4 Common Misconceptions about Jobs To Be Done (JTBDs)


The concept of jobs to be done provides a lens through which we can understand value creation. The term was made popular by business leader Clayton Christensen in The Innovator’s Solution, the follow-up to his landmark book The Innovator’s Dilemma.

It’s a straightforward principle: people “hire” products and services to get a job done.

For instance, you might hire a new suit to make you look good for a job interview. Or, you hire Facebook to stay in touch with friends on a daily basis. You could also hire a chocolate bar to reward yourself after work. These are all jobs to be done.

Although companies like Strategyn and The Rewired Group have been using the JTBD for many years, the framework has gotten a lot of attention recently. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with JTBD in various contexts in the past, and I included the topic in throughout my new book, Mapping Experiences.

But the surge of interest in JTBD also bring misunderstandings. Here are some common misconceptions that I’ve come across:

1. The JTBDs framework is the same as task analysis or use cases (not true)

A “job” is a need. The JTBDs approach sees people as goal-driven actors seeking a desired outcome.

For example, if you hire a new suit for a job interview, the desired outcomes might be to “increase your chances of getting the job” and “raise your own feeling of confidence during the interview.”

Or, if you hire chocolate to reward yourself, the desired outcome might be to “reduce the feeling of stress.”

The context of the job is critical to understand, as well. As Christensen writes, it’s the circumstances of getting a job done that frame our understanding of the desired outcome:

Companies that target their products at the circumstances in which customers find themselves, rather than at the customers themselves, are those that can launch predictably successful products. Put another way, the critical unit of analysis is the circumstance and not the customer. [from The Innovator’s Solution]

So, yes – there is a task involved (e.g., putting on a suit or eating chocolate). But JTBDs account for far more than just task analysis and actions. They are about needs and goals, too, and ultimately consider the broader context.

2. JTBDs overlook feelings and social relationships (No they don’t)

Typically, a job to be done is expressed in terms of its functional jobs. But there are also emotional and social jobs. Each JTBD can be seen along three dimensions:

  • Functional job  The practical task to meet a person’s requirements
  • Emotional job  The feelings a person desires while completing a job.
  • Social job  How a person believes they will be perceived socially while completing a job

For instance, a homeowner may buy a digital keyless lock for their front door. The desired outcome is to “reduce the chance that an intruder can enter their home.” But there’s also an emotional job: to “increase a sense of safety and security.” And socially, the digital lock also fulfills the jobs of “letting invited guests in and out as desired.”

Emotions and social aspects are part of the JTBD approach, as well.

3. JTBD are only effective for simple consumer products (Nope)

Many examples of JTBDs focus on simple products and services. For instance, Christensen famously discusses why people “hire” a milkshake. (As a result, JTBD are also referred to as “milkshare marketing.”)

It is wholly possible, however, to apply the approach to more complex products and service.

Take intercom, a leading customer engagement platform. They’ve structured their business around JTBDs, as detailed in their recent ebook on the subject. Intercom is a complex B2B  software offering with many facets that’s based on understanding JTBD.

4. JTBD are limited to just product design (Not at all)

JTBD aren’t limited to just product design. You can also think about applying JTBDs to sales, marketing, customer support and more.

For example, if you’re a SaaS business, you could use JTBDs to understand why customers cancel your service. The trick is to look at the situation, their motivations and their desired outcomes.

Or, you could use JTBDs to reformulate marketing language. Rather than focusing on features, highlight the desired outcomes the customer can expect from using your service. An example I gave in my talk at UX STRAT in 2014 was base on a hypothetical photo application.

  • Instead of: “Our automated photo indexing is the best in the industry”
  • Re-phrase to: “Find photos on your computer with less effort thanks to our smart indexing”

Ultimately, JTBDs can used to guide decisions and craft solutions for any aspect of the business.


In all likelihood, interest and attention to JTBD will increase. Understanding the concept as a rich framework helps avoid some of the above misconceptions. JTBDs include considerations of functional, emotional and social aspects. And the framework considers the situation and motivation of the individual, as well as their desired outcomes. All in all, JTBDs is a broad approach that gives a holistic view of value creation.

About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Experience at MURAL


  1. These are great thoughts, Jim. I, too, feel that the JTBD framework will gain a more mainstream popularity in the next couple of years. Unfortunately, at the moment, whenever I bring it up it is mostly received with passable curiosity at best, or abrupt dismissal as a fad or “just another framework”. Truth be told, I feel one of the problems is that I have not been formally trained in it or have successfully used it myself, which makes it hard for me to advocate it beyond a certain point. With that said, do you have any recommendations on resources or individual training material or workshops on the methodology? The resources I’ve found are either too high-level or geared at scale towards enterprise teams. What’s the best way to get started down this road? Thanks in advance!

    • Jim Kalbach

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, I agree: many of the resources are VERY high-level, particularly for people like Christensen. I’ve found very practical advice from Bob Moesta and the folks at The Rewired Group. Check their resources out. Also, Des Traynor at intercom has some practical stories and advice. But for sure, we need to look at operationalizing JTBD better.

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