How to use the Jobs to be Done framework

Consumer behaviors change, challenger brands emerge, and forget about the status quo – somebody is probably trying to disrupt it as we speak. One way to stay ahead of change is to use the Jobs to be Done framework to understand what customers are trying to accomplish. In other words: What are the Jobs to be Done in the customer’s mind?

In this article, I cover:

What does it mean to understand the consumer’s Jobs to be Done?

Keeping it brief: The abbreviation JTBD is commonly used for Jobs to Be Done.

Stephen Wunker, author of “Jobs to be Done -a Roadmap for Customer-Centered Innovation,” said it comes back to what consumers are trying to achieve. For example, take the experience of buying ice cream with your child.

Is the Job to find the best price? Or is it to feed yourself? Perhaps it’s about the bonding experience?

Stephen explained that it depends on the situation. In his example, he stopped to get ice cream with his 11-year-old son shortly before dinner time. It was an experience in bonding.

“Ice cream wasn’t just a sweet treat; it was a mechanism of bonding and signaling that we were the bad kids together,” he said. “So those were the jobs we were trying to get done in that circumstance. It would be very different if I watched TV alone on a Tuesday night.”

Finding new ways to compete

JTBDs can be functional or emotional, Stephen added, which can also lead to asymmetric competition – meaning that companies you didn’t think of as competitors might help a consumer get a specific job to be done.

Stephen said focusing on JTBD can help companies reframe a market and find new ways to compete.

“Maybe you are entering a new market, or you are already there, and it’s a bit stagnant, and you have to find new ways to compete,” Stephen said, adding that understanding Jobs to be Done can also help companies’ priorities where they should focus their energy, and get a clearer picture of the customer journey map.

Read next: How to get ready for a product launch with the right consumer insights

Why do companies struggle with JTBD?

There are a couple of ways that companies struggle here. First, they may oversimply the whole process into one single Job to be Done.

“That can become very company-centric, and you oversimply the world,” Stephen said. “You need to find a handful of North-Star Jobs at that high-level motivation, and then you want to cascade that down into more granular sub-jobs.”

"You don't just think about Jobs in isolation, but what drives people in particular situations?"

Another struggle can be when companies are too focused on product features versus what problems they solve.

“It’s not the thing, but it’s something driving the need for the thing,” added Jenn Vogel, host of “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show” and chief revenue officer at Voxpopme. “People don’t want a quarter-inch drill bit. They want a quarter-inch hole.”

Stephen said on “Reel Talk” that this happens because it’s easier to focus on features.

“There hasn’t been until recently a rigorous way to apply Jobs to be Done,” he said.

Think of the example of cars: Why do people buy cars? Commonly, the answer is color. But that’s a feature. The related JTBD is self-expression, Stephen explained.

“Those were the underlying motivations that people had,” he said. “That would never come out if we look at a feature-by-feature state.”

Jobs to be Done is a great way to take off the blinders and see the world as it is.

How to determine consumer JTBD?

We have to keep an eye on consumer trends but also need to have consumer conversations at scale while asking the right questions. That should include not leading consumers to an answer, not fishing for compliments, and sometimes we may not even tell consumers who are asking a specific question.

For example, when BMW rolled out the Mini, researchers asked about the concept and didn’t let on that a car maker was behind the research. Otherwise, consumers might tell you what you want to hear, as author Rob Fitzpatrick explains at length in “The Mom Test: How to Talk to Customers.” 

At times, even when we are asking about specific products, consider focusing less on the product features and more on why people are using the product at that moment, and if they weren’t using your product, what would they be using?

Let’s stick with the example of ice cream. What would you be having or doing if you didn’t have ice cream right then?

“And then you realize ice cream is competing against wine or beer or a playground or a Disney movie,” Stephen said. “People use ice cream to do a lot of things.”

Jenn adds that keeping questions in reality versus the theoretical can also help.

Don’t ask: What would you buy?

But do ask: Think about the last time you shopped.  What did you buy in that situation and why?

"It's easier for people to answer in their experience and not 'what would you do in this hypothetical situation?'"

Stephen mentioned the trick is to keep questions focused on the consumer – be consumer-first, not company-first. Start with higher-level questions and then drill into specifics.

“You want to get at the reality of how people see things,” he said.

The hierarchy of JTBD

Some Jobs are related, others go in a specific order, and some are interdependent. So that’s important to keep in mind and to have a map of where to start and go next.

“Otherwise, you have these disconnected things, and you don’t know where they go and where to go next,” he said. “There’s conflict between jobs frequently. Conflicts between jobs are good. They point to innovation opportunities. ”


"Break-through products usually don't succeed because they do everything all at once for everyone. You have to make some choices."

And you have to find these areas where you can find a new solution.

Who should be aware of JTBD in a company?

It used to be that marketing was a leader in JTBD. And marketers certainly still need to know what Jobs consumers are trying to get done. But so does the product team, customer success, and sales. So we are back to democratizing research and consumer insights.

Indeed, different team members need to know more or less about specific Jobs to be Done. So that’s something to keep in mind as you share insights’ and results with different stakeholders. What do specific people need to know, and what’s the best way to communicate it?

Like this article? Read more like it here. 


What’s a question you’d like to ask consumers?