A Practical Model for Jobs To Be Done (JTBD)

“People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole” – Theodore Levitt

The concept of jobs to be done provides a lens through which to understand value creation. The approach looks at customer motivations in business settings. The term was made popular by business leader Clayton Christensen in his book The Innovator’s Solution, the follow-up to his landmark work 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 at 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 relieve stress. These are all jobs to be done.

Others have operationalized aspects of the jobs to be done approach. Most notable is Tony Ulwick’s “Outcome Driven Innovation” technique. Bob Moesta and colleagues at The Rewired Group have also used jobs to be done effectively as consultants.

But what’s missing is a clear simple way to describe jobs to be done for practical use in a range of contexts.


Based on Christensen’s theory and what others have written about JTBD, I’m proposing a simple model that has six elements. Together, they help us describe JTBD and use them in practical ways.

The six elements are grouped into two areas, seen along two axes in the diagram below:


A practical model for understanding JTBD

On the one hand, there are three dimensions of a given job (horizontal in the diagram above)

  • Functional job – the actions a person takes or the task at hand
  • Emotional job –how people feel while completing a job
  • Social job – Aspects of a social job reflect how someone is perceive by others

Typically, a JTBD is expressed in terms of its functional job. Because of this some people have the misconception that JTBD is the same as task analysis. (See my recent post for more misconceptions about JTBD).

The context of the job is also part of the model. This includes three elements (vertical in the diagram above):

  • Situation – the circumstances of a job
  • Motivation – the trigger that led to action, often a problem or challenge to overcome
  • Desired outcome – the expected result, by which a person will measure success

The jobs theory sees people as goal-driven actors. The job is really about progress toward a goal.

For instance, consider why a homeowner might buy a digital keyless lock for their front door. The functional job is to to provide selective access. But there’s an emotional job, too: to increase the homeowner’s sense of safety and security. Socially, the digital lock fulfills the job of letting others in and out.

But the problem in this situation is that the homeowner needs to provide access when they are not at home, such as during the day to let the dog walker in and out. There are several desired outcomes we can point to, such as increase the ease of scheduling visitors and guests.

Viewing value creation in this way shifts focus from the psycho-demographic aspects of individuals to their goals and motivations. More importantly, the JTBD approach shows causality – why they behave the way they do.


That’s all fine and good, but what can you do with JTBD? It turns out you can do a lot with them. Just consider some of these applications:

1. Understand the market – Structure user research findings around the six elements in my model. While interviewing, and observing people in your target market, capture and organize insights using this approach.

For instance, let’s say you conducted a dozen onsite interviews and have notes and transcripts. You can comb this data for the six elements of the JTBD model I’m proposing here. Document each primary JTBD on “cards” that include all six elements.

You can then model your insights into a map of the overall experience. This can be hierarchical, like a mental model diagram. Below is an example of a hierarchical map that I show in my book, Mapping Experiences (Ch 12). It reflects a hierarchical arrangement of jobs, desired outcomes and needs, in this case for an architectural firm.


Hierarchical arrangement of insights from user research, reflecting a JTBD approach

Or, you could capture research findings like a customer journey map. In this case, the rows of your map can include the elements of the model presented above. Label each row in your CJM to mirror the JTBD model.

2. Design for the market – Use JTBD to guide design and development decisions. For instance, in agile software development, Alan Klement recommends writing jobs stories rather than user stories. The format looks like this:

The jobs story format suggested by Alan Klement

Then you can take these job stories into design sprints and brainstorming sessions to use are starting points. For instance, at MURAL we regularly notate the JTBDs at the top of a mural. These are read aloud and discussed at the beginning of a design session so everyone has a common point of reference. See the example of job stories incorporated into design work in the center of the mural, below:

jtbd mural.png

Design work and brainstorming guided by job stories (center) 

3. Talk to the market – Think about how JTBD might help you address customers in marketing and advertising. Typically, you’ll find a shift language from features to desired outcomes.

For instance, advertising material for a keyless door lock might focus on capabilities. But with JTBD, you can shift your perspective to reflect what customers truly value:

  • Before: Our keyless lock features state of the art technology that enables remote access options and 24/7 monitoring
  • After: Feel more secure that intruders are kept out, but guests are let in with remote access and monitoring

Or, in another example, I’ve used the JTBD model to help structure help desk articles at MURAL. The six elements become a type of checklist for aspects to include. Just consider the example below.


Help desk articles at MURAL are structured around the JTBD model

4. (Re)define markets – Companies often define the markets they serve into small, medium, and large enterprises, or pigeonhole customers by age, gender, or lifestyle. These arbitrary demographic and psychographic attributes do not reflect a view of market from the customer’s perspective.

This type of segmentation also doesn’t predict buying behavior. No one purchases a product because of their age or gender or company size. Instead, they hire a product or service to get a job done.

JTBD ultimately help answer the strategic question, What business are we really in? The approach expands your strategic field of vision beyond your current capabilities and core competency.

For instance, if you’re in the business of providing picture frame hooks, you could focus on strong hooks or hooks that are easy to install. But if you look at the job – hanging a picture – you might come up with a different solution, such as adhesive hooks.

Just consider this quote from Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit:

“The greatest competitor [in tax software] … was not in the industry. It was the pencil. The pencil is a tough and resilient substitute. Yet the entire industry had overlooked it.”

Tax software doesn’t just compete with other tax software solutions. It competes with everything a customer uses to get a job done. When preparing taxes there are many sub-calculations and figures you have to bring together. Grabbing for a pencil is often the easiest solution. So from a JTBD perspective, tax software competes with pencils.

Alan Klement recently published a book outlining some of these same principles. The title alone suggests a new perspective on competition and the market you really serve. See When Coffee and Kale Compete. In it, Klement writes: “Don’t restrict competition to products with similar functionality or physical characteristics.”

coffee kale.jpg

Alan Klement’s new book showing how coffee and kale can compete from at JTBD perspective


JTBD theory offers a rich framework for understanding customers. But you may be thinking that it sounds familiar or that you’ve been advocating this for years. Well, you’re right At its core, JTBD theory overlaps greatly with existing approaches of user-centered design, design thinking, goal-driven design and more.

Still, at a minimum the JTBD approach offers a fresh perspective on creating value for customers. What’s different, I believe, is the source of the approach: it comes from thoughts leaders in business. The momentum around JTBD, particularly with Clayton Christensen’s new book Competing Against Luck, will likely increase over the next several years.

My experiences working with JTBD over that past 8+ years has been positive. I encourage you to consider how it might help your situation. I hope that the model proposed here is helpful. Please let me know your thoughts on it.

About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Experience at MURAL


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  2. Hello Jim! I lost the count of times I have come back to this article, it is very insightful! I´d like to ask, have you found a way to embed the functional, emotional and social dimensions of a JTBD into a Job Story? I have seen a lot of examples (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/130674826670923418/) but they seem to overcomplicate one of the beauties of Job Stories, which is its simplicity. Also, do you think it is necessary to understand the degree of importance functional, social and emotional dimensions have in a job story? For example, assigning a value for every dimension in order to better prioritize them afterwards. Thanks!

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