Every month companies in the United States spend billions of dollars on market research, competitive analysis, customer segmentation studies, and the like. The goal is essentially to answer a single question: “What should we build and how should we market it to be successful?” They spend days analyzing their spreadsheets filled with the data from these studies, dictate a list of features to be built, and hope they are successful. What is the result?

About 95% of new products fail.

The sad thing is, you do not have to guess. There are 2 principles that, if followed, will remove all the guesswork and allow you to KNOW you will be successful before you invest all that time/money in researching and building your next big thing. They are Jobs To Be Done and Shared Understanding. In this article I will be focusing on Jobs To Be Done and how to apply them. In Part 2 I will be going into more detail about how Shared Understanding can help take guesswork out of product development.

What Are Jobs To Be Done?

Harvard Business School professor Theodore Leavitt once said:

“People don’t want a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole. “

Part of the problem, as explained by Dr. Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School is that:

“The fact that you’re 18 to 35 years old with a college degree does not cause you to buy a product. It may be correlated with the decision, but it doesn’t cause it. We wanted to understand what causes us to buy a product, not what’s correlated with it. We realized that the causal mechanism behind a purchase is, ‘Oh, I’ve got a job to be done.’

And it turns out that it’s really effective in allowing a company to build products that people want to buy.”

In a nutshell, Jobs To Be Done is “getting in the skin of your customer” to understand what jobs they want to “hire” a product to do in what circumstances and motivated by which driving forces.

For example, let’s consider a 22-year old millenial professional on a search for some pizza. Based on market segmentation you might think he would opt for a casual pizza joint. You would be right in some circumstances. Let’s say he were picking up pizza for his team meeting that started in 27 minutes, though. That might lead him to choose a quick take-out option. What about if he were on a nice date with his wife? He would likely want a gourmet sit-down pizzeria. The same man with the same market segmentation would choose 3 different solutions to the same problem based on his circumstances.

The same principle applies to driving forces. What if the same man were stressed? In a hurry? Out celebrating his promotion? On a busy day shopping at the local mall? What if he were in a rainy environment? At a ball game? With friends? Alone? You get the idea.


When viewed through a Jobs To Be Done lens, competition takes on a new light. Competition isn’t just the other companies selling pizza. When a user needs to get a quick bite to eat before their next meeting, for example, a pizzeria’s competition is also Burger King, McDonalds, Starbucks, the local gas station, and even eating nothing at all. In fact, “non-consumption” as Christensen calls it in his book Competing Against Luck, is one of the best indicators of opportunity that exist. That is, situations where the consumer would rather not do a job that needs doing over choosing one of the available solutions.

Another monumental opportunity are those situations where users are piecing together their own solutions by using a combination of products together in unusual ways. I once observed a customer using 5 different software solutions to accomplish a job 1 should have been able to do. If you observe a customer using your product in unexpected ways, that may be a red flag that you have not completely solved their Job To Be Done.


To put JTBD into practice you need to get out with your users. Observe them. Interview them. Find out what their key Jobs are and how they are accomplishing them today. Find out why they need to accomplish those Jobs and what circumstances or drivers influence them. To get you started here are some examples of questions I typically use to start understanding users Jobs and the competitive landscape:

  • What are you trying to accomplish by ______________?
  • What process(es) are you currently using to accomplish that goal? What are the steps you go through?
  • How does ________________ fit into your broader set of goals?
  • If you weren’t spending time doing _______________, what would you be doing?
  • What resources do you have to help you?
  • Who is involved?
  • If you couldn’t ________________, how would you do it?
  • Where are you when you ________________? If you couldn’t do it there where would you do it?
  • Have you tried ________________ in any other way?
  • When was the last time you ________________? How Often?
  • What motivates you to learn students names? (Attitudes (social/personality), Background (long-term behavior/decision making), Circumstances (immediate/near term))
  • How does the process make you feel?
  • What pain points are there? (Real/Perceived, Physical/Emotional, Conscious/Unaware)
  • What (success) top 3 factors would be most important in improving the job?
  • What obstacles would there be in “hiring” a new solution?

Taking Action on Jobs To Be Done Insights

The next step is to distill all your observation and insights into a plan that you can take action on. The best way I’ve found to do that is to gather the team together and use Affinity Diagramming to gather insights from all research participants (hopefully you’ve involved your whole team — more on that in Part 2). Here are the steps I use:

  1. Gather the cross-functional team together along with any external stakeholders.Schedule at least a couple hours. Ideally, everyone in attendance will have participated in or viewed recordings of the Job To Be Done user research sessions. (Though I have also used this activity as a way to get everyone up to speed who was unable to attend as well).
  2. Set the scope. Affinity Diagramming can get out of hand if you don’t clearly define the purpose of what you’re trying to achieve. I typically will introduce the specific personas or market segments of those we were trying to understand. It also helps to make abundantly clear that we’re not looking to SOLVE the Jobs To Be Done only to UNDERSTAND.
  3. Outline the procedure for each step of the process. I typically call out that we are: 1) brainstorming as many ideas as possible in the time limit (2–5 minutes typically). Write one idea per post-it. NO discussion while brainstorming. Write big so everyone can see. 2) We will then put all post-its up on the walls. 3) Arrange post-its into categories. All this is to be done silently.
  4. Follow Affinity Diagramming process for Jobs To Be Done. Unless everyone present has been through this before and understands what Jobs To Be Done are, briefly explain it before brainstorming and leave a summary up on display as a reminder. Follow the procedure outline in step 3.
  5. Brainstorm Job Drivers. Lead the group through brainstorming each type of job drivers one at a time (i.e. Attitudes, Background, and Circumstances). Attitudes are social/personality based drivers. Background are long-term job drivers. These can also include environment & geographical factors. Circumstances are drivers that are immediate or near-term drivers. Follow the procedure outline in step 3.
  6. Brainstorm Current Approaches. How does the customer try to accomplish the jobs identified in step 4 today? Where does “non-consumption” apply. If they couldn’t do it the way they do today, what other approaches do you envision they would try? Follow the procedure outline in step 3.
  7. Brainstorm Pain Points. What pain points exist with the way they do it today? It helps to break down into 3 categories if participants are getting stumped: real vs perceived, physical vs emotional, and conscious vs unaware. Follow the procedure outline in step 3.
  8. Brainstorm Competitors. Remind everyone that competitors are not necessarily other companies provide the same service/software (think outside the box). What has to get fired for your product to get hired? How else could they accomplish the same job?

After the meeting, capture all post-it notes and gather them together in a spreadsheet. This can help you visualize and understand the results. Prioritize Jobs To Be Done in order of importance or area of opportunity (this can also be done with the post it notes with the group if desired).

I’ve also found that it can be helpful to create an Empathy or Journey Map to tie everything together and really understand the current approach users are accomplishing (one for each of the top 3 Jobs To Be Done).

By understanding your users’ Jobs To Be Done, Job Drivers, Current Approaches, Pain Points, and true Competition, you will become confident that you understand your users, are acting based on data rather than assumptions, and be confident you are solving the right problem.

Like what you read? Have something to add? Connect with me on LinkedIn to join the conversation or check out my portfolio to learn more about my work.


Deliver Products People Love…Without Guessing, Part 1: Jobs To Be Done was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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