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How to Align Research with the Jobs to be Done Framework

Words by Ben Wiedmaier

At innovative firms, especially at technology and SaaS companies, we’ve seen the Jobs-to-be-Done perspective catch on—then catch fire.

The theory, pioneered by Tony Ulwick, inspires zeal among executives and thought leaders seeking to better understand customer needs and product use cases, and ultimately to disrupt and reframe their market.

When leadership embraces the Jobs framework, researchers are challenged to quickly learn the basics and apply a JTBD lens to their work.

To cut Jobs down to size, we’re sharing quick tips for getting up to speed with the methodology, and a bit of advice on how to conduct research within the Jobs approach. Want to hear more about this straight from the master? Stream our webinar with Tony focused on doing research within the Jobs framework.

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What’s “Jobs to be Done,” and why should I care?

People buy products or services to get something—a “job”—done. If organizations can understand what that exact job is, they can better design solutions for that job, and improve the way they position the solution.

The Jobs-to-be-Done framework, popularized by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, was actually introduced to Christensen by Ulwick, founder and CEO of consulting firm Strategyn. Christensen’s and Ulwick’s approaches to the JTBD framework vary, but both deem it necessary to go beyond demographic segmentation and assumptions about your buyer to better understand the actual need they are trying to resolve with their purchase.

Ulwick’s Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI) strategy appends customer-defined performance metrics to the JTBD approach. That enables companies to meet market needs with both current and future solutions, making results measurable and driving product-market fit.

What’s the role of research?

Research is especially impactful at companies applying a JTBD lens to their products because of the importance of customer understanding.

Within the ODI approach, a key step is to “uncover the customer’s needs.” Enter the researcher; without context directly from the consumer, it’s difficult to fully understand the ways in which a customer is choosing and using an offering, not to mention what challenge they’re seeking to solve.

Put even more simply, how can you know what the customer wants without asking the customer? Quantitative research can surface data points and resolve simple questions, but we believe companies are better suited with a qualitative approach to getting these answers. dscout’s Live and Diary components enable researchers to conduct direct conversations with participants, nuanced market research at scale, or a combination of both.

What do I need to know to get started?

While embracing JTBD can be transformative, researchers don’t need to rebuild Rome in a day. A first attempt at a Jobs project can—and often should—be narrow and targeted.

First, a few terms that are valuable to know when new to Jobs research:

  • Job mapping analyzes the job a customer is trying to get done.
  • A need statement is a systematic way to capture and organize customer needs.
  • The JTBD Needs Framework enables a company to discover the factors that lead to success, then produce a desired outcome statement.
  • A desired outcome statement is an optimal need statement that defines how customers measure success when performing a specific job.

Through questions aligned with the needs framework and some basic tagging of qualitative inputs, practitioners can produce high-quality needs statements and get closer to true customer understanding in their projects.

For example, let’s look at the banana. There are three levels at which the researcher should consider the simple act of eating a banana.

  • The product being consumed is the banana
  • The space of the banana is a snack
  • The job may be to provide a source of healthy energy

Once you determine what you’re trying to learn (for this example, let’s focus on the job), you then can uncover the needs through qualitative research. Whether part of live conversations or recorded, participant responses to questions like “When is the last time you had a banana, and why did you hire a banana for that moment?” can uncover both met and unmet needs, including new jobs that a banana is satiating.

Research projects may spawn from the jobs you learn about during the information gathering phase, which in dscout may be possible through a screener. One example is that missions may drill into individual moments by using “show me” statements, for moment-based segmentation and to surface usage trends.

Okay, I’ve got the basics. Where can I learn more?

Ulwick has authored two books, most recently “Jobs to be Done: Theory to Practice.” He also has published extensively on his website for JTBD, sharing use cases, frameworks and more in much greater detail.

Going Bananas for Jobs to be Done” is a streaming webinar featuring Ulwick in conversation with dscout CEO Michael Winnick. Hear more from Tony on the Jobs approach, the right way to implement the framework from scratch, and actually see Jobs-based research in dscout—all centered on the example of the humble banana.

Ben is the product evangelist at dscout, where he spreads the “good news” of contextual research, helps customers understand how to get the most from dscout, and impersonates everyone in the office. He has a doctorate in communication studies from Arizona State University, studying “nonverbal courtship signals”, a.k.a. flirting. No, he doesn’t have dating advice for you.

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