Innovation: the job to be done

Professor Clayton Christensen teaches at Harvard and wrote several books — among them The Innovator’s Dilemma: the revolutionary book that will change the way you do business[^InnovatorDilemma], 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”.

[^InnovatorDilemma]: The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business, by Clayton M. Christensen, Harvard Business Review Press; 1st edition (1997)

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 had already 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 the sales, the main goal of the company.

Clayton decided to do the survey differently. Instead of asking what the 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 the 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.

They have already tried with other competitors, such as fruit juices, but they ended up very fast. They tried with bagels, but the work and mess to eat it didn’t compensate. 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 the clients savor it. In addition, it set an attendance system that minimized lines to guarantee a minimum waiting time, for 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.

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

Understanding problems and their context

In the previous chapter 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 the 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 among all these problems? What is the best opportunity to be explored? This is the topic of the next chapter, stay tuned!

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success, solve its user’s problems and achieve the company objectives? Check out my Digital Product Management bundle with my 3 books where I share what I learned during my 30+ years of experience in creating and managing digital products:

You can also acquire the books individually, by clicking on their titles above.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *