Noun-based and

Verb-based Segmentation

Verb-based Segmentation

The Power of JTBD Segmentation in Product Line Strategies and Roadmaps

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.

The idea that customers “hire” products helps us understand buyer decisions and choices. It ties directly to outcome measures.1

But here’s what’s so valuable. New products with attributes matching these outcomes are more likely to succeed than those created otherwise. And based on the uptake of Jobs Theory into everyday practice, the improved success claim grows stronger every day.

Jobs Theory and Product Lines

The link between Jobs Theory and successful new products is powerful.

I can’t imagine any strategy, whether for a single product or a product line, ignoring the Jobs Theory. 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.

But my message isn’t that Jobs Theory is key to innovation success. It’s that in product lines, not just single products, first-level thinking of Jobs Theory is not enough. And that’s a mistake made by many professionals.

Most management teams think that their company must do more and must do it faster to gain an advantage. They preach a speed-to-market mantra, and this sets up a problem. Do we add Jobs Theory to our speed-to-market tool bag? Sure, that’s how companies start building Jobs-to-be-Done awareness and thinking. But the significant gain comes from applying Jobs Theory as a core component of an entire product line’s strategy and roadmap.

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 commuters hire milkshakes to make their morning ride enjoyable.

The same milkshake market splits based on different customer-desired outcomes. Such job splitting makes the competitive landscape looks different. The grandparent scenario shows milkshakes competing against toys and candy. And the commuter scenario shows milkshakes competing against coffee and doughnuts. These jobs differ.

Smart Jobs Theory work will also spell out the main Job and related Jobs. Plus, it will breakdown functional and emotional outcomes. These divisions matter.

Noun-based and Verb-based Segments

But here’s another insight. Market segmentation using Jobs Theory is a powerful complement to product line strategies. With the correct homework, product line teams can divide their markets into distinct Job-to-be-done clusters.

Notice how outcome-based JTBD clusters differ from traditional market segments. These outcome clusters are independent of demographic or geographic customer groupings, the conventional approach taken to segment markets. And this difference is a powerful game-changer in product line strategy.

I refer to the difference in segmentation approaches as the traditional Noun-based approach versus the new JTBD, Verb-based approach based on outcome clusters. I use the Noun and Verb titles to draw a quick and concise contrast between the two.

It turns out that Noun-based segmentation is pervasive in well-established companies. Financial reports break down a company’s performance using Noun-based segments. A company’s sales force and marketing teams are often structured to focus on traditional Noun-based segments. You’ll also see strategists “position” businesses specific to faster-growing Noun-based segments. And Wall Street analysts seem eager to use their Noun-based fluency to tell investors everything they need to know.

Verb-based Innovation

The disconnect is that innovation and new offerings don’t come from Noun-based thinking. Yes, traditional Noun-based segments are simpler to characterize in terms of size and growth. And it’s easier to succeed in large growing markets than in small shrinking markets. But Noun-based segmentation doesn’t help define the most valuable product features on which a development team should focus.

Job hiring details, when clustered into sets, create attribute targets for new products. More importantly, JTBD clusters enable companies to target innovations within front-end activities before product ideas take shape. Plus, a breakdown of an entire market into Verb-based segments allows a multi-product view toward delivering customer satisfaction and stifling competitors. This is where products boost each other, not just where each contributes as standalone offerings.

Complementing the Noun-based approach with the Verb-based approach enables teams to craft smart strategies and roadmaps for entire product lines. This idea is a big deal that gets lost in the single-product JTBD enthusiasm that’s taken hold in nearly every company.

Jobs-to-be-done Segments Drive Strategy

Genius in product line strategy comes from Jobs-based segmenting. Do this better than competitors, and you’ll have a real game-changer.

The challenge is nailing down what “better” means. It’s because setting 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 against the customer’s 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 regular 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 Quantitative Job

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. The attribute targeting makes job 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 task is fundamental to every product line strategy. Sure, each Jobs segment might present an excellent 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. When you’ve done Verb-based segmentation analyses that details multiple segments, such decisions can be difficult.

Teams must decide why, how, and when to chase each Job segment. They must choose 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 in keeping a product line strong. And good strategy moves and pivots don’t come from Jobs-to-be-done research alone.

Roadmap Your Product Line Strategy

Laying out a strategy and carrying out its execution roadmap are a product line team’s primary responsibilities. Doing excellent 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 crucial to learn Jobs-to-be-done thinking. But it’s also essential to use other strategy lenses.

It’s up to teams to understand product line strategy moves and pivots. And they must learn the lenses that help them think through and coordinate the projects and activities. Some lenses focus on technologies, others on organization challenges, and still others on competitive nuances. And the roadmapping lens helps teams visualize and think through 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 superb product line performance. While Jobs-to-be-Done thinking is critical and necessary, by itself, it’s not enough.

Product Line Roadmap Insights

Consider how product line roadmaps differ from traditional product roadmaps, which are project-oriented. And then see how they differ from technology roadmaps which are engineering-readiness oriented. Figure 1 is an example of a real case of a product line roadmap in use.

Figure 1: Example Product Line Roadmap with Noun-base and Verb-based segments.
Product Line Roadmap

First, observe the basic insight the product line roadmap conveys. It shows technologies in the bottom swim lane bundling into products in the middle lane. The products then connect to markets in the top lane.

But look closely at the market swim lane. It has two levels: Noun-based segments on top and Verb-based segments below. The products link through the Verb-based and onto Noun-based segments.

Now examine the middle lane. It shows platform-levers as timelines, with products placed on the line. The platform-lever is an essential component of a product line strategy. But don’t be surprised, it’s also absent or ill-formed in some product lines. Products are created by adding critical technologies from the bottom swim lane to a platform-lever. Those technologies must deliver product attributes that match the Jobs-to-be-Done outcomes defined in each Verb-based segment.

In product line roadmaps, there are three types of objects that represent products: the Product Innovation Charter, the Product-in-Development, and the Product-in-the-Market. I refer to these as PICs, PIDs, and PIMs.  For simplicity, the roadmap shown above has no PIMs.

Targets for Innovation, Not Concepts

The PIC is a target for a new concept, a charter for work within a front-end. You’ll see JTBD outcomes are a core part of each PIC. And that’s an integral part of adding Jobs-to-be-Done thinking into setting up clear innovation targets.

A PID is a project underway in a waterfall or agile process. And the PIM is a product already being sold.

Product line strategy is about orchestrating a portfolio of PICs, PIDs, and PIMs. It’s not just setting up a PIC and running with it to form a concept and develop a new product. That’s the old-world single-product thinking approach.

Good product line strategies seek far more. You’ll find the aim is always to improve some combination of customer satisfaction, competitiveness, and cash flow. And while most product line teams know the importance of their work to achieve this, it is now clear that Verb-based segmentation proficiency is essential to getting this job done. You’ll even see doing Verb-based segmentation better than competitors is a first step in gaining an advantage.

The Big Deal

The insight I hope to convey, one I consider a huge deal, is that Verb-based segmentation is a crucial component of a superior product line strategy. It’s Verb-based, not Noun-based segmentation that allows companies to position their products based on attributes. And deliberate positioning enables an intense focus on work and investments to improve both near and long-term performance.

Once you make progress segmenting your markets into JTBD clusters, you’ll see it’s an invaluable complement to technology, product, and market planning. You just need to get the job done.

Learn More

Consider checking some other of my blogs on the topics. Or better yet join one my online workshops.  There’s lot’s to share. And, as promised, here are some other resources:

The Profound Impact of Product Line Strategy

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Corporate Innovation Productivity

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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