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Customer need has always been the focus of analysis for customer innovation. But, the term "need" is obscure, confusing and hard to identify and analyze in a structured way. In contrary, Jobs-to-be-done theory provides a new prospective to understand and run innovation in systematic and controllable way. In this article, I'll talk about "why" it works, and "how" it work with the examples of Business-to-Business environment.


Customers hire products to get done jobs.

Let's begin with this true statement and make the following assumptions:

  • Customer is anyone who wants to get done a job

  • Job is anything that a customer wants to get done

  • Product is anything that a customer hires "temporarily" to get done a job.

Now we examine a business organization through the lens of job-to-be-done theory for the job of innovation.

How might we observe jobs in business-to-business organization?

First, jobs in business organizations exist as hierarchies. Bigger jobs reside over and served by smaller jobs in the hierarchy. And the smaller jobs must be accomplished successfully in order to contribute to the success of "the higher job". And we may refer to the highest job at top in the hierarchy as maximizing profit, defining values, building a brand. We may refer to the lowest job at bottom as bottom line jobs or measurements jobs. In between, filled with functional jobs that are aims to achieve specific project deliverables.

Second, jobs in corporations can be categorized as either managerial or functional. Managerial jobs are executed by the leadership teams to formulate the company strategies. Functional jobs are programs and projects that are executed by rest of the company to fulfill these strategies. It is functional and has a process so we can break these functional jobs down to the granularity that we can measure with business metrics. A good case in point is Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) widely used in Project Management practices.

Third, Jobs can be investigated in two dimensions, Context and Metrics. It is important to identify every job in a specific context and determine the corresponding metrics that the internal customer uses to measure the job in the same context. And we can apply the same to the external customer whom the business service.

How are jobs identified for innovation?

Context qualify customer’s job for innovation. First, context defines the scope and sets the boundary of the job identified for innovation. It is important to specify the context very carefully, or otherwise it may turn out to be a completely different job, and the corresponding solution may be competing with the wrong product in the wrong market. For example, the techniques in B2B “selling a product” or “purchase from a supplier” can be hugely different depending on the good or bad economic environment. Looking no further than the way we work now. how big the changes are to the project jobs in companies, “Negotiating with a client” or “having f2f conversation with a colleague”, due to the covid-19 pandemic.

Next, context can be identified through qualitative research techniques and analyzed applying vertical thinking. Depending on the products we are benchmarking, we can frame the corresponding job at the right context where we want to innovatively compete. For instance, in the example of "Quarter inch Drill or Quarter inch hole", the job of the customer can be "to have a drill" if benchmark product is, i.e. Bosh drills, or "to have a hole" if the product is 3M glue-less hanger and so on. The popular project management techniques of SMART, MECE and 5W2H are very helpful in achieving the goal.

Source of image: Internet, 

Metrics quantify customer’s job for innovation. If Context sets boundary for a job in B2B, Metrics determine the bottom line for the same job. Whether it is a strategic job such as M&A, or any operational project activities, same set of metrics can be applied to measure the job. The metrics are amount of time, quantity, or probability of a potential failure. Take for example the "Faster horse or a car", the corresponding job here is the “commuting to the destination”. When quantified and measured with the metrics of speed of the transportation, the solution would end up with "faster horse". But instead, the research work continued to explore other metrics such as safety, ease of operations, cost of maintenance and so on. And when these metrics were used, it would then open possibilities to the new innovative solutions, such as car. These metrics not only helped creating new products but eventually created new industry in the beginning of 20th century.

Source of image: Internet,

Metrics can be quantified by measuring the customer’s satisfaction gap when executing the job in the specified context. Satisfaction gap is the difference between customer’s current reality and future expectation. It exists objectively in customer’s mind. But when statistically analyzed using tools and techniques such as Likert Scale and MaxDiff, it will help reveal true metrics customers use when executing the job to prioritize and select the products that gets their job done.

Jobs will remain stable over time. But the question is whether the Context and Metrics of the job will also remain stable? The simpler answer is Context will change over time. Metrics do not change but priority of the metrics in customer’s mind will change. One quick example is that many big smart digital product manufacturers are able to compete in making the “electric car”, which is a product corresponding the same old job of “commuting to the destination”. The Context people use the car has changed a lot, especially with technology advancements, and people start to prioritize new Metrics over old ones,  “faster Wi-Fi connection” over “faster horse” and “amount of electricity per mileage” over “amount of electricity per mileage”.

What about customer needs?

The term needs remain as the most widely used word to describe customer’s unfulfilled desires. But it has some limitation. In application, the word need has many variations in the business context. Some of them describe negativities as in problems, issues, barriers, constrains, limitation. And some others for positivity, like benefits, exciters, delighter. In some businesses like software development, people sometimes use product requirements with business needs interchangeably.

In contrast, Jobs-to-be-done provides unique and very practical prospective to approach customer innovation, as well as the customer's real motivations. Also, It enables innovators to expect predictable innovation by shifting the focus from the customer or the product to customer’s job, And also shifting the analysis from customer need to Context and Metrics of the customer’s job. 


In conclusion, Job-to-be-done practitioners and enthusiasts believe that the reason behind customers use or buy a product is that they want to accomplish a job. Thus, customer's job is the unit of analysis for innovation, NOT customer needs, which is a obscure term that has many objective interpretations. Also, customer's job acts as a stable fixed point for innovation. If we can correctly identify the Context and Metrics of a specific job customer is wanting to get done, we can achieve right innovation that helps customers to succeed by building and selling the right solutions.
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