between a married mother of three in the USA and Korean teenager,
  • Simple yet powerful Job Stories for feature design,
  • How many “Whys” does it make sense to ask.

For a short introduction how I found out about the framework — I was working on organizing all products of one company into one portfolio, which would be later used as the base for their business proposals, marketing materials, overall strtegy and also website re-design. However, I soon realized that it does not make any sense placing all products in rigorous categories and bluntly describing their functions. That is when company’s Co-CEO sent me an amazing book written by Intercom‘s Des Traynor called “Intercom on Jobs-to-be-Done”.
I got this “mind-blown” feeling from the moment when I started reading the book, and it opened a new way how to look at products and their marketing strategy, which I had somehow ignored before.

Let’s cut to the case — jobs to be done explained – here is my view on the framework, built up from the book’s examples and my own conclusions.


Part 1. What do they hire milkshake for?

jobs to be done milkshake

It’s easier to make things people want, than it is to make people want things.

The challenge is to understand what products are currently serving people needs, and improve upon that.

Everyone wants to build an amazing software product. However, it is important to understand that making key decisions based on customer personality traits won’t do the job.

That’s because products don’t match people — they match problems.

I like the book’s example used to depict this in a real life situation:

A fast food chain was trying to sell more milkshakes. They studied the users and made changes based on demographic analysis, customer analysis and psychographic variables (this might sound familiar to many).
Result? They failed and sold no extra milkshakes. There was no meaningful insight to be found in analysing the users themselves.

A job-based marketing expert would suggest to focus on the job customers hire milkshake to do. It sounds really weird, right? No one thinks of “hiring a milkshake”. But switching perspective offers new insights.

The book does a great job illustrating the difference between a product and its audience and a job the product does:

One of the common jobs that has been around for a long time: Get a package from A to B with confidence, certainty and speed. Julius Caesar had to do the first job often, and he hired men and horses to solve it. Today we have FedEX. The job hasn’t changed.

Another common job which many people have to do regularly — talk with a colleague or a business partner about future action plans or agreements.
Here again we have two different candidates applying for the job, and we have to make a hiring choice:

a) buy a flight ticket and meet the other colleague in person,
b) get on a Skype or Facetime video call with the colleague and talk it over the distance

The customer rarely buys what the business thinks it sells him. Sometimes the type of customer will define the job they need done. Sometimes the job itself is the only driving factor. It’s often hard to spot the difference.

I like this quote from the book because it suggests to look from a different perspective — indeed, American Airlines might think that you bought the ticket because you wanted to visit San Francisco, while actually you just bought the ticket to talk over a business strategy with your partner not even thinking about “traveling” part.

Part 2. This morning your team can add more code, or add more customers. Which do you prefer?

More customers with jbtd

The previous part already gave an insight about some rather different products doing the same job.

If the product does the same job, it can compete for the same competitor. Here’s a great example from the book:

When people think about their competitors they tend to look at what’s closest to home. If I run a pizza slice store, and you run a McDonalds, we must be competitors, right? But the real competition is usually a playing field away.

So switching on Jobs-to-be-Done perspective gives you the situational context that triggers people to use your products.

Ignoring other perspectives and thinking only about competitors that are in the same tool category you’re in is very dangerous because your product and business can get shaked or even destroyed from oblique angles. Here’s another powerful real life example from the book:

The newspaper industry thought they were in the business of selling news printed on paper. Had they realized their business was “keep people entertained”, or “keep people in the know”, their new competitors like mobile games, Twitter, and Facebook would have been a more obvious threat.

So going back to airlines and online communication tools — this is also the case when both sides have to take each other seriously, or at least — acknowledge their existance and understand that they are competitors fighting for quite many business class passengers as they’re both hired for the same job — business meetings.

They are not called direct competitors (as McDonalds vs Burger King), but secondary competitors — products and services that do the same job in a different way.

When you start to think about other kind of competitors, you can start focusing on solutions that bring your product above them.

Here’s a great example from Intercom’s book on Jobs-to-be-Done, in which a company understood that their A/B testing product is not only competing with other testing products, but also with the attractiveness of simple and clean code for the company’s product.

One of Intercom’s customers was perplexed. Hundreds of companies had signed up for his A/B testing product, but very few had taken the plunge beyond a trivial test.

The problem? As much as they loved the idea of A/B testing their app, they also loved clean, legible, and maintainable code. They din’t like adding JavaScript into their application to create meaningful tests, so they didn’t use the product.

To address these concerns, he added a message schedule downplaying the importance of clean code and upselling his product. He sent the following message to non-users on day three: “If no one is using your product, who cares how clean yur code is?” On day seven, he sent another well-timed message: “This morning your team can add more code, or add more customers. Which do you want?”

Part 3. To create an anxiety relievable only by a purchase…that is the job of advertising.

job of advertising

You may have a perfect product — one that takes into account all customer needs, all jobs they hire your product for etc., but there might still be people who just don’t switch to your product, and continue using a different product.

A true marketing challenge.

Fortunately, The ReWired Group dug into this and worked hard to identify four forces pushing and pulling customers away from making a purchase e.g. making the switch.

