Engineering, Product management, User experience

Core Tenets of Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD)

fundamental principles that explain how customers buy products to fulfill a specific job in their lives.

Also called: Nine tenets of JTBD Theory

See also: Job Story (JTBD), Jobs-To-Be-Done Framework (JTBD)

Relevant metrics: Customer satisfaction, Market share, Customer retention, and Revenue growth

In this article

What purpose does the Core Tenets of Jobs-to-be-Done serve?

A theory is a set of tenets that has been formed as an attempt to explain things that have already been substantiated by data.

The purpose of The Core Tenets of The Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework is to provide a set of guiding principles that help organizations understand their customers’ needs and develop products and services that fulfill those needs better than their competitors.

Product teams should follow The Core Tenets of Jobs-to-be-Done framework because it offers a structured and effective set of principles to understanding customer needs and developing successful products. By focusing on the job that the customer is trying to accomplish, rather than the product or solution itself, product teams can identify and prioritize customer needs and design products that address those needs. This can lead to more effective communication, better product-market fit, and ultimately, increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.

By breaking down the job into its component parts and examining the steps and requirements involved, teams can identify opportunities for innovation and differentiation. This can help teams to avoid building products that are too similar to competitors and instead develop products that meet unique customer needs.

Where did the Core Tenets of Jobs-to-be-Done originate from?

The Core Tenets of Jobs-to-be-Done framework are based on the Jobs-to-be-Done theory, which was first introduced by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen in the 1990s. Christensen observed that companies were struggling to innovate because they were focused on improving existing products rather than understanding the underlying customer needs. He proposed that customers “hire” products to do a specific job in their lives, and if a company could understand the job that the customer was trying to do, they could create products that better satisfied that need.

The idea of Jobs-to-be-Done continued to develop over time, with contributions from other academics and practitioners. One key figure in this development was Tony Ulwick, who founded the consulting firm Strategyn in the 1990s to help companies apply Jobs-to-be-Done theory to their innovation efforts. Ulwick and his team at Strategyn further refined the framework, identifying the Core Tenets as a key part of the Jobs-to-be-Done approach.

Today, the Jobs-to-be-Done framework and its Core Tenets are widely used by companies and organizations around the world to better understand their customers’ needs and develop more effective products and services.

The Core Tenets of Jobs-to-be-Done

The evidence-based nature of Jobs-to-be-Done Theory means that the framework is grounded in reality and is not based on assumptions or guesswork. This approach allows for the development of products that accurately address real customer needs, which in turn increases the likelihood of creating successful and profitable products.

A theory is a set of tenets that has been formed as an attempt to explain things that have already been substantiated by data.

The Core Tenets of Jobs-to-be-Done theory provide product teams with a robust framework for achieving predictable growth. By focusing on the customer’s job-to-be-done and using evidence to support decisions, product teams can create products that meet the needs of customers and increase the chances of success.

The nine tenets of JTBD Theory were developed by Clayton Christensen, the father of JTBD theory, and have been refined and expanded upon by other thought leaders in the field. The nine tenets are:

  1. People don’t want products, they want to make progress.
  2. A Job has a functional and emotional dimension.
  3. Jobs are stable over time and across contexts.
  4. A Job-to-be-Done is solution agnostic.
  5. Success comes from making the job the unit of analysis
  6. A deep understanding of the customer’s job makes marketing more effective
  7. People are not looking for products or services, for ways to make progress in their lives.
  8. People seek out products and services that enable them to get the entire job done on a single platform.
  9. Innovation becomes predictable

Let’s examine each one in greater detail

People don’t want products, they want to make progress

According to this part of the theory, customers want to make progress and solve a problem or complete a task, and they purchase a product because they believe it will help them achieve their goal.

This tenet suggests that customers are looking for solutions to a specific job, rather than simply seeking a product for its own sake. It implies that companies that focus solely on the features and benefits of a product may miss the underlying motivation that led customers to purchase it in the first place.

