Before we go any further, I need to be clear that I absolutely, totally, and completely believe in Jobs to be Done.  In fact, more than once, I have uttered the words, “Jobs to be Done is a hill I will die on.”

Which means that I died a little inside when a client recently said to me,

“Jobs to be Done is amazing.  ‘Jobs to be Done’ sucks.”

He’s right (as much as it kills me to admit that).

In an academic setting, the term makes perfect sense.

I understand where the term comes from and applaud the logic and clarity of the analogy at its core.  Just as a company hires a person for a task or set of functions (a job), a person “hires” a product or service because they have a problem to solve or progress they need to make.  They have a Job to be Done.

Managers and executives who work with me to learn Jobs to be Done and how to apply it quickly grasp the concept.  After just one-hour, they can re-tell and explain the Milkshake story, identify functional/emotional/social jobs in role plays, and swear that the approach completely changes how they see and think about their business.

In the real world, the term is profoundly confusing. 

Then the managers and executives, believing so strongly in its ability to transform the business, decide to roll it out to the organization.  They talk about it, send articles about it, and train everyone to apply it in customer interviews.  With great excitement, everyone from employees to senior leaders fan out to talk to customers, take copious notes, discuss insights with their teams, and happily declare that their customers’ Jobs to be Done are to buy the company’s products. 

Here’s a quick (and entirely fictional) example:

  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Company (CCCC): Hello, Ms. Customer.  We want to learn more about your snacking habits.  When you snack and why, what you like to snack on and why, stuff like that.
  • Customer: Great!  I love to snack on chocolate chip cookies, but the store-bought ones are expensive, and they’re filled with preservatives, and I’m trying to be healthier.  I’d make my own, but I don’t have time. 

CCCC returns to the office and declares that the customer’s Job to be Done is to buy cheap all-natural cookies from a store.

Ummm, no.  Not even close.

The customer’s Jobs to be Done are to be healthy, manage her money, save time, and feel good about what she eats.  CCCC’s job (literally, the company’s reason for business) is to make cookies that customers want to buy.

What CCCC identified as a customer Job to be Done is the company’s job (business).  In other words, it’s a solution.

Why the confusion?

In the real world, people already have precise definitions of “job” in their heads.  They have a job (role).  They have a job to do (responsibilities, deliverables).  Their colleagues have jobs (roles and responsibilities).  They have job openings (hiring needs).

By assigning a new meaning to the word “job,” we’re not only asking people to change how they think and talk, but we’re also asking them to adopt an entirely new understanding of and use for a common word. 

Imagine being told that “orange” means both a color and a cooking technique.  It makes the brain hurt.

What’s the solution?

I don’t know.  But here’s what I’ve tried.

  1. Problem 
    • Pro: It’s part of the definition of a Job to be Done, and we all know what a problem is
    • Con: It focuses customer conversations on existing pain points and sets a negative tone in interviews, making it challenging to discover solutions that delight the customer and, as a result, could inform how the problem is solved.
  2. Need
    • Pro: It’s the OG of consumer research, a term we all know and use
    • Con: It anchors customer conversations in functional Jobs to be Done and makes it difficult to surface the emotional and social Jobs that drive decisions and behavior.
  3. Customer Job to be Done
    • Pro: Uses the original term while being VERY clear that the focus is on the customer
    • Con: It’s a lot to say and even more to type, and people still fall back into their traditional definitions and use of the term job
What have you tried?  What are your suggestions?