Here are the four forces and simple examples for each of them:

  1. The push of what is happening currently:
    A company “A” is not happy with sales tracking tool they’re using — it doesn’t provide good reports.
  2. The pull of a new solution:
    Company “A” has read about this alternative service, which is cheaper and offers many insightful reports in the system.
  3. The anxiety of what could happen:
    What if the alternative tool has some other problems they do not talk about? What if it is too difficult to integrate and also difficult to learn how to use it?
  4. The attachment to what you currently have:
    We have spent many hours setting up all integrations with our current platform and we have mastered the usage of the existing platform.

four forces of jobs to be done

These are the four forces you should focus on to make customers switch to or buy your product.

So emphasize why the existing way doesn’t make sense (Taking care of Nr.1).
Tell everyone why your product is amazing (Taking care of Nr.2).
Highlight why it is safe and easy to switch to your product (Taking care of Nr.3).

And explain why they don’t need to worry about leaving the existing solution (Taking care of Nr.4).

There is a great paragraph about these four forces, marketing and inertia in the book — written in so concise way that I will just quote it here:

Marketing increases familiarity, reminds consumers your product exists, and spreads product news. But marketing also does another job: it defeats inertia. People don’t hate progress, they just prefer inertia.

 customer inertia visualization
Inertia stops people from buying your product, even when it’s the logical choice.

Focus on the four forces influencing a customer switch, and build your advertising strategy around it… and define it with amazing quote by David Foster Wallace:

“To create an anxiety relievable only by a purchase…that is the job of advertising.”
/ David Foster Wallace/

Part 4. A worse product does a better job.

old-cars-comparison-jtbd
Old cars are really attractive, aren’t they?

Customers will always surprise you with the creative ways they use your product. They don’t do it deliberately — they’re just adapting your product to their needs.

People use cars for different reasons. The most obvious one is to get from the point A to the point B. And rarely anything stands in a way of powerful and easy to navigate sports car. However, when we have to make an oldschool photo session — old mustang will win the hiring game.

Intercom has been brave enough to talk about their own experience with building a product and revealing unexpected ways how people used it.

The case is very simple yet gives a nice overview of the problem.

Intercom map feature
Intercom map feature
Intercom built an interesting feature — a map which shows where client’s customers were located around the world.

They wrote about this map feature in the book, and I think they made a pretty good case study about it.

As they wrote in the book themselves:

The map was a classic “this is cool but we don’t know why” type of feature. And we could see by its traffic, it became popular quickly. But marketing the map as a feature was difficult. It was hard to work out why you’d use it.

That’s the problem with creating so called “this is cool but we don’t know why” type of features. You never know how your customers will actually use it, because it is not built to solve any problems directly. And that was also the case of Intercom:

Here’s a few ways we thought it could be used:

Work out where you had most customers? — No, lots of products do that already.
See what customers are in a given city? — No, our user list does it much better.
See how many users you have in a given country? — No, our user list does it better too.

intercom map twitter feed

However, the map was used in the following way:

People decided to show it off at trade shows & conferences, on Twitter and also to investors.

So what job does the map do?

It looks impressive, and it makes Intercom’s customers look impressive.

Intercom followed Jobs-to-be-Done “ideology” and switched on a different perspective for this product feature design:

If we tried to improve the map before we knew how it was used, we’d have tried to make a better map.
Here are the types of things we would have focused on:
geographical accuracy, clustering, better country/city borders, drag-to-create “regions”, various other cartographical improvements.
It would have taken monthsand wouldn’t bring any value because that feature was actually used as a show piece.

So what would make the map better at that job?
A map designed to look good, first and foremost; one that hides sensitive data automatically, making it shareable; and one that is easy for customers to share.
A worse “map” does a better job!

By focusing on the way how people use the feature and ignoring the product category or the type of feature, you can quickly find new ways how to improve your product, which will resonate immediately.

Part 5. Stories… Job Stories.

job stories for business

Some of you might have heard about Personas and User stories used in product design and marketing strategies.

Paul Adams and Alan Klement have written really insightful chapters in the Intercom book. These chapters are called “Abandoning personas: the story behind job stories” and “Designing features using job stories”

They also introduce a concept called “Job stories” in the book, and point out why Personas and User stories don’t always do the trick.

Paul wrote about Facebook’s incredible quantitative data set about what people do with the product and how talking with data science team always resulted in very valuable information exchange. It showed that people’s behaviour is really similar, while “Personas” concept is based on the opposite — that people are very different, with different goals.

Here’s a quoted paragaph from the book highlighting the problem of “Personas” — it is too good to be changed in any form, so here’s the original:

For example, the motivations behind a married mother of three in the USA posting photos of a family BBQ are basically the same as a Korean teenager posting photos of the house party the night before.
The goals and attributes look totally different, but their motivations are the same. Personas would never lead to the same product being designed and built for both these audiences.

Another good example is to take a look at a simple product and view it through “Personas” lenses, which are defined by attributes that have nothing to do with causality.

