The Value of Innovation — Part 2: The 5 Steps to Define the Job to be done

By William Flanagan
Modified July 8, 2021, Posted in ,

What is the job to be done?

Remember the quote I left you with at the end of my last blog post? Here is a quick reminder:

“People don’t want to buy quarter inch drill. They want a quarter inch hole!”

Theodore Levitt

What does it mean? It means that if we want to know what the job to be done is, we need to define our customer’s needs.

It means that we as marketers need to define our innovation based on the needs of our perfect buyer. And, we need to communicate to our perfect buyer not only what the emotional, financial, strategic, etc. benefits of our innovation are to them; we also need to communicate to them how the benefits of changing the status quo outweigh any associated costs.

According to Clayton Christensen, the core tenets defining innovation, based on the perfect buyer’s needs, are the following:

  • Breakthrough innovation happens where there is a clearly identified need or gap. Your innovation improves the job “experience.” It’s an emotional, experiential thing. Put another way, you don’t “do” the job, even if you do it for them. You don’t prepare food for them, you improve the eating experience. All jobs are experiential.
  • Define the job-to-be-done (JTBD), not the product to solve the problem. Lots of entrepreneurs and innovators focus too much on the solution. He calls this a product-centric company. Product-centric companies don’t produce true innovation. Why? Because their work doesn’t align with a job-to be-done (JTBD). An innovation is only an innovation if a buyer can make progress with it.
  • Define how your innovation makes progress for the perfect buyer emotional, socially, financially, and functionality. You don’t have to define the improvement as 100%. You don’t have to totally fix it. You need to give the experience of substantial progress. You need to make it worth the hassle of changing the status quo.
  • You have to make your way of making progress the obvious, simple choice. But, you can’t expect customers to tell you what that is. They don’t know, or they would have solved it. Instead, you have to listen and understand what progress they are trying to make. Essentially, you have to figure out the job to be done. And, then give them a solution that helps them make it. The innovation and education has to come from you.
  • For the job, you must be able to define and measure the % of concrete improvement of the job function. If you don’t know the specific steps of the job, and you can’t quantify how you make that process better, then you’ve not yet defined the job to be done correctly. Innovation quantifies how much improvement it makes on the job to be done.
  • To be the obvious choice, your innovation has to be at least 2x as good for a person to switch. Why? Because of anxiety or inertia and gimmickry. How are you 2X better? I think that it often needs to be higher than this actually. 5x? 10x?

Why is the defining the job to be done so tricky?

Defining the job to be done is tricky because for most businesses it is an afterthought. If you define your innovation (your product or service) before you define what the job to be done is, then you will struggle to connect that innovation to your perfect buyer in a meaningful way.

Remember from my previous blog post, it all starts with a struggle. Your customers struggle with a need that is going unfulfilled.

So, it is only an innovation if it meets the needs of our customers to do a job they’re struggling to do. Our innovation must be the reason someone hires us to do the job to be done, to produce a beneficial outcome for our perfect buyer. Our innovation must give them an advantage. Why else would they deviate from the status quo?

But, the reality is that few businesses are blank slate businesses that start 100% customer-focused. We usually have some idea, and go execute that idea. Then, we try to figure out how to sell it. That’s OK, as long as we don’t lose sight of the job to be done.

Our job as marketers is to take this raw “innovation” and transform it into digestible, manageable bites. Meaning, we need to communicate to our perfect buyers why our innovation gets their job done. Our perfect buyers need to understand why it’s valuable to them and how it helps them make progress.

When we connect the dots between the customers, their needs, and our innovation, we make life better for everyone involved.

So, we have to be very customer and job-centric. We must define our perfect buyer’s job journey. Layout what the steps involved are. And, by doing so, we can better define how our innovation provides a real improvement to the perfect buyer’s status quo.

The five steps to define the job to be done

Step 1: Define who is your job customer.

Before you can define your customer’s needs, you need to define who your job customer is.

Yes, you are adding another level of understanding of our perfect buyer. But, now you are defining what they’re struggling with—the job to be done. The progress they’re trying to make. And, how you can help them get there.