When individuals seek to address underlying issues, they often resort to products and services to accomplish a specific job. This “job” encompasses the ultimate goal of the customer, the objective they wish to achieve, and the duties they are attempting to carry out. This “job” is not merely a description of the customer’s current activity, the resolution they have arrived at, or the steps they are taking to complete a task.

To implement this tenet, we define the market as the group of people and the functional job they are attempting to execute. For instance, a market could consist of parents who desire to impart life lessons to their children or surgeons attempting to repair a torn rotator cuff. By defining the market in this manner, a company can pinpoint its target consumer and the job that it intends to aid customers in accomplishing through its product or service.

A Job has a functional and emotional dimension

This tenet suggests that the reason a customer “hires” a product or service to complete a job is not solely based on its functional attributes, but also on the emotions and feelings associated with getting the job done. In other words, customers are not just buying products and services to perform a specific task, but also to fulfill a deeper emotional need.

For example, someone might “hire” a luxury car to complete the job of transportation. While the car’s functional attributes (e.g. speed, comfort, fuel efficiency) are important, the emotional dimension (e.g. feeling of status, prestige, or pleasure) also plays a significant role in the customer’s decision to buy or use that car.

This emotional dimension can vary depending on the context and situation in which the job is being done. For instance, someone might choose a fast-food restaurant for the job of satisfying hunger when they are in a hurry, but might choose a fine-dining restaurant when they want to celebrate a special occasion, even though both options are functionally capable of satisfying hunger.

As a customer strives to fulfill the functional job, they often yearn to experience specific emotions and be perceived in a certain light by their peers and others. These feelings and perceptions constitute their emotional and social jobs-to-be-done. For example, when parents are trying to impart life lessons to their children, they may also want to contribute to society’s advancement or be perceived as a responsible parent.

Recognizing the emotional and social components of the functional job provides companies with valuable insights that can lead to a value proposition that resonates with customers at both a functional and emotional level. In practice, we initially collaborate with clients to define the market and then determine the emotional and social jobs associated with the functional job-to-be-done. During qualitative research, it is typical for individuals to express 20 to 30 emotional and social jobs, which can be captured, quantified, and used to inform marketing and development decisions.

Jobs are stable over time and across contexts

The fundamental drivers of customer behavior remain consistent and predictable, despite changing circumstances or external factors. This means that the underlying motivation behind a customer’s decision to hire a product or service remains relatively constant, regardless of when or where that decision is made. It implies that customers have enduring needs or goals that persist over time and across different situations, which they seek to fulfill through various means.

For example, a person’s need for caffeine to help them stay alert during the day is likely to remain constant regardless of where they are or what they are doing. Whether they are at work, at home, or on vacation, they may seek out a coffee or energy drink to satisfy that need. Similarly, a person’s desire to stay connected with loved ones may drive their decision to use a particular social media platform or messaging app, regardless of whether they are using it on their phone, tablet, or computer.

By recognizing the stability of Jobs over time and contexts, product teams can better understand and anticipate their customers’ needs, and design products and services that are more likely to meet those needs effectively. They can also use this understanding to identify new opportunities for growth and innovation by identifying untapped customer needs or areas where existing solutions are inadequate.

The permanence of the job-to-be-done provides an appealing focal point for creating customer value. It offers a steady target for market insights, strategy formulation, innovation, research and development, mergers and acquisitions, and growth. Moreover, it provides insights that can assist in preventing disruption.

We leverage this tenet by recognizing that a company’s strategy should always be to assist customers in getting the entire job done more efficiently and affordably on a single product platform. This is the long-term strategy that Amazon has been pursuing since its inception. A stable target and a clear vision provide purpose and direction to an organization.

A Job-to-be-Done is solution agnostic

A customer’s problem or need, which is often referred to as a Job-to-be-Done, is independent of any particular product or solution. In other words, customers don’t actually want a particular product or service; rather, they want a solution to a problem or need that they have.

For example, if a customer wants to travel from point A to point B, they don’t necessarily want a car, a bicycle, or a bus. What they really want is a solution to their transportation problem, which may involve any number of products or services depending on their circumstances, preferences, and constraints.

This is an important insight for companies because it means that they shouldn’t be focused on creating and selling specific products or services, but rather on understanding the Jobs-to-be-Done that their customers have and then developing solutions that meet those needs better than their competitors. By focusing on the underlying Jobs-to-be-Done rather than on specific solutions, companies can be more agile and responsive to changing customer needs and preferences, and can more easily create and adapt their products and services to meet those needs.

Innovation is not just about making incremental improvements to existing solutions but about finding new and better ways to get a job done.

A solution-agnostic approach is essential to achieve breakthrough innovations. A solution, such as a horse or a smartphone, is just a means to get a job done. Instead, the job must be defined independently of the solution to create innovative solutions. Customers are not experts in product design, materials science or technology, so asking them what solutions they want is a failed approach to innovation. However, customers do know what job they want to get done, so defining the job-to-be-done independent of solutions allows for breakthrough thinking.

Viewing competition through the lens of the job-to-be-done, instead of just focusing on products that are similar in nature, is a vital aspect of this tenet. Understanding the job in granular detail requires creating a job map. This map differs from process or customer journey maps, as it describes what the customer wants to achieve in each step of the job, not just how they do it. The next step is to define customer “needs” as metrics that customers use to measure success when completing each step of the job. These “needs” are defined as customer desired outcomes, which are devoid of solutions and stable over time. They form the basis of the Outcome-Driven Innovation process, allowing for the identification of where and why customers are struggling to get the job done and brainstorming ideas for new offerings.

Success comes from making the job the unit of analysis

Making the job-to-be-done the unit of analysis enables companies to transition from a place where cross-functional teams cannot agree on what a “need” is to a place where they not only agree on what a need is but also on all the customer’s needs (the 100+ desired outcomes tied to the job-to-be-done). This allows for a deep understanding of the customer’s desired outcomes for a given job, which in turn enables companies to position and sell more of their existing products, improve existing products and services, and create new ones.

The focus should be on understanding the underlying job that the customer is trying to get done, rather than on the product or service that they are currently using.

This approach requires a shift in mindset from traditional marketing approaches that focus on the product and its features, benefits, and price. Instead, the focus is on understanding the customer’s desired outcomes or progress, and the problems or constraints they face in achieving those outcomes. This allows companies to identify unmet needs and opportunities for innovation.

To make the job the unit of analysis, companies need to engage in rigorous research that goes beyond customer surveys and focus groups. Contextual inquiry, ethnographic research, and in-depth interviews are some of the techniques that are commonly used in JTBD research. These methods help researchers to uncover the social, emotional, and functional aspects of the job, and to identify the underlying motivations and decision-making processes of the customer.

By focusing on the job, companies can also better define their market and their competition. Rather than defining their market based on product categories or customer demographics, they can define it based on the job that customers are trying to get done. This allows them to identify competitors who are serving the same job, regardless of the product category they belong to.

The success of a product or service depends on how well it helps the customer get the job done. By making the job the unit of analysis, companies can develop solutions that are more aligned with customer needs and goals, and create a superior customer experience.

A deep understanding of the customer’s job makes marketing more effective

The tenet that a deep understanding of the customer’s job makes marketing more effective and innovation more predictable is at the core of JTBD theory. This tenet emphasizes that successful marketing and innovation depend on understanding the customer’s underlying needs and motivations, rather than simply focusing on the product or service being offered.

By focusing on the job the customer is trying to accomplish, marketers and innovators can gain a deeper understanding of the underlying problem the customer is trying to solve. This understanding can then be used to create products and services that better meet the customer’s needs, as well as to develop more effective marketing messages that speak directly to the customer’s pain points.

