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The Jobs to Be Done Framework: Dos and Don'ts for True Innovation

Innovation is the key to success in many consumer-focused industries. But how do you know what products and services you need to create to truly achieve something the market deems to be an innovation?

Answering this question can sometimes feel challenging since some of the most famous success stories of meaningful innovation can appear to fall into one of two buckets (from an outsider’s perspective) – accidental discoveries or divine strokes of genius. For example, what do the microwave, the color mauve, corn flakes, and Viagra all have in common? They were all innovations that were created by accident, often in pursuit of another goal. 

Enter stage left, the Jobs to Be Done (JTDB) framework – a powerful, consumer research-driven approach to discovering innovation opportunities that flips the idea of what products and services really are on its head. Instead of operating under the logic that consumers buy products and services, the Jobs to Be Done framework posits that consumers don’t buy products and services at all. Rather, consumers “hire” products and services to complete specific “jobs.”

And if a product or service fails to complete a specific “job,” the consumer will “fire” it and go in search of a competitor product or service that will. 

Leveraging our unique methodology (a blend of proprietary AI, natural language processing, and machine-learning technology and human expertise), we’ve spent years working closely with brands from around the world across a wide range of industries, products, and services to use the Jobs to Be Done framework to spark real innovation. 

So, we’ve seen first-hand how well the JTBD approach to consumer insights can work. We’ve also learned where well-intentioned adoption of the Jobs to Be Done framework can go wrong. And, in this article, we’ll share those insights with you. 

Don’t overlook the emotional and social components of Jobs to Be Done

If you fail to go deeper beyond understanding the functions your particular products or services fulfill, you will not really be tapping into the power of Jobs to Be Done. The emotional and social components of Jobs to Be Done are essential to your ability to innovate. 

On top of that, your consumers won’t always be upfront with you about every job they’re seeking to have completed by a job or service.

For instance:

  • A coffee drinker may tell you the reason they choose Starbucks is the quality of their products and diversity of options. While those may certainly be true, what they may not also mention is they like feeling sophisticated and in control whenever they give their complex order to a barista.
  • Someone struggling with motion sickness may want an over-the-counter option that helps them with that ailment with minimal side effects, but they likely won’t fall over themselves to proactively share in a focus group setting how embarrassed they feel with friends and family when they have to say no to certain trips or activities.
  • A wine drinker might not immediately admit that sometimes, the strongest influence governing their wine order in a public setting is how their choice will impact how they’re perceived by others – e.g., how worldly they are, how much money they make, etc.
  • A home security system buyer may have the obvious goal of a more secure home, but their unspoken fear (particularly if they’ve been the victim of theft before) may be to avoid the common feelings of violation and fear associated with a home break-in that linger long after whatever was stolen has been replaced.

These emotional and social levers are some of the most influential ones you can pull when rethinking what you sell, as well as how you message and package your products to consumers. But they are also the insights you need to proactively look for and invest the effort needed to find them. 

Which leads us to our next point …

Do the work it takes to uncover the real “jobs” your consumers need done

When it comes to the jobs your consumers are looking to have completed on their behalf by a product or service, you must understand that it will take work. A lot of it. Although the underlying ideas behind the framework are rather straightforward – we’re all consumers with feelings, needs, goals, and desires, right? – it’s not a simple undertaking to get it right. 

In fact, we’ve found it’s often very challenging for in-house marketing and product teams to implement on their own without the help of an experienced partner because of the resources required to do it well – a simple suite of consumer research surveys or a focus group or two (no matter how great the sample of customers is) will not give you the results you’re looking for. 

To develop a deep understanding of what your consumers really need from you (functionally, emotionally, and socially) you will need access to immense quantities of data. Additionally, a single tactic won’t do. You will need to employ a diverse blend of processes to get the answers you need – social listening, natural language processing, consumer interviews, and surveys, just to name a few.

For most of you that will mean working with a consumer research partner that possesses the experience, technology, data access, and strategic human-centered methodologies that are essential to executing Jobs to Be Done with any degree of efficacy. 

Don’t be closed-minded with Jobs to Be Done

In all of our years providing globally recognized brands with the consumer insights they need to achieve true innovation in their industries, we have never once said:

“Having a deeper understanding of your consumers’ deeper feelings, desires, goals, and fears won’t help you innovate better products and go-to-market messages.”

And we can’t foresee a circumstance in which we ever will.

However, if you have a flawed perspective on what Jobs to Be Done really is or what it will ask of you to do it well, you will likely struggle to see its benefits. One of the most common ways in which this can occur is if you believe Jobs to Be Done is your pathway toward achieving very short-term, transactional business objectives within a limited timeframe – e.g., a 25% decrease in cost within a 120-day timeframe. 

Short-term goals such as these are valid and, in some cases, absolutely necessary. But in the context of the Jobs to Be Done framework, they don’t work particularly well and you’ll likely end up frustrated with a lack of results. Jobs to Be Done requires an open mind and a long-term commitment to rethinking “the way things have always been done.” 

So, before you attempt to throw your arms around JTBD as a potential path toward innovation, challenge yourself to be honest about what you’re really chasing – short-term solutions to achieve an immediate outcome or real innovation?

Do challenge all assumptions and biases 

When done well, the consumer insights you can yield from the adoption of the JTBD framework are ones you can lean into with confidence because they are tested and validated with data. When you attempt to cut corners, things can go wrong.

For instance, let’s say you don’t have the data you’d like to support a “job” you strongly believe your consumers want your products or services to complete for them. The last thing you should do is point to your years of experience in a given field or anecdotal evidence as an attempt to support that claim. As well intentioned as it may be, no gut instinct is infallible. Your perspectives may also be skewed by unintentional biases or lack of exposure to differing viewpoints.

The best practitioners of Jobs to Be Done know this and proactively seek to debunk assumptions and biases at every turn in pursuit of something greater – the truth. Innovation in its purest form solves real problems, not imagined ones, which means you must approach it as an endlessly curious and engaged listener who doesn’t perceive learning they are wrong about an assumption as a fatal failure. Instead, you are excited by the new discovery.

Conclusion

Clearly, incorporation and adoption of the Jobs to Be Done theory is no simple task. Use of jobs theory requires dedication and resources not necessarily available to everyone.

However, should you follow our dos and don’ts, the benefits to your innovation process will be clear. The Jobs to Be Done framework brings a level of market research guaranteed to fuel outcome driven innovation.