Innovation: the job to be done

Professor Clayton Christensen teaches at Harvard and wrote several books – amongst them The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (Management of Innovation and Change), a must-read for all those who work in technology – and he developed a technique to find out problems to be solved, called “the job to be done”.

The idea behind “the job to be done” is that we must understand for which job our clients have “hired” our products. In other words, the job our clients expect that our products will perform. 

Clayton illustrates this technique with a very interesting example. He was hired to evaluate a specific product of a diner, the milkshake. The company already had surveyed clients asking what they wanted: creamier milkshakes, with cookies crumble, fruit or chocolate, or with more syrup. The answer of the research pointed out to a preference, which was implemented. However, this preference didn’t increase sales, the main goal of the company. 

Clayton decided to do the survey differently. Instead of asking what clients wanted, he looked for understanding what was the work for which people “hired” the product, in this case, the milkshake. After many conversations with clients, he discovered that they passed by at the diner before going to work and spent a lot of time in traffic. The milkshake was creamy and you could drink it using a straw, so it would take time to finish it. It would take the whole time of the trip to work, that is, it would entertain the client during the whole trip to work. People hired the morning milkshake before driving to work to have something to get entertained on the way. 

Clients have already tried with other “competitors”, such as fruit juices, but they end up very fast. They tried with bagels, but the work and the mess to eat it didn’t pay back. The milkshake was perfect for this job to be done!

After understanding the job to be done, the diner could improve the milkshake, making it creamier and putting little fruit pieces and/or cereal in it, in order to add small surprises while clients savor it. In addition, it set an attendance system that minimized lines to guarantee a minimum waiting time, after understanding that its clients were in a hurry and didn’t want to wait in the diner. These adjustments did bring sales improvements. 

The “job to be done” market research 

Clayton himself argues that, in traditional marketing, it is common to associate a certain product to a certain demographic group. For example, in the previous case, if we were responsible for the product management of the diner, we could relate milkshakes to people of a certain age who work and, consequently, always look for creamy milkshakes that last long. It happens that, using the technique “job to be done”, we have a wider view of where the product stands. 

Clayton extended his survey to other periods of the day and caught the same people going back to the diner later in the afternoon, but now with their kids, for a quick meal. Often, the kids asked for a milkshake. The diner served the same milkshake: creamy, large and that lasted long. But parents didn’t want to wait that long for kids to finish their milkshakes; it was only a quick meal. 

In this case, in spite of being the same client, the job to be done was another: to please the client’s kid quickly. Therefore, the milkshake could be smaller, maybe half of the size, and less creamy so it wouldn’t last long. 

So the same client wants the same product performing different jobs, depending on the situation. That’s the importance of understanding the job to be done. 

Understanding problems and their context

On the my previous article and on this one, we learned how to understand more about a problem of a group of people; to deeply understand their problems and the context in which they take place; and to understand the motivation people have to want it solved.

Eventually, by using the technique of “job to be done”, the suspicion appears: do we have a good opportunity in our hands? Or still, we can find more than one problem. So, how do we choose amongst all these problems? What is the best opportunity to be explored? This will be the topic of my next article.

Product Management: how to increase the success of your software

In 2015 I wrote a book on Software Product Management in Portuguese. In 2016, Paulo Caroli talked to me about how he enjoyed the book and how this book could be useful to people in the software industry not only in Brazil but anywhere in the world. For this reason, we decided to create an English version of my book.

The book is organized in 5 sections:

  • Definitions and requirements
  • Life cycle of a software product
  • Relationship with other areas
  • Product portfolio management
  • Where to use software product management

This book is suitable for anyone working with software. Even companies that do not have software as its core business use software in their day to day and often have developed some software that interfaces with its customers such as a website or a mobile application. It is important for these companies to understand the software product management role and responsibilities, so they can better manage this software and increase its chances of success.

We are working on the translation but as we progress we are already releasing the content. If you want to see the work in progress, please visit the book page at LeanPub. Still in beta but already with valuable content. Feedbacks are not only welcome, but needed!

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