I love this example from the book — a picture says more than a thousand words…

 why did peter buy a snicker
Source: “Intercom on Jobs-to-be-Done” book

So, in essence — Personas do explain who people are and what they do, however, there is one thing missing. Personas do not explain why people do something — and this “why” is far more important.

It is natural for people to suggest a solution to the problem in the form of a feature request. Paul explains that when people reply, their initial answer will tell you what they want, in the form of attributes, but not why that matters. As of result — it is important to keep digging into their motivations.

To make it all easier, Intercom invented Job-stories process that focuses on situations, motivations and outcomes. As Paul puts it:

If we understood the situation in which people encounter a problem to solve, understand the motivation for solving it, and understand what a great outcome looks like, we were confident that we would be building valuable product for our customers.

This is how a simple Job-stories scheme looks like:

When ___ (Situation), I want to ___ (Motivation), so I can ___ (Expected outcome).

 job stories scheme

Intercom puts a big emphasis on Job stories, and explain that traditional User stories that are based on this format:

As a ____ (Persona), I want to ___ (Action), so that ___ (Expected outcome)

have too many irrelevant assumptions. Alan Klement has written an amazing article about comparison between User stories and Job stories here (and also many other insightful articles on the subject).

That’s another reason why Job-stories rock the stage — they don’t have too many irrelevant assumptions and allow you to see through real motivations and expected outcome from the customer’s perspective.

Here’s one approach how to implement Job Stories in your product design workflow with short examples from the book. I want to explain this concept as easy as possible, if you want a more detailed example — it is worth to take a look at the book (the example can be found in Chapter 8).

  1. Start with identifying the main job you want your product to get done.
    Help car salespeople secure a loan for a potential customer. They have to fill out many difficult paperwork.
  2. Identify smaller jobs that are necessary to solve the main job.
    Correct application requires lots of information about car and loan terms — it’s very sensitive information so the customer needs to feel safe with salesperson.
  3. Understand how people are currently solving their problem.
    Customer analyzes (also visually) the salesperson and car dealership, gets some historical facts. Fills in the form being close to the seller, so they could ask any questions right away. This gives a secure feeling that the form is filled in correctly and wont get in wrong hands.
  4. Build a Job Story to investigate the causality, anxieties and motivations of what people do now.
    When car salespeople and their customers interact with each other via the product…
    …customers want to feel like they can trust the organization, process, and the salesperson.
    Salespeople are going to want to be confident their process makes their customers feel comfortable…
    so clients will feel safe entering their financial information into a process.
  5. Create a solution which resolves that Job Story.
    In this case they designed an online profile view which takes into account all aspects from Job Story developed in point 4:
 book visualization car salesman
Amazing visual example from the book “Intercom on Jobs-to-be-Done”

Part 6. Asking “Why?” to uncover deeper needs and new added value of your product.

thinking man

“Intercom on Jobs-to-be-done” also talks about exctracting the actual problem and articulating it in a simple way for your team.

Asking why is an amazing method how you can uncover deeper needs of your customers and reveal new reasons what your customers are using your product for.

The key is to find the unique insight at each “Why?” before moving on, because each “Why?” reveals a new layer of customer needs. The problem, however, is that there is no limit on how many “Why?” layers you can reveal and every new layer gets you to a deeper need — but you must find the line where the productive questioning ends.

 three layers of why
Source: “Intercom on Jobs-to-be-Done. Author: Dan Ritz(enthaler)

Dan Ritz(enthaler) has written a great article about first three layers, which are the most important when you are exploring the value of a product. I will write shortly about them — if you like the concept — I highly suggest to read his article here or Chapter 9. in the book “Intercom on Jobs-to-be-Done”.

  1. Immediate layer relates to usefulness. What do you actually do with the thing?
    — I use the drill to make holes.
    This answer can be used to focus on many different ways how you can make the product more useful. In the example above — you can look into various options that would make the drill more usable in making holes — in what material will holes be drilled? In what size these holes should be? Should you create changeable drill bits to meet various needs instead of creating one unique drill bit?
  2. The secondary layer relates to usability. What result comes from using it?
    — I’ve made holes to hang photos.
    If the outcome is to hang photos, you can work on making it more usable. Think about the situation — can people drill hole alone, or they need an assistance, are they standing on a chair and having problems with drilling a hole — should you make the drill lighter and smaller?
    However, Dan points out a very important thing — this still doesn’t reveal anything about how to make the product more attractive.
  3. The tertiary layer relates to desirability. What’s different now that I’ve accomplished my goal?
    I’ve hung photos and now have a more personal home.
    This layer reveals that the drill is used to make a more personal home — as of result — you can look at the options that would make it more desirable — how important it is to make the drill ready-to-go when you arrive home with the next framed poster? Should it have a docking station or should you be able to plug it into the wall? Should you pay attention to its design so it would fit in interior if left at a visible place?

I agree with Dan, It is really worth it to explore each layer thoroughly for the unique value because there is so much to learn from it.


Combine everything together and you have a powerful set of tools and perspectives to enhance your marketing strategy!


Thank you for reading the article! I hope you learnt something new and valuable! Feel free to share your thoughts and comments in the comment section below.

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