What is Jobs to be Done?

Jobs to be Done (JTBD) is a theory for understanding what motivates customers to buy your product.

People want their lives to be better. They have a vision of where they want to go. But there are obstacles in their path. Customers hire products to help them move forward; to make progress towards their vision of a better life.

You can think of it this way: users "hire" software to help get their job done. Alan Klement defines it this way:

"Customer + Product = Progress"

Products are like steroids. They should help users get stronger, faster.

Building successful products isn’t just about creating a ground-breaking technology! As Clayton Christensen explains in his book, Competing Against Luck:

The word “progress” might not spring to mind when you’re trying to innovate. Instead you obsess about creating the perfect product with just the right combination of features and benefits to appeal to customers. You think you know just what your customers would like, but in reality, it can feel pretty hit or miss. Place enough bets and— with a bit of luck— something will work out.

Jobs to be Done helps you understand why a user might hire your software to get their job done.

Who is using it?

Companies like Intercom and Basecamp have made big bets on JTBD and made it a part of their product development process.

Jason Fried, of Basecamp, reported that interviewing their customers generated valuable product insights:

What’s most interesting is the situations people find themselves in before they’re our customers. It’s not about this industry or that one. It’s not about demographics, either. It’s not even about the competitive set, yet. It’s all about the situation they’re in, the reality they’re trying to wrangle, and the progress they’re trying to make.

Describing a job to be done

Here’s an example of how Freshbooks might define their JTBD:

Free me from the agony of creating and tracking invoices manually so that I can get paid faster.

Alan Klement has three criteria for defining a JTBD:

  1. Make sure you’re not describing a task or activity. It's not about getting a drill so you can drill a 3/4" hole. It’s about how your life gets better after you use the drill: hanging a beautiful painting and having your friends admire it.
  2. Describe how the customer has solved that job in the past, and how they might solve it in the future.
  3. Understand what motivates the customer. How will things be better for the user when they overcome the struggle?

How do you figure out the JTBD for your product? You’ll need to get a deeper understanding of the customer’s journey and their motivation for change.

Seeing the customer journey

Understanding the initial trigger, and the events that lead up to the purchase will help you design an effective marketing strategy for your product.

You can visualize the process like this:

Customer interviews

One way to understand someone's Job to be Done is to interview them.

Alan Klement has written an excellent guide on conducting interviews, with sample questions you can ask.

He recommends starting with these questions:

  1. When did you purchase the product?
  2. Where were you?
  3. What time of day was it? (daytime/ nighttime?)
  4. What was the weather like?
  5. Was anyone else with you at the time?
  6. How did you purchase the product?
  7. Did you buy anything at the same time?

If you don't yet have a product, you can ask a competitor's customers these questions.

The interviewee's answers will help you understand the context of the actual buying decision.

(To learn how to do JTBD interviews the right way, I highly recommend this course by Chris Spiek, Bob Moesta & Ervin Fowlkes.)


Aside from interviews, you can also observe people making purchasing decisions, both in-person and online.

Folks often leave clues on social media, in forums, and in blog posts, that help us understand the timeline behind a purchase.

Here's an example from Twitter user @dakotaw:

He mentions he is buying a new book almost every day. Five days later he tweets this message:

In this case, buying a lot of books serves as a trigger to consider the Kindle Unlimited service.

How would we define Dakota's JTBD?

"Give me unlimited digital books so that I can read more self-help books."

What else could Dakota hire to get this job done? Kindle Unlimited isn't his only option. He could also hire:

  • The public library
  • Audible audio books

Kindle Unlimited also competes with anything else that might attract Dakota's attention: Netflix, podcasts, and college courses.

Optimize for the job to be done

In 10+ years of doing product marketing, I haven’t found a better framework for understanding why people buy software.

JTBD shows us that we’re not in the business of making products, we're trying to make super humans. In the words of Kathy Sierra, the purpose of a product is to make a “badass user:” your app should give users abilities they never had before.

You can use JTBD principles to observe human beings and gain two valuable insights:

  1. How do they want their life to be better?
  2. What obstacles stand in their way?

Once you understand this, you build products that help people improve their lives. You’re not guessing; you’re delivering the progress they desire.

It’s crucial that you organize all of your efforts around helping users make progress. Whether it’s marketing, coding, or customer support, everything should contribute to their forward movement.

JTBD is particularly useful when you’re deciding which features to build. Think about what John Palmer is saying here:

"Jobs to be Done does not describe what the product must do; it describes what the customer must do."

A new feature should give your user the ability to do something they weren’t able to do before.

For example, I use Canva.com to design book covers, podcast art, and header graphics for blog posts. Previously, I had to hire a designer to do those things. It was costly and slowed me down.

But now, with Canva, I have a new superpower: I can design assets myself. We might describe the JTBD like this:

    “Give me the ability to do design work myself, so that I can publish my work sooner (without waiting for a designer.”

Jobs to be Done Resources

Published on July 11th, 2017
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