Jobs-to-Be-Done Theory: The Key to Long-Term Business Growth

Colleagues reviewing business documents

In today’s ever-evolving marketplace, companies of all kinds are on the lookout for ways to stimulate innovation and create lasting growth. The answer may just lie in the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) theory.

Tony Ulwick originated the theory and processes of JTBD and outcome-driven innovation (ODI) in the late 1980s and early 90s. JTBD is built around the theory that people purchase products and services to get jobs done. In completing jobs, people are trying to achieve specific measurable outcomes. JTBD, then, connects businesses’ value creation activities to consumer-defined metrics.

Why Is JTBD the Answer?

The real question is not “Why is JTBD the answer?” but “Why do people buy products and services?”

The answer is, because individuals make buying decisions based on the expectation that the purchase will make their desired business outcome more likely to be achieved, and will work better than other options.

JTBD is the tool to use when trying to determine what outcomes people are working to improve — in other words, the jobs to be done.

How Does JTBD Work?

To understand in detail how JTBD works, start by reading What Customers Want by Tony Ulwick. However, if all you need now is a high-level overview, follow these 10 simple steps:

  1. Identify the market you want to serve.
  2. Interview potential buyers of your product or service, considering all possible industries and applications, and all roles in the buying process.
  3. Identify all of the different jobs that each person may be trying to achieve. Don’t be surprised if you identify more than 100 different jobs. Some will be tangible (e.g., increase output) and some will be emotional (e.g., make a job less stressful).
  4. Identify and quantify how important each job is to each person.
  5. Identify how the prospects currently complete a job and how satisfied they are with their outcomes.
  6. Put the jobs with the most satisfied outcomes on a separate list to make sure you do not waste your time trying to improve them.
  7. Order all of the remaining jobs from most to least important.
  8. Start figuring out what your new product or service must offer in order to be purchased.
  9. Carry out this process to its logical conclusion — either commercialize or kill.
  10. Repeat as often as possible.

I recommend that you divide the importance list into three groups, as follows:

  1. The basic jobs to be done — These are the jobs that already have an acceptable method in place for accomplishing the desired outcome. The job is probably relatively unimportant, and the prospect is probably reasonably satisfied. Unless this is a high-volume, consumer-type product, do not put it on your to-do list.
  2. The important jobs that should be done — These deserve a serious investigation into how easy or difficult it will be to make significant improvements in prospect outcomes. Look at costs and outcomes compared to current solutions, and work on the ones that have the strongest likelihood of commercial success.
  3. The mission-critical jobs that must be done — Mission-critical jobs must be vigorously investigated, because it is very likely that the selling price will not matter unless you have incorrectly assigned the importance. These are the issues that can shut down a manufacturing line, allow for the release of a contaminated drug, cause serious injury to patients, and put businesses at significant risk.

Next Steps

If you’ve gotten this far, you’ll now have a to-do list that is prioritized based the importance to potential buyers. This means that any job for which you can create a solution, which is commercially viable, should be profitable. By comparison, the common practice of creating products and then trying to sell them has a success rate of less than 25%.

Image Credit: Satori Studio /

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