Jobs-to-be-Done Pioneers

“Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.” — Wyatt Earp

The market for getting the JTBD job done is like the Wild West. There are gunslingers and sheriffs, pioneers and hustlers. This isn’t about good guys and bad guys. Everyone want’s what’s best for JTBD and for themselves. But I use the Wild West metaphor to call out behaviors and intent. That’s what makes it difficult to find your way around the topic. And JTBD has yet to hit the religious status of Agile or Lean. It’s more a philosophy taking shape as it competes for management mind share.

But the pioneers are making progress. My crystal ball says it should jump the diffusion chasm within a few years. And the reason is simple: it’s stupidly valuable. But to say this I’m betting the pioneers, and by that I mean the JTBD doers not the guru gunslingers and sheriffs, will sort out the Wild West behavior. The key is to enable practitioners to deconstruct JTBD’s value proposition. It’s adjusting JTBD and making it work to do the jobs pioneers need to do. And it’s squashing the notion held by skeptics that Jobs Theory is Wild West magic snake oil.

JTBD Diffusion


November 6 -Orlando

Like most business approaches, Jobs Theory wasn’t formed based on academic research. Sure, it has the credibility given to it by Harvard’s Clayton Christensen. But that’s qualitative support. And it was given after the topic started. Christensen and his team used sharp logic to form their conclusions, not analytical research.

The challenge for carrying out quantitative research is the same that JTBD pioneers face. Typically, you’d like to see a sample size of several hundred cases. But during this introductory stage and before jumping the diffusion chasm to gain full use, JTBD’s uptake hasn’t been that large. The small use makes fact-based longitudinal studies near impossible. It leaves the Wild West hustlers to offer made-up case studies, push selected pioneering stories, and continue explanations like Christensen’s milk shake example.

And to underscore the wildness, let me point out some facts. One is about that JTBD milk shake. It turns out Christensen and his team didn’t create the example. They borrowed it from a consultant. I guess they felt their best shot at arguing the Jobs Theory logic was to repeat an existing example. This was more a Wild West hustler act than a strident sheriff achievement.

JTBD’s OK Corral

And as you look over Jobs Theory’s western terrain, other wild behavior is happening. Most notably, you’ll see a few active gunfights. One gunfight is over a theory nuance of whether the notion of jobs is to make progress or to carry out activities. The progress versus activity gunfight can make your head spin. I’m likely to be chastised for calling the topic a theory nuance and referring to the dynamics as a gunfight. Nonetheless, sheriffs aren’t likely to settle the dispute until there’s meaningful empirical research. And that won’t happen until after we jump the chasm.

You’ll also see a gunfight about the underpinnings of whether JTBD was created to help develop products or to better position products. But that seems more smoke than fire because the pioneers declared that it doesn’t matter. What matters is JTBD’s use, not its origin. Pioneers use JTBD to support product development. They don’t use it to position products.

A Topic Not Discussed

But there’s one topic in the JTBD Wild West that matters but doesn’t get discussed. It affects how things will play out. It’s that the pioneers split into two persona groups. The issue arises because even with the split; the hustlers keep pushing a single approach toward applying the Jobs Theory. Two groups and one solution seems to violate JTBD principles. The JTBD hustlers seem too busy to solve their own JTBD issues.

One group’s persona is the entrepreneur. It’s a single-product development job-doer. The other group’s persona is the big company. This is a multiple-product or product line team of doers. Recognize that each group’s reason for hiring JTBD is different.

One Versus Many

You’ll see the single-product group’s main job is to get one product out the door successfully and as quickly as possible. It’s focused on one product and one opportunity. It’s maximizing the results for that project, independent of everything else. This is what systems thinkers call “local optimization.”

In large companies, the product line team’s job differs. It’s delivering the most from the whole line, not just from one product. It’s maximizing a plurality of products. And it’s doing this repeatedly, over time. Systems thinkers would call this “global optimization.”

Jobs statements and desired outcomes look different for the two groups. To see, consider why there hasn’t been faster uptake of JTBD for the single-product job. Clearly, JTBD enables project teams to figure out a new offering’s most desirable set of attributes. And that’s great because knowing this should improve a development project’s success likelihood. Sure, but what does JTBD do to make progress toward improving development speed? Perhaps it works to avoid design mistakes. But Agile methods, even for non-software developments, can make the same claim using rapid customer feedback. Plus, Agile enables much flexibility during development, something left untouched by JTBD.

The Single Product View

For most use cases in the single-product market, Agile methods deliver outcomes better than JTBD. At this stage of the Wild West, Agile outperforms JTBD. Teams that embrace Agile believe they’ll have much of their development completed before JTBD figures out a rank-ordered set of customer-declared outcomes.

In the single-product market, JTBD may best fit discovering product ideas, not to developing them. But a question arises about how important it is to know customer desired outcomes. You’ll often hear people say their job is to deliver impactful thinking about technologies. They believe the first goal is to outperform or disrupt competition.  To them, that’s a technical challenge.

Conducting outcome research on their challenge is more likely to find a use for design thinking, not Jobs Theory. And those that choose the creative path are likely to say they’ll use future development work to fine-tune features to outcomes. They’re laying out a multi-generational approach that evolves nicely under the Agile umbrella. Once again, most use cases tilt toward other practices, not JTBD.

