Innovating with the “jobs to be done” framework

If you would like to create a new chocolate bar – how would you approach this task? Depending on your skills and experience you would start with an analysis of existing chocolate bars in the market, track their prices and positioning to identify areas for differentiation of a new brand.

Another way to look at this problem is to reframe the question and ask yourself: “What is the job these chocolate bars are hired to do?”. This is the leading question behind the jobs-to-be-done framework developed by Clayton Christensen and Bob Moesta at Harvard Business School. Clayton Christensen is the author who introduced one of the fundamental books about innovation in large corporations: The Innovators Dilemma as well as The Innovators Solution.

Bounty vs. Snickers and the behavior of milkshake buyers

It turns out that if you apply this framework to chocolate bars you discover that customers “hire” chocolate bars for completely different reasons . While Bounty is hired as a sweet delight that melts in your mouth, Snickers is hired by customers as a substitute for a real meal. Therefore the experience of eating a Snickers is different and consists of biting and chewing that gives you the impression you are eating something real.

Another example is the job a milkshake is hired to do. According to Christensen, his team got hired by a fast-food company to understand why the sales of milkshakes are below expectations. Instead of directing focus on different flavors, pricing or promotion the team interviewed the buyers of the milkshakes to understand their motivation. It turns out that milkshakes where bought as a breakfast replacement by customers who were in a long commute and could not use both of their hands to eat a regular breakfast. But they liked that the milkshake gave them something to do during the commute and to eat something that staves of hunger later in the day. With this in mind the company was able to develop a different kind of milkshake that was even thicker and included chunks of fruits to get even closer to become a meal replacement.

Reframing the marketing positioning challenge

The insights uncovered with this approach are certainly not groundbreaking in itself and with thorough user research, interviews and observations this could have been uncovered as well. The essence of such an approach is from my perspective that it reframes the problem of developing products customers want. Instead of focusing solely on customers and demographic segmentations, the jobs-to-be-done framework focuses solely on their intentions, motives and usage.
If you would like to know more about the jobs to be done framework, I highly recommend Episode 19 of the Asymco Podcast “The Critical Path” with an interview with Bob Moesta, one of the researchers behind this idea. If you don’t have time to listen to this podcast these articles should help you to further understand the ideas behind this approach.