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It’s generally estimated that 30,000 new products are created each year…and 95% fail. There are, no doubt, highly motivated, intelligent people launching these products. Why then, is the failure rate so high?

At first glance it doesn’t make sense. We’re living during a period in time with the greatest opportunity to collect and access customer data. It seems we have all the data needed to do this better. Right? Wrong.

Because product development processes focus so heavily on looking for relationships between a type of customer and their general needs, they miss a key piece of the puzzle: understanding what a customer is actually trying to do in a given circumstance.

This is where the Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) research and product development approach comes in. This framework lets businesses isolate the key jobs a person is doing at a given moment, the outcome of those discrete jobs, and how achieving those outcomes makes a customer feel. As a result JTBD gives product innovators the inputs they need to design and build products that will actually address what customers are trying to do at any given moment in time.

What Is Jobs To Be Done Research

Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) research breaks down customer behaviors and actions into unique process steps. By mapping out each step, and the underlying why’s behind them, product developers can develop products and solutions that align to them.

Let’s take ice cream as an example. Sure, people buy ice cream because it tastes good. But, they also buy it to celebrate birthdays and special events. In this scenario, ice cream’s “job” is to be a tool for celebrations and to show someone you care. Using a JTBD analysis would allow someone to identify the underlying “job” behind what ice cream is used for and then develop new products—new flavors, party favor add-ons, etc.—that would make ice cream even better at doing this job. This, in turn, makes customers more likely to buy it.

How Jobs To Be Done Research Counters Typical Product Development Pitfalls

In product development, organizations frequently use one of two approaches when designing new products: the ideas first approach and the needs first approach. However, these two approaches come with several inherent flaws.

The “ideas first” approach claims that one needs to generate a lot of ideas, and quickly develop, test, and determine what will sink and what will swim. Think about that wall of post-in notes you have for all your great ideas that you want to try. That’s the ideas first approach.

This fail fast, fail forward methodology may sound appealing. However, it has some major problems. More ideas does not necessarily means more good ideas. Further, because the customer’s needs are not necessarily known, the process for filtering what ideas get tested is flawed. Lastly, customers may not know what solution they want. As a result, bringing them a somewhat “cooked” solution may not actually respond to their needs in a holistic way.

This takes us to the second common approach: needs first. Here, companies work to understand customer needs. They then figure out how to build products that respond to those needs. While this brings the voice of the customer into the product development process, it too has challenges.

To begin with, it assumes everyone in an organization is aligned about what needs their customers have and how to define those needs. This is a bad assumption. Additionally, there is always some interpretation required when listening to customers share feedback. The words customers use may have different meanings to them than to a product development team. This yields poor customer needs statements which in turn yields products that miss the mark.

What Should A Jobs To Be Done Research Project Entail

When getting started with JTBD research, the behaviors around a certain activity are examined to: 1) isolate the actual jobs that a person is aiming to do, 2) establish the outcomes they are hoping to achieve from doing those jobs, and 3) uncover the emotional elements associated with completing those jobs.

1. Core Functional Job To Be Done

The actual task a user needs to do is the core functional job. This can be “create weekly performance reports,” “respond to customer queries,” or “review daily expenses.” Keep in mind, the core functional job has nothing to do with the product, technology, or service they use to do that job. Rather, it’s the thing a user must do regardless of what tools are in use.

Core functional jobs are universal to an end user. Regardless of what industry or geography they are in, these jobs are consistent. When looking to determine core functional jobs, you’ll likely uncover at least 40 or 50 unique functional jobs. This is because you are examining and isolating the everyday tactical things that a user is doing.

Let’s use a bag brand trying to enter the post-maternity market as an example. The brand using a JTDB first looks at the way new moms carry and tote around baby items. These are the “jobs” performed by items that carry things. The could look at how items are carried in strollers, how portable compartments in cars get used, and, of course how large bags lots of pockets get leveraged.