Product Line Plurality

The same speed and performance issues show up in large companies seeking to develop many products at once. But there’s another issue. Using JTBD on a single project doesn’t drive results relative to the business like it does in a small company. This is regardless of whether the pioneer uses JTBD to aid development or discovery. And other issues seem to dominate. Such issues like poorly aligned functional support or platform-lever maturity may crush JTBD’s gains. The game for large companies with an existing line of products is more than figuring out what customers need or want. Sure, JTBD can be important, but by itself it’s not enough.

I bring up the two persona group challenges because it leads to common mistakes seen across the JTBD Wild West. First, JTBD gunslingers and hustlers promote JTBD as a single, pure solution to solve all the shortcomings of misguided product development. To them, JTBD should be the same regardless of company size, or product versus product line. And I’ll agree this may have been fine at the beginning of JTBD’s introduction stage. But now it’s a heavy backpack, weighing down the pioneers. By understanding the two persona groups and adapting the JTBD approach, it not only lightens the backpack load, but it also helps to shrink the Wild West chasm.

Organizational Change: JTBD’s New Frontier

Stepping out as a scout into the large company product line terrain, you’ll see a much different Wild West than for the single product job. The big deal is that to gain JTBD’s full benefits in large companies, you must change many things. And sure, most people will point to market research methods that need to change. That’s a challenge, but it’s straightforward. The real value from JTBD is that it can cause whole product line strategies to change for the better. This can also make it necessary to change an organization’s structure. Unfortunately, most JTBD pioneers don’t see the extent of potential change when they start their journey.

There’s also an errant belief that training more pioneers is the key to Job theory’s diffusion. At least that’s the approach taken by most gunslingers and hustlers. With training, pioneers can take on services. And with training, pioneers can use templates and tools to carry out the JTBD job. But as you apply the theory, you’ll see it’s more about change to the business, to strategies, and to the organization. The problem is you don’t train change. Sure, training can build foundational knowledge. But you guide and facilitate change.  And when pioneers fail to carry out needed changes, they’ll be leaving gains behind. This can push the diffusion backward and make jumping the Wild West JTBD chasm more unlikely.

The Biggest Challenge

If you really want to gain JTBD’s full benefits, then notable change will be involved. I’m reminded of what I heard when I attended JTBD training led by a renowned expert. A class participant asked the expert what the biggest challenge he sees for JTBD. His response was telling. He said it was the difficulty of embedding Jobs Theory as a repeatable practice within large companies. It wasn’t tools and templates. It wasn’t theory nuances like progress versus activity. And it had nothing to do with the theory’s origin. Instead, the biggest issue had everything to do with organizational change.

The change needed to gain JTBD’s value in single product development is straightforward. It must blend into Agile during development and match up to other approaches like design theory to drive discovery. It shouldn’t compete against other approaches. It should complement the approaches.

And in large companies, JTBD must become integral to product line strategies, not one-off development efforts. But let’s be clear, JTBD shouldn’t be the strategy, it should add value to the strategy. It can have major ramifications like re-segmenting markets and rethinking platform-levers. For many pioneers, these can cause major pivots that demand organizational change.

Don’t Under-invest The Gold Rush

Another JTBD mistake commonly made by pioneers in large companies, is that they woefully under-invest in JTBD. The thinking is that it’s smart to pilot the approach on a small, single development project. If that shows promise, then move it to other projects.

Sadly, the pilot or trial use thinking stems from the ‘single solution solves all’ approach espoused by many during JTBD’s early Wild West introduction. It leaves pioneers with a few crucial questions. How do you pilot market re-segmentation? How do you pilot the use of jobs theory data to help redesign platform-levers? How do you pilot whole product line pivots drive by JTBD outcomes? The problem is the value proposition is far larger than a “put your toe in the water” trial can evaluate. Here, pioneers need more courage. And yes, whole careers can be made or broken in the large company JTBD pioneering world.

The under-investment mistake ties to another issue. It’s that JTBD quantitative analysis is more valuable than a qualitative approach. If you shun Jobs Theory analytics, you’ll also come up short on its full value. And that value can be significant for product lines.

JTBD Analytics and Product Line Segments

There’s a big reason product lines gain more from the Jobs thinking than do individual products. It’s because smart Job outcome analytics help lay out powerful market segmentation schemes. This is important to a product line strategy. A good market dividing scheme based on JTBD analytics can bring loads of power to a product line.

Defining segments with JTBD outcomes takes product lines to a new level. It enables teams to create better products and deliver greater customer satisfaction. And teams can boost these gains by adding a smart technology game plan. This joint market and technology approach is the core of powerful product line strategies. That’s why job-defined segments are a cornerstone to great product line management.

If you want to get the most from the Jobs Theory, also consider learning more about Agile, and product line strategies. But remember the importance of change, analytics, and investments. The value of Jobs Theory only comes from its use. And there’s much to be gained in the integration of methods and practices. Take a hard look at creating and applying JTBD analytics. It’s in these Wild West fields that JTBD pioneers can make headway toward the chasm.

Learn More

To learn more about using JTBD to create a powerful market segment schemes and drive powerful product line strategies, consider several of Adept’s venues. We focus on Product Line Strategies, Front-end Targeting, and Responsive Roadmapping. These are critical building blocks to great product development.

Check out my book, The Profound Impact of Product Line Strategy. Or consider my in-depth Masterclass. This 1-day class enables deep discussion specific to different product lines and organizations. You may also find our customized seminar, held on-site at your offices, a perfect fit to your needs and your product lines.


Book The Profound Impact of Product Line Strategy
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