For example, instead of simply trying to sell a new type of toothbrush to customers, a company using the JTBD framework would focus on understanding the job the customer is trying to accomplish, such as keeping their teeth clean and healthy. This deeper understanding of the customer’s job might reveal that the customer struggles with reaching the back teeth or has difficulty brushing for the recommended two minutes. Armed with this knowledge, the company could develop a toothbrush specifically designed to address these pain points, and market it as the solution to the job of keeping teeth clean and healthy.

The underlying principles of marketing and innovation are quite simple. When a team agrees on the definition of a need, the customer’s needs, and the unmet ones, they are able to

  1. Improve the positioning and sale of existing products
  2. Enhance existing products and services
  3. Develop new products and services.

Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) theory makes it possible for teams to agree on these aspects.

Leveraging Jobs-to-be-Done Theory

In practical terms, we employ this principle by carrying out quantitative research that is specifically tailored to uncover customer desired outcomes that are underserved or overserved. Moreover, we identify customer segments with different unmet outcomes. This unique research methodology, which we have perfected over two decades, overcomes the limitations that are commonly associated with traditional market research techniques. For more information on this, please see our article titled “Reinventing Market Research to Put Jobs-to-be-Done Theory into Practice.”

People are not looking for products or services, for ways to make progress in their lives

According to the Jobs-to-be-Done theory, people are not looking for products or services per se; they are looking for ways to make progress in their lives. This progress is achieved by getting a job done better and/or more cheaply. A job in this context refers to a task that someone is trying to complete, a problem they are trying to solve, or a need they are trying to fulfill.

For instance, a person may hire a product or service to complete a job such as to lose weight, entertain guests, or commute to work. In each of these cases, the person has a desired outcome, and they are looking for a product or service that will help them achieve that outcome better and/or more cheaply than other options available to them. Therefore, if a company can create a product or service that enables the customer to get their job done better and/or more cheaply than other options, they will be more likely to succeed in the marketplace.

By focusing on the job rather than the product or the customer, companies can gain a better understanding of what customers truly need and want, and can create products and services that align with those needs and wants. This understanding can then be used to inform marketing efforts and drive innovation. By identifying the job that customers are trying to get done, companies can tailor their marketing messages to highlight how their product or service can help the customer achieve their desired outcome better and/or more cheaply. This focus on the job can also make innovation more predictable, as companies can use customer insights to identify opportunities for improvement and create products and services that better meet customer needs.

Discerning customers are not swayed by company loyalty or brand reputation. Instead, they are driven by their desire for better job performance, achieved through increased efficiency, reliability, and productivity, and for lower costs. They do not hesitate to substitute existing products and services with more effective alternatives that satisfy their needs. Some may be willing to pay a premium for superior job performance, while others may opt for cheaper solutions to get the job done adequately. Understanding the diverse customer preferences and their proportional representation within the market is a critical foundation for devising innovative growth strategies.

People seek out products and services that enable them to get the entire job done on a single platform

The JTBD theory emphasizes that people seek out products and services that enable them to get the entire job done on a single platform. In other words, they want a solution that offers a complete solution to their problem or task, rather than having to use multiple products or services to accomplish the same job.

For example, a person who wants to organize their finances might look for a single platform that allows them to track their expenses, set up a budget, and monitor their investments all in one place, rather than using separate tools for each task. By offering a complete solution to the customer’s job, the product or service provider can create a more seamless and convenient user experience, which can result in greater customer satisfaction and loyalty.

This tenet highlights the importance of understanding the broader context of the customer’s job and the various steps involved in completing it. By identifying all of the different tasks and activities that the customer needs to accomplish, product and service providers can design solutions that meet all of their needs in one place. This can result in a more efficient and effective solution for the customer, while also providing a competitive advantage for the provider.

Many products fall short of fulfilling customers’ entire job requirements

Many products and services offered in the market fall short of fulfilling customers’ entire job requirements. As a result, customers have to assemble different solutions to accomplish their goals, a tedious and inefficient process. Customers demand an all-in-one solution that meets their requirements in a comprehensive manner. This finding has significant implications.

