Jobs-to-be-Done and Product Line Strategy

Jobs-to-be-Done and Product Line Strategy

Jobs Theory suggests people don’t buy products and services. Instead, the theory says people “hire” products and services to achieve an outcome – a job done. Recognizing how customers “hire” products helps marketers to better understand buyer decisions and choices. The “Job” ties direct to outcome measures[1]. And these measures then aid developers to target product features or attributes.

But here’s what’s valuable to product developers. The products with attributes matching these specifications are more likely to be successful than those created otherwise.

Jobs Theory and Strategy

The link to successful development makes Jobs Theory powerful. It ties understanding customer needs direct to innovation success. And it minimizes randomness and failure.

I can’t imagine any strategy, whether for a single product or a product line, ignoring the Jobs Theory. The results won’t be good if your competitor embraces Jobs-to-be-done and you don’t. If your company lets that happen, your competitor could gain a commanding market position at your expense. Trust me; you don’t want to be too far behind on embracing Jobs Theory.

My message, though, isn’t that Jobs Theory is key to innovation success. It is. My message is that Jobs Theory is not enough for driving successful product lines. And believing solely in Jobs Theory is a mistake made by many professionals. Consider the results if your company and many of your competitors move toward a strong Jobs Theory orientation.

To gain an advantage, you must do more. Ah, that’s why we must excel at the whole product line strategy game.

Jobs-to-be-done Segmentation

Let’s examine the Jobs Theory closer. Most explanations share a story to explore how customers hire the same product for different reasons. The most famous description is Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen’s milkshake hiring scenarios.  It’s in the book “Competing against Luck[2].”

Christensen and his co-authors show us how a grandparent hires a milkshake to reward a grandchild. In another scenario, they discuss how a commuter hires a milkshake to make the morning commute enjoyable.

The same milkshake market splits based on different desired outcomes (Job results.)  And the competitive landscape looks different. The grandparent scenario shows milkshakes competing against shopping at a toy store. And the commuter scenario shows milkshakes competing against coffee and doughnuts.  Smart Jobs Theory work will also spell out the main job and related job. Plus, it will breakdown functional and emotional outcomes. These divides matter.

But here’s another insight. Market splits or segmentation using Jobs Theory is powerful stuff in the product line strategy. With the right homework, product line teams divide their markets into distinct Job-to-be-done clusters. We no longer rely solely on “voice of the customer” within demographic or geographic categories.  Now we seek smarter segmentation based on Job hiring clusters.

Job hiring details set the development specification targets for each segment. The key is not just the link between job hiring and product attributes. Rather, the genius in strategy comes from Jobs-based segmenting.  Do this better than competitors, and you’ll have a real game-changer.

Jobs-to-be-done Segments Drive Strategy

The challenge is nailing down what “better” means. It’s because settling smart jobs-based segments is more difficult than many think. It turns out product line teams must judge these clusters against their product line’s capacity and potential. And the judgment must also consider technologies, platform-levers, and the manner each will advance. It demands more than a marketer’s testing and ranking each job’s importance and satisfaction levels.

Jobs and Job segments have a notable characteristic that influences product line decisions. Experts tell us that Jobs are stable — they don’t change over normal life cycles. It takes study, but soon you’ll accept the Jobs stability notion. This is important. It suggests the attribute targets at which we aim our products also stay steady. If you miss hitting the target, it’s not because the target moved.

The upshot is that product line teams should invest in the quantitative work needed to do good Jobs Theory research. And they should trust the segment targets’ stability and focus on hitting it with the right product attributes. This makes jobs segmentation critical to the product line game plan.

But the problem is to decide which Job-hiring segment to chase first, second, and third. This is fundamental to every product line strategy. Sure each Jobs segment might present a good target. And analysis might show customers see one job more valuable than another. But which Job is best for the strategy? The challenge is to decide the plan and rationale for delivering products or services to each Jobs cluster.

Teams must decide why, how, and when to chase each Job segment. They must decide how to space attributes over multiple product generations. And, they must decide when to create new platform-levers or why to leapfrog a competitor’s move. There’s a long list of decisions needed to make and keep a product line strong. And the needed strategy moves and pivots don’t come from Jobs-to-be-done research alone.

Getting the Strategy Job Done

Laying out a strategy and carrying out its execution roadmap are a product line team’s main responsibilities. Doing great Jobs-to-be-done research goes far in satisfying the responsibility. But Jobs Theory is one of many lenses that help product line teams. And, yes, it’s important to learn Jobs-to-be done thinking. But it’s also important to learn and use other strategy lenses.

It’s up to teams to understand product line strategy moves and pivots. And they must learn the lenses that aid thinking through and coordinating the projects and activities. Some lenses focus on  technologies, others on organization challenges and competitive nuances. And the roadmapping lens helps teams visualize how they’ll carry out the product line strategy.

Each lens, including the Jobs Theory lens, helps examine pieces of the product line puzzle. Understanding the pieces and arranging them into a great strategy picture is the key to product line strategy success. While Jobs-to-be-done thinking is critical, it is not enough.

Learn More

To learn more about Jobs Theory and product line strategy please check out these important resources.

Book The Profound Impact of Product Line Strategy
Buy at Amazon

One Day Master Course: Newark 17 Sept; Orlando 6 Nov

Whitepaper– Good Product Line Strategy Matters. Here’s How to Create One.



[1] Jobs to be Done: Theory to Practice  by Anthony Ulwick

[2] Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice; HarperCollins by Clayton M. Christensen, Karen Dillon, Taddy Hall, David S. Duncan

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
1 reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] by segment basis. These are segments defined by clustering jobs-to-be-done outcomes. See more HERE. The reason for stepping back to the pre-Covid world is to see the gap or difference between where […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *