Jobs to be done

What is it?

There’s a classic (at least we think so) film of Clayton Christensen explaining the job a milkshake does. This idea, that customers aren’t necessarily buying what you are selling isn’t new. But the jobs to be done theory does help to clarify the difference between what is important to you, the seller, and what is important to the buyer.

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Why do we need it?

Let’s start with the issue of complexity. By definition, what seems difficult also seems important. Lucius Burckhardt said in Design is Invisible, “It isn’t the streetcar that makes the experience good. 
It is the timetable.” This idea that the benefit of public transport doesn’t manifest itself until people actually know when the next streetcar will show up, and plan their trip accordingly, isn’t a long leap of logic. But it does question whether the big solutions to the big problems actually pay off, if the little problem on the side aren’t treated as important too?

Often in services, the bottlenecks are where people have problems. But the bottlenecks are caused by an oversight that could easily be avoided, if the service provider considered human nature on top of engineering and efficiency. Humans move in packs and average load capacity vs peak load capacity makes all the difference in customer satisfaction at the end of the day, when everyone is trying to make it home at the same time.

Alternatively, there is another theory about complexity, which occasionally manifests itself. This is the phenomenon of complexity increasing over time as more and more features and options are layered onto a basic service. Like a restaurant menu gaining pages and combination options that increase the time it takes to order from seconds to minutes, or the remote control of the TV with too many buttons that do something that no-one actually cares to use. While too many buttons on a remote is just a waste of resources and engineering time, the increase in options on the menu actually end up as a cost to the business. After, research clearly shows that too many options decrease customer satisfaction (Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper from Columbia and Stanford University) while ordering times will decrease restaurant revenue.

Then there is the question of where is value created. Luwig von Mieses said “There is no sensible distinction to be made in a restaurant between the value created by the one who cooks the food and the value created by the person who sweeps the floor.” From a restaurant owner’s perspective, the the kitchen represents the single largest investment, both from an equipment as well as staff perspective. But from the customer’s point-of-view, the dining room is where the food is eaten and if it isn’t pleasant and clean and comfortable, with clean restrooms, he or she may be disinclined to visit no matter how good the food is. McDonald’s realised this a long time ago. Ray Kroc famously said that “if you can lean, you can clean.” As a family restaurant, making mom’s and dad’s comfortable was key, and restroom cleanliness logically also meant that the kitchen was clean and the food safe.

Service delivered is not equal to value received. What feature of a service a customer places more value on, and on which feature less, makes up the jobs to be done. Considering that there are always a range of jobs to be done, and a range of options for completing the job, it makes sense to list the potential jobs to be done and consider what pain the customer is solving and what he or she will gain by solving it. Take for example the quarter inch drill. It has famously been pointed out, that no-one needs a quarter inch drill. Instead they need a quarter inch hole in the wall to hang a picture.

So what are the job to be done? First and foremost, a hole. But actually a painting on the wall. Or a nicer room. Or perhaps it started with the picture, of where to put mom’s portrait? The follow-up question is will there be a need for more holes or is just going to be the one? What else can you do with a quarter inch drill? What other way can you hang a picture on the wall? What is the actual need, because quite obviously, aside from some enthusiasts, no one needs a hole in the wall. The hole is just a means to an end, and in this case, depending on the weight of the portrait, a nail may work fine. Or a hook with super strong tape. Or chewing gum if it is temporary. In short, by listing an analysing the jobs to be done, it becomes apparent that portrait has many more options of getting attached to the wall than just through drilling and placing a hook.

The relative pains and gains from different options can also be analysed. After all, the average home drill is used for 45 minutes over a 20 year lifespan. While you may still need to drill a hole in the wall it might be cheaper to borrow it from your neighbour for the cost of a six-pack instead of buying your own. Or if a nail will do you can even get away without a hammer if you’ve got a pair clogs in the closet.

The value proposition map lets you define your customer (if you’ve got different defined customer groups, do one for each type), and list the jobs to be done, the pains and gains. This will help you define your actual value proposition. Because a service delivered does not equal value received, you’ll be able to define the value you deliver to the customer in the context where it also actually creates value for the customer. Which help help to deliver the service or product in a manner that also makes sense to the customer, without just mindlessly adding more features to make a useful product hard to use.

How to use it?

We can talk about it in more detail

J.Margus Klaar
Co-founder & partner / ‭+372 507 8934‬

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