Firstly, your product strategy must remain constant, with the objective of enabling customers to complete their entire job on a single platform. Nespresso is an outstanding example of this strategy. The company spent years pursuing a single-minded goal: to help customers complete the task of “preparing a hot beverage for consumption” using one platform.

More importantly, products and services evolve gradually to cater to customers’ entire job requirements. By identifying the steps involved in the job, a company can hasten this process. A Job Map can serve as a blueprint that guides a company in identifying the necessary product improvements, M&A, and R&D investments to develop the ultimate solution, years before its competitors.

Innovation becomes predictable

The JTBD theory states that innovation can become more predictable when the “needs” of customers are identified as the metrics they use to evaluate the success of a job they’re trying to get done. In other words, instead of focusing on what the customer wants in a product or service, it’s more effective to understand the outcome they desire when trying to accomplish a specific job.

To put it in more practical terms, let’s say a customer is looking to hire a service that will help them organize their travel itinerary. Rather than asking the customer what features they want in a travel itinerary app, a JTBD approach would identify the outcome the customer is seeking, such as “efficiently plan a comprehensive travel itinerary.” By understanding this outcome, product developers can create a solution that addresses the customer’s need, even if it doesn’t align with their initial ideas of what they thought they wanted.

This approach to innovation can make it more predictable because it allows companies to focus on the outcomes that customers are seeking, rather than blindly following trends or guessing what features will be popular. By understanding the metrics customers use to evaluate success when getting a job done, companies can create solutions that better meet customer needs and lead to greater customer satisfaction.

Making innovation predictable

To determine whether a new product concept will improve job performance and/or reduce costs, it must undergo a rigorous evaluation process that assesses competing ideas based on a stable set of metrics. The metrics used to evaluate new product concepts are the customers’ desired outcomes.

As the job-to-be-done remains consistent over time, so do the customers’ needs when expressed as desired outcome statements (refer to the Medium article “Define Customer Needs As Constants”). Armed with a stable set of needs, a company can:

  • Quantify the underserved and overserved needs
  • Discover customer segments with different unmet needs
  • Use the metrics as a benchmark for testing product concepts before the development phase

Knowing which product or service concept will achieve the best job performance at the earliest stage of the product planning process (before development) is the key to predictable and profitable innovation.

Relevant questions to ask
  • What problem am I trying to solve and will using the Jobs-to-be-Done framework help me solve it?
  • Do I have a clear understanding of the Jobs-to-be-Done theory and how it works?
  • Do I have the necessary resources and expertise to implement the Jobs-to-be-Done framework effectively?
  • Have I identified the specific Jobs-to-be-Done for my product or service?
  • What metrics will I use to measure the success of the Jobs-to-be-Done framework in achieving my goals?

You might also be interested in reading up on:

People who talk about the topic of Core Tenets of Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) on Twitter
Relevant books on the topic of Core Tenets of Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD)
  • Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice by Clayton Christensen (2016)
  • Jobs to be Done: Theory to Practice by Anthony W. Ulwick (2016)
  • When Coffee and Kale Compete: Become Great at Making Products People Will Buy by Alan Klement (2014)
  • What Customers Want: Using OutcomeDriven Innovation to Create Breakthrough Products and Services by Anthony Ulwick (2005)
  • Demand-Side Sales 101: Stop Selling and Help Your Customers Make Progress by Bob Moesta and Greg Ulrich (2021)

Want to learn more?

Receive a hand picked list of the best reads on building products that matter every week. Curated by Anders Toxboe. Published every Tuesday.

No spam! Unsubscribe with a single click at any time.

Community events
Product Loop

Product Loop provides an opportunity for Product professionals and their peers to exchange ideas and experiences about Product Design, Development and Management, Business Modelling, Metrics, User Experience and all the other things that get us excited.

Join our community

Made with in Copenhagen, Denmark

Want to learn more about about good product development, then browse our product playbooks.