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The Jobs-to-be-done Hierarchy

Jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) is a great concept helping to create innovation strategies, new products and value propositions which people find meaningful and valuable. It reframes the customer problem by asking, what jobs customers are trying to get done, the perspective of developers and innovators changes towards more customer focus almost immediately.

The idea behind JTBD was initiated by Ted Levitt, the originator of the quote «people don’t want a drill, but a hole in the wall». His ground-breaking HBR article Marketing Myopia turned consumer goods marketing upside down. Later, the thinking made its way to strategy and innovation manage-ment, when Clayton Christensen incorporated the JTBD idea in his approach.

However intuitive the JTBD logic is, the application is not as trivial as it looks on first sight. Looking at skin care: What is the job that women try to achieve? Is it: Avoid getting wrinkles? Maintain a young-looking skin? Express my personality? Does it include steps like: prepare the skin, put on make-up, feel skin during day, wash the face at end of day? When thinking about it or when exploring with users, there is a high risk of getting lost.

To not getting lost, we developed a tool which we call the Job Hierarchy. We use this tool as guidance throughout all steps of a JTBD project.

At a glance

Jobs-to-be-done is a great concept for innovators, helping to take the customer perspective and discovering customer insights for innovation and growth strategies. When applying JTBD in practice, however, innovators often get lost. The Job Hierarchy, developed by Vendbridgeand applied in dozens of JTBD projects, can help to maintain orientation and focus, and thereby to exploit the full potential of this powerful concept.

Die Job Hierarchie

As the word hierarchy implies, we use it to think JTBD in three different levels:

  1. The Bigger Why

  2. The Deeper Why

  3. The Lower How

We start a project with a hypothesis for a core job that a product seems to address by asking: what does the user like to achieve with a given solution. Then we ask ourselves what typically happens before and after this hypothetical core job. We call them upstream and downstream jobs. In skin care, the core job would be for example «to take care of my skin». The upstream job could be «to wake up and shower» and the downstream job e.g., «to have breakfast». While doing so, we pay great attention to exclude products or solutions and any kind of judging (e.g., positive or negative adjectives) in order to avoid biases.

Then we explore in two directions: upwards The Bigger Why and downwards The Lower How.

The Bigger Why

The Bigger Why asks for the higher purpose users try to achieve. Very quickly, we move away from the original hypothetical core job and discover higher-level jobs. For example: In a project about the content of a new football museum for FIFA, whereby the initial core job was «to experience football», we discovered jobs related to the Bigger Why like «to spend time together as a family», «to impress friends at school» or «to strengthen family cohesion». In skin care we found jobs like mentioned above, e.g., «to express my personality» or «to enjoy me-time». As we are still in a hypothesis stage, it is not so important to be complete regarding The Bigger Why. The goal is rather to expand the perspective. This expansion helped us in the football museum case to reframe the initial core job from «to experience football» to «to spend time together (as a family, as friends)».

The Lower How

Exploring towards The Lower How is different. Here we try to imagine what job steps people take in order to achieve the core job, thereby covering the full range of activity. Often, those job steps are sequential and start with a triggering event. Considering the museum case, typical trigger events could be «to discuss weekend plans» or «to be bored». We list these steps as a job map with job steps in a descriptive, solution-free and unbiased way. Often we base our hypotheses on short interviews or on analyses of relevant websites, blogs and other information.

The Deeper Why

While The Bigger Why and The Lower How are quite functional, utilitarian, The Deeper Why covers the motivational drivers behind a job. We know from psychology that people are motivated by different, interlinked factors. Not only utilitarian functions drive our behavior, but also factors like seeking shelter and security, longing for social contacts with other people or being esteemed and rewarded. The most known motivation theory is Maslow, distingui-shing between five different factors. While Maslow is debated and some think it is disproven, the classification used in Maslow can be helpful. It can be applied to any industry and phrased in JTBD format. For the museum case for example, with the core job «to spend time together», the hypotheses for The Deeper Why jobs were «to be safe», «to exchange with friends/family members» or «to be esteemed by my friends in school» (for kids).

From hypotheses to customer reality

As mentioned, all job steps at this stage are hypotheses from an inside-out perspective, happening at the beginning of a JTBD project. This hypothesis round is key for all the later stages.

First, it helps to reframe almost instantly the perspective from an internal, often technology-driven view to an external user view.. This change in perspective is especially valuable for companies in a transformation process, where more customer-centricity is a major cultural and organizational goal.

Second, the CFI Job Hierarchy guides you when it comes to user exploration and interviews. The Job Hierarchy,thought through and in front of you, helps to lead discussions with users in a natural flow and keeps a holistic view on a topic. It also proofs if first hypothesis on jobs were solid. In some cases, we rewrite the core job completely. For example, in a project for a medtech company with products for Type 1 diabetes patients, the hypothesis for the core job was «to lead a normal life». We quickly found this core job to be wrong, even insulting to diabetes patients. Being born with diabetes or developing it at a very early age, they know exactly that life will never be normal (at least for as long as technology is not capable of mimicking the pancreas). The rewritten core job was much more straight-forward: It was «to regulate blood sugar 24/7».

Third, the Job Hierarchy helps to organize quantitative validation of findings of the user exploration. One reason why quantitative validation is rarely done – despite it is a must for innovation efforts – is because the findings from user exploration are often too complex and touch many different fields of human psychology and behavior. The Job Hierarchy gives a structure to deal with it by using the hierarchy with the three different job levels and job steps as a frame for the validation questionnaire.

Last, the Job Hierarchy is very useful for communication to internal stakeholders not familiar with a JTBD project. While management and other functions in a company might immediately grasp the JTBD idea, they might lose the overview when presented with findings. The Job Hierarchy provides a (pyramid) storyline, allowing to zoom in and out different aspects of the user journey. It prevents from being bogged down in details and from losing the bigger picture, i.e. The Bigger Why or The Deeper Why.

Download pdf:

1- The JTBD Hierarchy
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