Jobs to Be Done: A book review by Bob Morris

jobs-to-be-doneJobs to Be Done: A Roadmap for Customer-Centered Innovation
Stephen Wunker, Jessica Whitman, and David Farber
AMACOM (November 2016)

Create breakthrough ideas from reimagining problems, not from an incrementally better solution to a well-understood challenge

It was Clayton Christensen who posed the “innovator’s dilemma”: the same practices that lead a business to be successful in the first place can — and often do — result in their eventual demise. Whereas in one of his recent books, Marshall Goldsmith suggests that “what got you here won’t get you there,” worse yet, Christensen suggests, “what got you here will probably doom you to failure.”

How to resolve that dilemma? Stephen Wunker, Jessica Wattman, and David Farber respond in Jobs to Be Done: “long-term success comes only when an organization’s leaders are able to be ambidextrous, exploiting success in existing businesses and leveraging their firm’s existing capabilities to explore markets.”

This is essentially what Vijay Govindarajan characterizes as a “three box solution” in his eponymous book. That is, simultaneously managing today’s business while creating tomorrow’s and letting go of yesterday’s values and beliefs that could keep the company stuck in the past. “It’s a powerful guide for aligning organizations and teams on the critical but competing activities required to simultaneously create a new business while optimizing the current one.”

It is worth noting that, in Competing Against Luck, written with Toddy Hall, Karen Dillon, and David Duncan, Christensen asserts that “the foundation of [his and his collaborators’] thinking is the Theory of Jobs to Be Done, which focuses on deeply understanding your customers’ struggle for progress and then creating the right solution and attendant set of experiences to ensure you solve your customers’ jobs well, every time. ‘Theory’ may conjure up images of ivory tower musings, but I assure you that it is the most practical and useful tool we can offer you.”

Moreover, “Good theory helps us understand ‘how’ and ‘why.’ It helps us make sense of how the world works and predict the consequences of our decisions and actions. Jobs Theory [a term interchangeable with Theory of Jobs to Be Done], we believe, can move companies [and more specifically, their leaders] beyond hoping that correlation is enough to the causal mechanism of successful innovation.” This is a key point and helps to suggest the meaning and significance of that book’s title.

In Jobs to Be Done, Wunker, Wattman, and Farber achieve four separate but interdependent objectives:

1. They explain what a Jobs Atlas is and how to formulate a solution plan.
2. They explain how prepare for implementation of the plan and then launch it.
3. They explain how to determine success criteria and then apply them.
4. They identify the probable obstacles to the plan’s success and explain how to avoid or overcome them.

Obstacles to adoption are barriers that prevent customers from buying what you offer in the first place. They include behavior change requirement, multiple decision makers, high costs, and high risk. There are also obstacles to use. They include limited support infrastructure, use creates pain points, “It’s cool, not better,” and offering what isn’t targeted. All this is thoroughly examined in Chapter 5.

I agree with Stephen Wunker, Wattman, and Farber: “Customers can help to shape the design of your final product [and/or service] by reacting to prototypes or participating in activities designed to highlight what’s really important to them. Be sure to capture what customers like and dislike, as well as the questions they raises and any new ideas they may propose.”

There is an abundance of valuable information, insights, and counsel in this volume that can prepare those who read the book carefully to initiate and then sustain effective and profitable consumer-centered innovation.

Years ago, Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell wrote a book in which they explain how to create “customer evangelists.” I think that collaborating with customers on determining what the most important jobs to be done are and then how best to do them is itself one of the most important jobs to be done…if done well.

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