Nearly two decades ago, I had the good fortune to be working with Clayton Christensen, the Harvard Business School professor who originated major concepts like disruptive innovation and “skate to where the puck is going.” He had just published about the concept of Jobs to be Done – in brief, the idea that customers are simply trying to get things done in their lives (or for their companies), don’t care that much about your product, and are often looking at a very diverse range of solutions to get those jobs accomplished. The Job to be Done, not the product, was what governed their behavior. It was yet another breakthrough idea from Clay.
Into his then-small consulting practice came one of the world’s biggest cellphone manufacturers. They’d read about Jobs in Clay’s second book, The Innovator’s Solution, and how he’d encapsulated the idea through a simple story about a fast food restaurant using Jobs to realize that milkshakes were often sold to commuters looking for a straightforward, clean, and easily-disposed-of breakfast on the go that could also keep them occupied on a boring commute. The milkshake story made so much sense – the restaurant wasn’t just competing against other fast food chains with milkshakes, but against bananas, bars, and even forms of in-car entertainment. The cellphone manufacturer wanted to use Jobs as the basis for determining the spec of a next-generation smartphone.
That was a problem! The milkshake story was wonderfully simple, but it didn’t tell us anything about how exactly to design a milkshake, much less a complex smartphone. What could we do?
That day of puzzlement began a long process of developing methods to ladder down from high-level Jobs into granular details, and to ladder up from arcane debates about product features into what customer Jobs told us about their priorities. It led to my popular Forbes article in 2012 first laying out the Jobs Atlas construct. Ten years on, it’s time for an update.
The Jobs Atlas is summarized in the graphic below:
Jobs to be Done: The Jobs Atlas starts, naturally enough, with the Jobs that people are trying to get done. These are both functional and emotional in nature. (We once stipulated that Jobs could also be social, but over the years we’ve seen that social jobs are really just a subset of emotional ones, and that there’s often a fuzzy line between what’s a social type of emotional Job and a personal type of emotional Job. The distinction between social and personal didn’t end up helping).
The Jobs are expressed at a personal level, even if you’re working in a B2B context. Companies are made up of people, and you need to understand the perspective of distinct gatekeepers, influencers, and decision-makers to get a realistic view of how products are bought and used. The Jobs almost always include emotional ones, and they don’t need to adhere to any linear progression of a task or process, because the world often doesn’t work in a linear way. Rather, they are stated as customers will actually express them or illustrate them through their observed actions. You can create hierarchies of Jobs to bring order into this picture.
Job Drivers: Next, look at what drives people to prioritize certain Jobs. You and I may both seek car safety, for instance, but if you have an infant in the back seat you may put a higher priority on that factor than I do. Job Drivers can derive from peoples’ attitudes, short-term occasions or use cases, or long-term contexts.
Current Approaches and Pain Points: One beauty of Jobs to be Done is that it is solution-agnostic, and so it liberates innovators to find totally new vectors for performance and differentiation. However, you cannot ignore what people are doing today. People are going to have to fire an existing solution – even if it is a terrible make-do one – in order to hire a new solution. So, understand the current customer journey, including the Jobs-related “why” behind each of the key journey steps, and find the pain points that could cause the firing to occur. These create fruitful ground for differentiating your solution.
Success Criteria: How will customers assess whether your new offering gets their Jobs done? What are the metrics they will use? How might those be quantified? These questions are critical to resolve as you start to translate Jobs and differentiators into specific features. Oftentimes the success criteria will number into the dozens. Welcome the detail, as it provides critical guidance as you develop your product.
Obstacles and Triggers: The world is chock full of great innovations that never took off, or which required an eon to do so. Don’t assume that a wonderful product is enough to win people over. Your research should seek out what specifically could impede adoption, and conversely what factors might trigger rapid take-up. Listen closely to how purchase decisions really get made and ideally observe the process. For instance, a key factor selling cars isn’t price, performance, or comfort but…paint. A car with a distinctive paint job might not be on the lot tomorrow, so shoppers decide “today is the day.”
Value: How much is accomplishing a Job worth? How do people assess that value? Can they do a calculation, do they have a rough sense in mind, or do people compare to benchmarks from possibly completely different product sets? These factors will influence which Jobs you focus on as well as how you go to market with your innovation.
Competition: Finally, what are your competitive advantages in addressing certain Jobs or customer types? What Jobs are already associated with your current products or brand compared to rivals, and how do you already engage users in ways that might give you advantages in addressing related Jobs?
The Jobs Atlas is the Reverse of the Norm: Notice how the flow outlined above is the exact opposite of the way most companies behave. Usually, they start by thinking about the competition and pricing in the market. Then they compare what new products have succeeded, and they examine their features. Sometimes they look at the customer journey and pain points. Only rarely do they get to the Jobs and what makes people prioritize them differently.
By flipping that normal flow on its head, the Jobs Atlas ensures that you stay customer-centric throughout, rooted first in the customer’s Jobs and then extending in clean lines through to journeys, features, Go to Market considerations, and competitive strategy. This is how customer-centricity goes beyond buzzword to everyday practice.