Chris Christensen calls this the ‘job executor’. And according to Tony Ulwick in the ‘Jobs to be done Framework’, all customers boil down to three main, role-based categories. These categories are based on functions done with the innovation. Each of these functions has a weight in the decision-making process related to the job to be done. Each of these roles has unique jobs associated with it which have to be performed in service to the greater progress.

Btw, these categories work for both B2B and B2C situations. Generally, in B2C, one person can do every function while in B2B, these functions are distributed across many people.

The three functions are ‘the job executor’, ‘the support team’, and ‘the buyer’. Let’s look at them in more detail.

The Job Executor (60% of decision making)

First up is the person that gets the core functional job done. The question to ask in your research regarding the job to be done would be: Who does it?

  • the core functional job
  • related jobs (other jobs that have to happen or are affected because they do the core functional job)
  • emotional jobs (how they want to feel)

The Support Team (30% of decision making)

  • Next up are the varying groups of people that support the use of the product/ service through its lifecycle. These are the people that install, transport, maintain, repair, upgrade, or dispose of the product. The question to ask would be ‘Who supports it?’.

consumption chain jobs

The Buyer (10% of decision making)

The person that makes the financial buying decision. The question to ask would be ‘Who buys it?’.

  • financial metrics

Step 2: Define the job to be done’s steps and outcomes of each job step

Once you have defined your job customer, the next step is to take the person and the job they are performing, and define its key steps.

Once you are in this process you will realize that making progress on a job uses a skill. For me, that was a very helpful realization. Thinking of the job to be done as a skill the perfect buyer needs to improve, clarifies the steps we need to define and improve upon.

Take a look at this model. The original innovator of this framework is Strategyn.

The skill has steps to perform the function. These steps are defined in the model above.

I would advise that for marketing purposes, you should only focus on the most critical job steps. Of course, a more general business outlook would require that you go into much greater detail as laid out by the model — before you build your innovation.

If you are wondering how you can measure the improvement in progress, or how to handle related jobs, such as emotional jobs, take a closer look at the framework model. You see that the core functional jobs have several job steps. These job steps are the things that people have to do to fulfill the task.

To determine the job to be done from a marketing perspective, you should focus on the important 8-15 steps. And, define 15-20 outcomes. If you are using the framework to define product development, then you have 30+ job steps with 50-100 outcomes.

I would suggest that you define the steps with action verbs, for example, ‘prepare the solution for injection’. From there, you define the outcome as measurable. For our example of ‘prepare the solution for injection’, the outcome would be ‘the solution is in the injection without any loss of liquid’. Easy, isn’t it?

Be aware that if you quiz perfect buyers about the job to be done and the steps to be taken, the answers will vary. Some perfect buyers will not have thought about the steps at all, or might only have a vague understanding of what exactly their unmet needs are and how to make progress. Quantity helps here. After you interviewed many perfect buyers, you can build a superset best practice series of steps for their skill. You usually will find a gap that is the place where you should focus. Meaning, the solution is difficult to see if you only interview one person.

This is why a job journey is so powerful. It gets at the heart of how the job is actually done, and it defines specific changes that improve outcomes for your perfect buyers.

Step 3: Define the before, the after, and fill in the gap with your innovation

Next, you need to slot your innovation into the job steps. How does your innovation make progress for the job to be done? How does your innovation change the process? What does it do to make your perfect buyer’s life better, including their emotional experience? Where is the 2x benefit?

I find it easiest to define the before, the after, and the gap that needs to be filled. Then I slot my innovation into the gap; the innovation fills the gap.

But remember, innovation is temporary.

The value is only there if it is new. Once you sell it, once you provide it to your perfect buyers and they incorporate it into the job steps, the innovation becomes undifferentiated. Other businesses will copy it. They might even improve it. And, the faster the innovation can be copied, the lower its long-term value.

In tech, you see the industry leaders add feature after feature after feature. Why? Because they need to have new innovations to maintain their advantage.

Getting to the heart of innovation is to define it in the way that you are the first. The originator. If you are not the first to do so, then it is not your innovation.

Below I listed some questions and notes that you should address for each of the steps: for the before, the innovation, and the after.

