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Jobs to be done, an innovation theory where you hire products and services to complete a job

If we are to be effective and productive, we must get things done. In our work we do a variety of jobs from the simple to the complex. It could be something as small as mailing a package or something as complex as transforming a business from analog to digital. No matter the complexity, these jobs need to be done and we “hire” products or services to get them done.

The late Clayton M. Christensen popularized the jobs-to-be-done concept while a Harvard Business School professor. The concept is as simple as this: when people need to get a job done, they hire a product or service to do it for them.

For example, if you need to get a package from one location to another, you hire a package shipping service like FedEx, USPS, or UPS to do it.

If It Fits, It Ships®

The United States Postal Service (USPS) took package delivery a step further when they designed the Priority Mail® product—If It Fits, It Ships®. In this case the “job to be done” was to ship a package. Different from their past, they offered the services for a fixed fee. This productized service came with certain desirable benefits and acceptable constraints. The benefits were a guaranteed arrival window, basic insurance and free packaging. The constraints were that it had to fit in the package and be less than 70 lbs.

Throughout the marketplace jobs are being done or attempted. When a job is unable to be done, it means there is a blocker or gap preventing completion. Often the blocker or gap is insufficient tools, expertise, experience or capacity to get the job done.

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

Theodore Levitt, a marketing professor at Harvard Business School once said about product marketing “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” To understand and heed this truism means you must get into the customer’s shoes and walk a mile. In design thinking terms this is called empathy.

Innovative thinkers often fall into the trap of trusting their instincts and developing “cool” or novel features but fail to understand the job that their ideal customer is trying to get done.

If you are a product designer looking for product ideas, begin by practicing empathy. Observe the jobs your ideal customers are trying to do. Find where they are having trouble completing business critical jobs that align with your domain of expertise. Use that as a place to then research a product they can hire to help them finish that job.

As a business leader, when your job to be done is being thwarted, it is time to look outside the business. Look for a product or service that can fill the gap, unblock your job and help you see it through to completion.