Confidently Creates Customer Value with Every Product Innovation

Confidently Creates Customer Value with Every Product Innovation

Confidently Creates Customer Value with Every Product Innovation: Using Jobs-To-Be-Done

Tony Ulwick

kHUB post date: May 7, 2021
Read time: 7 minutes

Product managers are critical to a company’s success. An article published by McKinsey went so far as to call them “mini-CEOs,” as they are responsible for what is arguably the biggest contributor to creating customer value, the company’s success, and growth—its products.

But with this great importance comes increasing responsibility and many challenges.

The pace at which changes in technologies, customer expectations, market dynamics, and global competition is taking place has made the role of the product manager increasingly complex. Creating a product roadmap that aligns with many moving targets is nearly impossible—which might explain why over 80% of new products fail.

What product managers need is a way to deal with these complexities—they need a stable focal point around which to create value for the customer; a single, clear direction that guides both their long-term product vision and their next product release.

While this may sound impossible, it’s not. It just requires looking at your market, your customers and your product through a new lens—the lens of Jobs-to-be-Done. Using this lens, a product manager can be certain the team is working on a winning product before the development effort even begins.

Why is Jobs-to-be-Done so powerful for product managers?

Jobs-to-be-Done is best defined as a perspective—a lens through which you can observe markets, customers, needs, competitors, and customer segments differently, and by doing so, make innovation far more predictable and profitable.

It is based on the notion that people buy products and services to get a “job” done.

Harvard business professor Theodore Levitt understood this when he famously said, “People don’t want a quarter-inch drill—they want a quarter-inch hole.”


  • No one wants an LP, CD, MP3 player, or streaming service for the sake of having it—they want to listen to music.
  • A consumer doesn't want a toothbrush—they want to keep their teeth and gums clean and healthy.

And it doesn’t just apply to business-to-consumer products. It’s true for business-to-business offerings, as well.

  • Dairy farmers aren’t just trying to feed their cows—their job-to-be-done is increasing herd productivity.

The “jobs” people are trying to get done remain stable over time, even while the solutions to the customer’s challenges evolve.

With all of this in mind, product managers should make the customer’s job the unit of analysis—instead of the product. Focusing on the product limits you to innovating around your solution and technology (that will one day become obsolete, just like those LPs and CDs). Focusing on the product also means you may be limiting your view of how you can create value for your customer.

Focusing on the job, however, allows you to understand your customer's needs at a level of detail that makes it possible to create breakthrough products. When you focus your value creation efforts around the job, you free yourself to see better solutions—solutions that may not even exist yet.

Use a job map to get the job done better and/or more cheaply

When you pivot product management efforts to focus on the customer’s Job-to-be-Done, the role of the product manager changes. Your sole focus becomes figuring out how to help the customer get their job done better and/or more cheaply.

There’s a reliable, scientific process for doing so that includes:

  1. Understanding the steps a customer is trying to through to complete the job
  2. Understanding which parts of the process are underserved by current solutions in the market

These underserved needs (we call them desired outcomes) become your roadmap for value creation and product growth.

It all starts with the job map...

A job map is a visual depiction of the job, deconstructed into its steps, which explains, step-by-step, exactly what the customer is trying to get done along the way, and the key to creating customer value. Analysis of hundreds of jobs has revealed that all jobs consist of some or all of the eight fundamental process steps:

  • Define
  • Locate
  • Prepare
  • Confirm
  • Execute
  • Monitor
  • Modify
  • Conclude

Figure 1: The Universal Job Map

Figure 1: The Universal Job Map

Consider the job map for our example of the job “listening to music.”

Figure 2

Not too long ago, the best solution for listening to music was the CD. While an improvement over the LP, the CD only helped the customer complete the “execute” step of the job map—and part of the “modify” step (by allowing the user to skip songs).

Despite the format wars of the 1990s, where many companies invested millions of dollars in new technologies like the Digital Compact Cassette (DCC) and Sony’s MiniDisc, the CD was the preferred solution for the job of listening to music.

That was until a solution came along that gave consumers a solution that did more of the job.

While the manufacturers of CDs and the rest of the format wars were focused on one job step (“execute”), a new solution emerged that helped customers to complete more of the job. Creators said they would sacrifice sound quality to allow customers more control through the entire process of listening to music.

The Mp3 player turned the music industry upside down with the revolutionary ability to locate, organize, change, and listen to the music you wanted to listen to—without having to carry around a binder of CDs. Customers eagerly left CD-quality sound behind to get more of the job done.

Figure 3

Fast forward to the present day where streaming services dominate the listening-to-music market. The same way Mp3 players came along by doing more of the job, streaming services developed tools to prepare the music for you, recommend new music, and share music automatically. Some devices even sense you are likely to be exercising (assessing the situation in the “define” step of the job map) and automatically play your favorite workout playlist.

As this example illustrates, the job map remains stable over time, while new technologies and solutions emerge that get more of the job done. These solutions ultimately win in the marketplace.

Figure 4

It’s important to note that a job map does not detail what the customer is doing (a solution view); rather, it describes what the customer is trying to get done (a needs view). A good job map will describe what the customer is trying to get done independent of the solution they are using.

So, whether customers are in the USA, China, or Germany, or whether they are using one of ten competing products, a single job map will describe what each and every customer is trying to get done. A completed job map represents the “ideal process flow” for that job.

Innovate with confidence

Once you have determined where the opportunities exist, you can begin solutioning with confidence. It’s easy to see which products and features to prioritize when you know exactly what your customers are trying to get done.

We built a guide to demonstrate quick ways you can innovate across the job map:

Figure 5

Leapfrog the competition

While technologies, customer expectations, market landscape, etc. will remain dynamic and complex, the customer’s job-to-be-done offers a stable focus point around which to create value.

By understanding the customer’s job and the job map, product managers have a powerful tool to understand what their customers are trying to do—and define product vision, strategy, and a roadmap to help them get more of that job done.

Instead of trying to copy the competition or adding technology features that don’t add value, you can lead the market by answering the most important question:

How do I help my customers get their job done better and/or more cheaply?

If you want to learn more about how to use jobs-to-be-done to leapfrog competing products, have a look at the Jobs-to-be-Done Playbook.

What did you think of this post?

Start a conversation with your peers by posting to our kHUB Discussion board! Browse trending posts and reply to other thought leaders OR start your own discussion by clicking "Post New Message."

Start a Discussion

If you don't have an account with us, create a guest account or become a member today and receive exclusive access to all PDMA member benefits. Please note that both members and non-members are welcome to participate in the kHUB.