1 . Are We Asking the Wrong Questions? (I)

The Magic of Jobs-to-be-Done

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By Tony Ulwick


Success in innovation does not come from understanding the customer. It comes from a deep understanding of the job the customer is trying to get done. After all, it is the desire to get a job done that causes them to buy a product or service in the first place.

As Theodore Levitt said, “people do not want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.” People buy products and services to get jobs done; and while products come and go, the underlying job-to-be-done does not go away.

While most companies innovate by trying to improve their existing products (creating a better quarter-inch drill), the innovation process is dramatically improved by instead trying to find better ways to create a quarter-inch hole (to get the job done).

Products come and go, but the customer’s job-to-be-done is stable over time. Studying the job that people are trying to get done –instead of studying the product itself– gives you unique, robust target for value creation.

With a stable unit of analysis –“the job” rather than “the product” or “the customer”– you can define customer needs that are stable over time and give you predictable growth.

What is Jobs-to-be-Done?

Jobs-to-be-Done is best defined as a perspective –a new lens through which you can observe markets, customers, needs, competitors, and customer segments more insightfully.

When you look at marketing and innovation through this lens, everything looks different:

  • The unit of analysis is no longer the customer or the product. It is the “job” the customer is trying to get done.
  • Markets are not defined around products. They are defined as groups of people trying to get a job done.
  • Customers are not just buyers. They also include job executors.
  • Needs are not vague, latent and unknowable. They are the metrics customers use to measure success when getting a job done.
  • Competitors are not companies that make products like yours. They are companies with any solution people use to get the job done.
  • Customer segments are not based on demographics or psychographics. They are based on how customers struggle differently to get a job done.

If you think about the market from this perspective, you are much more likely to create and deliver extraordinary products and services. With the right customer inputs, you can orchestrate the systematic creation of customer value across the organization.

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The Theory Behind

Since the Jobs-to-be-Done theory is based on the notion that people buy products and services to get a “job” done, you can confidently rely on the following nine tenets as the building blocks for making marketing more effective and innovation more predictable:


People buy products and services to get a “job” done.

People have underlying problems they are trying to resolve. They have goals they are trying to achieve and tasks and activities they are trying to complete. They may be faced with situations they are trying to avoid. In each of these cases, people often turn to products and services to help them get a “job” done.


Jobs are functional—with emotional and social components.

A job is not a description of what the customer is doing, the solution they are using, or the steps they are taking to get a job done. Rather, the job is what the customer is ultimately trying to accomplish. The core job-to-be-done is defined as a “functional job.”


A Job-to-be-Done is stable over time.

Because the job-to-be-done is stable over time, it is an attractive focal point around which to create customer value for many years. With this in mind, your business’ strategy should always be to help customers get the entire job done better and more cheaply on a single product platform.


A Job-to-be-Done is solution agnostic.

Innovation is not about “a faster horse.” A “horse” is a solution to get a job done. The job (transporting yourself from point A to point B) must be defined independently of the solution (the horse). This is how new, breakthrough solutions can be conceptualized (like the automobile).

Customers do not know what solutions will get a job done best — they couldn’t envision the car or the microwave or the smartphone. But customers do know what job they are trying to get done and can tell you all about it.


Success comes from making the job the unit of analysis, rather than the product or the customer.

Making the job-to-be-done the unit of analysis means it is the job  —  not the product, the customer, the circumstance, the purchase process or customer demographics  —  that you need to study, dissect and understand at a granular level of detail.

That is why as innovators we must change the unit of analysis when talking to customers. While they often do not know what solutions will best satisfy their needs, customers do know what they are trying to accomplish as it relates to getting a job done. They know what aspects of the job are time consuming, unpredictable and ineffective. They can define their needs around the job-to-be-done.


A deep understanding of the customer’s job makes marketing more effective — and innovation far more predictable.