In each of these cases, one underlying question must be explored: What is the item’s purpose in each scenario? What is its job? Maybe it’s about bringing items from point A to point B. Maybe it’s about having back-up items in case of an emergency. Or, perhaps it’s about having something on-hand to entertain their baby. You won’t know until you start probing into each item’s actual “job.”

2. Desired Outcome Of The Core Functional Job

Once core functional jobs are isolated, you can identify the underlying reasons behind those jobs. These desired core functional job outcomes are discrete and measurable. They essentially determine how to measure job success. By isolating desired outcomes, you now have tangible, objective benchmarks to determine how users will assess if a product or service can result in better or more reliable outcomes.

Let’s continue using our bag brand. As they explore all of the “jobs” being done by items that carry, haul, or tote items for new moms, they likely uncover several desired outcomes:

  • Never be left without clean diapers
  • Always have extra onesies on-hand
  • Stop their baby from crying or getting fussy
  • Be prepared to look presentable

As you can see, all of these are discrete, measurable outcomes that our mom is looking to achieve by using items that port things around.

3. Social and Emotional Dimensions of The Core Functional Job

Completing core functional jobs isn’t something that exists in a vacuum. Depending on the jobs, they are being done in front of friends, family members or colleagues. As a result, certain emotional or relational dimensions emerge as a result of performing the jobs and reaching desired outcomes. There are intrinsic dimensions that control how someone wants to think about themselves. Of course, there are also extrinsic dimensions regarding how someone wants others to think about them.

Let’s return again to our bag brand. Performing the functional jobs described above, and achieving those outcomes, results in several emotions:

  • Wanting to feel and be perceived as a competent, caring mom
  • Wanting to limit the messiness / time needed to sort through a bag of stuff
  • Not wanting to get caught off guard
  • Avoiding creating a scene
  • Feeling put together and in control

Translating Jobs To Be Done Research Into Product Development

Once all of the research is complete, business’s enjoy far better insights into what tasks users want to accomplish, why they want to accomplish them, and how they want to feel when accomplishing those tasks. When put together, these inputs produce more targeted products that resonate better with customers and therefore enjoy higher rates of adoption.

Let’s go back to our bag brand to see how this all comes together from a product standpoint. Before the research began, we could guess any bag needs to:

  • Carry assorted items for their baby
  • Be designed in such a way that it easily fits typical baby items

However, after seeing all of the use cases new moms use bags, purses, and totes for, the bag brand understands that to develop a bag that’s really going to resonate with moms, the bags must also:

  • Ensure that each and every item is easily grabbable with one hand
  • Make it obvious to see when a critical item (e.g. diaper) is missing from the bag

The JTBD approach bring these last two design criteria to light. The brand’s bag designers now have more specialized inputs to differentiate the bag’s design from anything else on the market.

Jobs To Be Done Research vs. Persona Research

On the surface, JTBD research discredits the idea of developing customer personas. That is, if you’re so focused on what a customer is trying to accomplish, it may seem unnecessary to understand what demographic or psychographics comprise your typical customer. Not so fast!

Personas help form a vision about what the target customer looks like. When everyone on the product development team is aligned around who the customer is, it helps remove unnecessary debate about who the end user actually is. Of course, the elements highlighted in your persona descriptions should orient around points that help the product development process. For instance, if it includes gender or age, it should be because those factors impact how someone thinks about what features to launch or the user experience.

Let’s go back to our bag brand. JTBD research gave our product development team key inputs to use when developing the core functionality and design of the bag itself.  However, it doesn’t address other key product and marketing details like the brand’s message tone and style. Nor does it tell us about acceptable (or unacceptable) bag materials, the ideal price point, or the retailers best suited to selling the bag.

Persona intelligence answers these questions. For instance, let’s say our  target customer is millennial moms that care about the environment and want to look chic without spending too much money. With this persona in mind, our brand will use sustainable materials, fabrics with fun patterns, a classy brand tone, and aim for distribution in Target.

By combining JTDB research with persona research, our brand has two key inputs. The information needed to the build the underlying bag blueprint and direction on how to design its overall look, feel, go-to-market strategy.