Before

Here you are trying to define what the job to be done looked liked before your innovation.

  • What was the status quo, the workaround way things got done before? How is it done currently?
  • What steps do they take to perform the job? What skills are needed?
  • What are the frustrations or other emotions related to this work?
  • What friction keeps the perfect buyer from making a change?
  • What inertia do you have to overcome to get them to move on from the status quo?
  • What are any other perceived risks of change?

Innovation

Here you are laying out what your innovation is. What did you build/ develop that is brand new in your market space that helps a person make progress on their goal? What is the skill that you are bringing or solving that helps the perfect buyer achieve something?

  • You are the first_______ that provides _______ for your customers so that they can do __________ better.
  • What are the assumptions or situations that must be in place for this innovation to work?
  • What are the key, unique features that you have innovated?
  • How does this change or improve the steps we take in performing this job?

After

Here you need to define what the job looks like after your innovation.

  • How does your perfect buyer do the job now that you have created this new thing? How is it better (better meaning simpler, faster, more efficient, less costly, less risky, even more emotionally satisfying)?
  • What are the tangible benefits to the perfect buyer?
  • How is the job, with your innovation, 10x better that what they had before?
  • How do those benefits give the customer an advantage in their market space? What advantage do they gain?
  • What is the risk to not making the change? How will their lives be negatively impacted?

A small caveat:

I should probably warn you that sometimes after you went through this process, you might realize that the product innovation you brought to the table is not that great.

It can be demoralizing to realize that the business’s innovation might not be its true innovation. It could just be a square peg in a round hole. That is a sticky problem.

But, in general, I believe that there is some core value there. It might be tangential to your actual innovation. Or, it might not be what others think the core innovation is for your business.

In short, if your innovation is weak, then you have to spin it to make it more valuable. To play up those tangential benefits. Reference the unique difference that your company was founded on.

Going through this process, you hopefully realize what true innovation is. True innovation lies with a deep relationship and understanding of your perfect buyer’s needs. Only if you have this kind of engagement with your perfect buyer can an innovation be real and realized.

Step 4: Confirm the innovation is innovative enough. Does it solve anything?

This is the step when you take a very close look at the job to be done and then take an even closer look at your innovation.

Is the innovation that you have defined powerful enough? It is making things incrementally better? Or, is it only the beginning of something great?

If it is not great, you need to go back and continue refining the core innovation until it is great. Until it is of true value to your perfect buyer.

There is an old saying in the start-up world: “build pain killers, not steroids.” Think of it while you deep dive into your innovation. Above all, be honest with yourself. Because your customers will find the flaws.

Step 5: Write at least 3 example sketches that explain how your innovation changes the market space

After you defined the job steps and the outcomes. After you thoroughly investigated your innovation and what it is innovative. After you clearly laid out how it makes things better and brings benefits and progress to your perfect buyer. Then you need case studies. Examples that you can use as tangible examples of the progress your innovation is bringing.

I suggest three example sketches where your perfect buyer has purchased your product.

Layout clearly how your innovation impacts the job to be done. Usually, an innovation will directly impact one step of a job to be done, but will tangentially affect other steps of the job to be done. Be thorough when you discuss these steps.

Give details about your perfect buyer’s current situation, the status quo. Discuss the motivation to change, and the experience when that change was made. What were the benefits that your perfect buyer experienced? How did it improve their lives? How is the market space better?

These case studies will be part of your core marketing materials. But, they will also serve as something of a check. Can you effectively communicate these issues to the perfect buyer? Is the value of the innovation clear? How good is your elevator pitch?

Remember, it does not matter how good your innovation if you cannot effectively communicate its benefits, nobody will be interested.

Resources

Jobs to Be Done book by Anthony Ulwick (also available for a free PDF download

Jobs to Be Done Framework summary by Anthony Ulwick

Jobs To Be Done framework case studies by Strategyn

Forces Diagram from the Strategyzer

10+ years of marketing agency experience. 10+ years (4 exits) of VC-funded startup experience. Dad. Musician. Coffee-lover. E-bike aficionado.
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