The fundamentals of marketing and innovation are straightforward. If your team can agree on what a customer need is, what the customer’s needs are, and which customer needs are unmet or underserved, you are able to: 1) Better position and sell more of the company’s existing products, 2) Improve existing products and services, and 3) Create new products and services.

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Innovation becomes predictable when “needs” are defined as the metrics customers use to measure success when getting the job done.

We define customer needs (desired outcomes) as the metrics that customers use to measure success when getting the job done. These metrics are extracted from customers through customer interviews. Customers typically use between 50 and 150 metrics to explain the successful execution of the job. Capturing all of them is the key to success. After discovering segments of customers with different unmet needs, the metrics can be used as a baseline against which you can test product ideas and concepts before they are developed.


People want products and services that will help them get a job done better and/or more cheaply.

We have learned that people are not loyal to companies or brands. They are loyal to getting a job done better (faster, more predictably, and with higher output/throughput) and/or more cheaply. They replace existing products and services with those that help them achieve these goals.

We have learned that some people are willing to pay more to get a job done better, while others are willing to pay less to get a job done worse. Knowing what types of customers exist in your market (and in what proportions) forms the foundation for a new way to think about your growth strategy.


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

There are many products and services available in the market that only get part of a job done. Once you know exactly what steps the customer goes through to complete the job, you can accelerate the process of getting their entire job done on a single platform.

Defining the Job-To-Be-Done

The first challenge that companies face when applying this theory is defining what job the customer is trying to get done. Have in mind that:

  1. It is not as easy as it might sound! It is a discovery process.
  2. Defining it correctly is a prerequisite to predictable success in innovation.
  3. The job becomes the focal point around which the entire innovation process is executed –market sizing and market segmentation methods are all dependent on defining the job correctly.

We have seen many jobs-to-be-done examples that apply the theory in the wrong manner.

For instance, if it is not the actual job the customer is trying to execute, lots of time and money can be wasted, and a failed product may be launched before the mistake is realized.

In addition, if customers are not struggling to get the job done or if there are not enough job executors trying to get the job done, then it may not be a good market to go after in the first place.

So, what is the best way to define the customer’s job-to-be-done?

Keep in mind that the reason the jobs-to-be-done theory is so powerful is because it allows companies to analyze the job like it would analyze a business process, providing a new and effective method for uncovering and prioritizing customer needs.

Consequently, the job must be defined as a process; an activity that consists of a series of steps that customers take to complete a task or achieve a goal or objective. This means that defining the job-to-be-done is always a functional job, not an emotional one.

Strategyn’s website contains the best source of information about Jobs-To-Be-Done: check it here!

Inspired by failure

Early in my career as a product engineer, I experienced the ultimate professional disappointment: for 18 months I put my heart and soul into creating a product that failed in the marketplace.

It was 1984, and I was part of the IBM PCjr development team. We were working on a product that was supposed to revolutionize home computing. In advance of its release, the Washington Post wrote, “the PCjr will quickly become the standard by which all other home computers are measured.”

So you can imagine my surprise when instead, the day after we introduced the PCjr, I woke up to read the headlines in the Wall Street Journal declaring, “PCjr is a flop.”

I was shocked! As we learned over the next few months, they were right. It was a flop, an embarrassment that cost IBM over a billion dollars and put a blemish on its reputation.

The humiliation of failure had a profound effect on me. I was determined to never let that happen again.

That set me on a mission, this mission.

In the second part of this article, I will explore some examples, how to get started and common mistakes to avoid when using Jobs-to-be-Done. Stay tuned!

I am Tony Ulwick and these are my agile-thoughts

2021 © Pompano Beach, Florida, UNITED STATES by Tony Ulwick

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Tony Ulwick is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Strategyn. He is the pioneer of jobs-to-be-done theory and the inventor of Outcome-Driven Innovation.

His work has helped the world’s leading companies launch winning products and services with a success rate higher than the industry average.

His best-selling book, “What Customers Want,” and his articles in the Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Management Review have been cited in hundreds of publications. His work has defined a new era in customer-centric innovation.

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