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Scope an innovation project from the customer’s perspective – The Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy 2.0

The challenge

A team of young intrapreneurs sits down around a table. Their task is to come up with new mobility services and products. They have carefully selected a densely populated region –let’s call it Betasia – that seems challenging and interesting to run a pilot. Now it is time to go out there and get a sense of what such new mobility services could look like in that region: what is it, that the people living in that area really need and how could they help them in terms of mobility? How could they get a sense of what product has potential in that area?

The confusion

«So», Stephen – let’s call him Stephen – starts the meeting, «since it is quite open what the final product will look like, let’s open things up. How should we start to go about this?».

«We must start by looking at this from the perspective of the people living there. We should start by making a list of all the things the people of Betasia do that has to do with mobility. With their mobility Jobs-to-be-done» Sarah says. The team agrees and they start:

«They don’t just go out, they go buy groceries.» Yes. «They visit friends.» – and «they visit family!». True, ok. «They go out, and they go do sports», «Yeah or hobbies in general.», «I also take my cans and glass bottles to the recycling station (yes we’re in Switzerland)». Right, great, what else? «They go to the lake», yes «church!» and «work, they, of course, go to work!» oh, and «There’s a large mall just a bit outside Betasia, they go there as well», «The kids, they go to school» right! «It’s anyway different for a family, so move around with kids?» oh and let’s not forget «In the end, they want to be more ecological»… The list of things the good people of Betasia do looks something like this

Buy groceries Visit friends Visit family Go out (Go) do sports (Go) do hobbies Recycle Go to the lake Go to church Go to work Go to the mall Go to school Move around with kids Be ecological How long do you think this list became? Very very long! Although it is absolutely correct to start from the perspective of the (potential) customers, soon the team of intrapreneurs got lost in the sea of the thousands of things customers do. After 20 minutes you can imagine the length of that list. The problem is this: Which of the things people do should we look at? Are all these Jobs relevant? Are these Jobs or contexts? And which contexts are relevant?

Understanding what it means to define a scope: The Focus Job

What the team has intuitively done right, is to not frame the project in terms of the product or solution they have in mind. The danger of this solution perspective is that it invites a lot of biases. Teams start to fall in love with their solutions that might not really address a customer need. So it is absolutely correct to not frame the project in terms of the solution, e.g. “New E-scooters for Betasia”.

However the team, in a sense, went too far away from the possible solution space. This becomes obvious if you take one of the Jobs of the list and ask: What would it really mean to innovate that Job?

To think through the consequences of that question we use the Jobs-to-be-done Hierarchy to get out of the confusion. What we are presenting here is the 2.0 version of the Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy 1.0 we released some time ago.

Download Version 1.0:

1- The JTBD Hierarchy
Download PDF • 1.89MB

The hierarchy starts with the Focus Job. The Focus Job is the Job that we put at the center of our attention. Try to have only one Job as the Focus Job. Sometimes it makes sense to look at more than one Job but in most cases, it is about one Focus Job. If you want to look at more, make separate Jobs-to-be-done Hierarchies per Focus Job. What follows is not trying to be correct but showing what it means to use the tool. On the list was «Buy groceries». So let’s put that as the Focus Job.

Putting a Job in the Focus position is the most fundamental decision you can. It’s the first and a lot depends on it. Because as yourself: What does it all involve to innovate the Job “to buy groceries”. Remember that we are a team of mobility service providers. So, do we want to discover how people decide on the weekly menus (if they do that), how they do the shopping lists? Do we need to investigate what Pain they experience when they walk around in shops?

In all likelihood, neither Stephen or Sarah nor the team would find any relevant insight in answering those questions. But that is what it would mean to put that Job into as Focus Job: Looking at everything that is involved in buying groceries. Let’s look at a hypothetical hierarchy for the Job “to buy groceries”.

Upstream, downstream and the Lower How

The hierarchy is built around that Focus Job. Vertically going downwards from the Focus Job get’s you deeper into the Lower How, i.e. smaller Jobs that describe the steps customers take to get the Focus Job done. Going upwards gets you to the Bigger Why. These are Jobs that are (in the pyramid of needs if you will) more aspirational or about self-realization. Bigger Why Jobs can be «To be a good ancestor», «To preserve the earth’s natural resources», etc.

Horizontally (to the left and right of the Focus Job) are upstream and downstream Jobs – Jobs that happen before and Jobs that happen later. Remember that this is a tool to scope your project. Up to a point, you decide where the upstream Jobs end and the Lower How Jobs begin, and where they end and the downstream Jobs end. You can’t understand everything and you don’t need to. Carefully discuss where you set those borders – and don’t worry: Once you turn to customer discovery you’ll quickly realize if you made a mistake.

Try to put as many of the Jobs into a chronological sequence. This will make it much easier to understand. However, be aware that often multiple sequences are possible. It’s less about getting it perfectly right (you’ll never hit all the individual cases correctly) but about having a general framework all agree on. Some Jobs (often maintenance related) don’t fit into the sequence but are being done all the time or at moments of interruption. Place them outside of the sequence. The sequence is an ideal picture to work towards, not a must.

So, for the Job “To buy groceries” one could fill out the upstream, Lower How and downstream Jobs like this:

Is this what we want to understand?

This hierarchy is just a draft we made up and could be improved in various ways for sure (What about ordering online? etc.). But that is not the point here, the point is this: Image you are Sarah or Stephen or someone on their team, is this what you, as a mobility service provider, want to understand more deeply? All of these steps? An even more detailed and improved version of this? Certainly not. Once you’ve really worked through the Job to buy groceries from the customer perspective using the Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy it’s obvious that only two steps have any relationship with what you are interested in: Going to the shop and getting back.

Now you see the importance of discussing the Focus Jobs and how the hierarchy helps to understand what that means. Yes, it’s true that people who use mobility services will use them to buy groceries (or not depending on the solution) but from the perspective of our team at hand, this is a special context in which a Job is done, not the Job we should put in the Focus position.

Settle on a Focus Job Hypothesis

You could fill out the Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy in the same manner for all the Jobs on the lists from the beginning. Some of the Jobs are more related to the Bigger why like being ecological, some are like buying groceries: possible contexts but not actually the right one for the case at hand. So, how do you determine the right Focus Job?

First, think about what we are doing here: We are defining the scope of an innovation project from the inside-out, i.e. we are building a hypothesis on what we think the Focus Job looks like. We could be wrong and need to validate it with customers. But what we want is to find the Job all of the people of Betasia have in common for which a new mobility service could be a solution. What we need to determine is the right level of abstraction and decide what we regard as contexts and what we regard as the Focus Job.

The Focus Job links your strategic or business intentions with customer reality. That’s the key power of Jobs-to-be-done, it shifts your perspective and provides – as Jim Kalbach puts it – an out of body experience for organizations. So what we want to innovate in Betasia is the way they move around town (and to destinations nearby like the mall outside town).

Once we fix that we can see how all the different special situations like, grocery buying, doing sports or visiting friends become special cases of the general case of moving from A to B (within Betasia). All the different things people do have – from our perspective as mobility service innovators – this Job in common. That is what we want to innovate. That is not to say that you should ignore the cases of buying groceries, etc. On the contrary: When talking to users find out how the general Job is being impacted by the special usage situations.

The effect on the team is immediately felt. The 1000 other things suddenly fall into place and have a logical order. The team is aligned and knows what they are going to validate (or falsify) with users.

Further applications of the Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy

A filled out Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy is an initial definition of a hypothesis driving an innovation project from the customer’s perspective. The hierarchy not only helps at the beginning of the project to define the scope. It’s further benefits are:

1. Align the team

The Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy aligns the team early on in the innovation process. It can guide and enable discussions that are very helpful to get everyone on the same page

2. Guide exploration

The Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy can be used to guide customer exploration. Go out to real (potential) customers and understand all the steps on the hierarchy. We use it as a guide for the customer interviews, it helps to structure qualitative interviews from a natural customer perspective.

3. Knowledge structure

The Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy can be used to structure existing knowledge. Go through all the data that you already have and see what you learn for each of the steps. Use the structure of the hierarchy to gather all the existing knowledge under one common concept from the customer’s perspective.

The Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy for Betasia

By now you are probably wondering what the final Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy made with the team of Stephen and Sarah looked like. We’ve got a better idea: Why not take the opportunity, take 5 minutes and try it yourself? You now have everything you need to give it a try!

Send the hierarchy our way at and tell us about how it went or where you’d like to know more about applying the Jobs-to-be-done hierarchy!

Download version 2.0:

2 - Job Hierarchy 2.0
Download PDF • 266KB

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