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Jobs to be Done:
An Historical Perspective
by MADISON BLOOM


The concept of Jobs to be Done is increasingly important in the practice of innovation because it improves a company's chances of success with new products and services. Here is a brief historical perspective on the origins of the concept, the key players and a few words about the future.

JTBD History

1969: "Quarter-inch holes, not quarter-inch drills"

I thank Nicholas Carr for pointing me to the source of this popular quote that starts the entire Jobs to be Done story:

“Why do people buy products?” asked Theodore Levitt, the celebrated Harvard Business School professor, at the start of his 1969 book The Marketing Mode. He suggested an answer:

Leo McGivena once said, “Last year one million quarter-inch drill bits were sold -- not because people wanted quarter-inch drill bits but because they wanted quarter-inch holes.” People don’t buy products, they buy the expectation of benefits. People spend their money not for goods and services, but to get the value satisfactions they believe are bestowed by what they are buying. They buy quarter-inch holes, not quarter-inch drills. That is the marketing view of the business process.

1985: Peter Drucker and "Jobs to be Done"

The earliest use of the phrase "Jobs to be Done" in the way that we use it today, i.e, to describe customer needs, comes from Peter Drucker in his seminal work Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

As Drucker details the seven sources of innovation opportunity, he tells us about "process need":

JTBD History

It starts out with the "job to be done." Drucker is looking at need as a source of innovation.

1991: Anthony Ulwick's Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI)

Anthony Ulwick founded Strategyn in 1991 with an important mission.

His words:

In 1991, I first proposed a solution to this problem: to gain deep insight into the customer's needs, companies should stop focusing on the product and the customer and instead should understand the "underlying process" (or job) the customer is trying to execute when they are using a product or service. The theory holds that to create a product or service that customers will want to buy, you must first understand what fundamental measures of performance those customers use to measure success when getting the job done.

Ulwick has written about this "Outcome-Driven Innovation" process extensively, including his own take on the history of Jobs to be Done.

1992: The Case of Cordis Corporation

Here again, we learn from Anthony Ulwick about the first application of the theory and how it was used in practice:

Strategyn's first application of this methodology was completed in a 1992 engagement with the medical device company Cordis Corporation. The company was trying to reinvent its line of angioplasty balloon products. I led the effort to interview interventional cardiologists to break down and analyze the underlying process they went through to "restore blood flow in a blocked artery." The customer's desired outcomes were revealed, prioritized and addressed. By mid-1993, Cordis launched 19 new products, all of which became number 1 or 2 in the market. Cordis' market share increased from 1 percent to more than 20 percent, and its stock price more than quadrupled.

1999-2000: Anthony Ulwick introduces Clayton Christensen to ODI

The Jobs to be Done story continues with a meeting between Anthony Ulwick and Harvard's Professor Clayton Christensen in 1999.

In the spring of 2000, they discuss the concept in public. The video provides a behind-the-scenes view:

Anthony Ulwick and Clayton Christensen: The Birth of Jobs to Be Done Theory (Spring 2000)

2002: "Turn Customer Input into Innovation" in HBR

In January 2002, Harvard Business Review publishes Turn Customer Input into Innovation by Anthony Ulwick, and the article becomes an instant classic.

To understand customer needs, companies must understand the job the customer is trying to get done. They must understand how customers measure the successful exefution of a job. This is the essence of the Outcome-Driven Innovation theory.

Drawing on his work with Cordis Corporation (now a division of Johnson & Johnson), Ulwick explains how the ODI process works and how it was used by Cordis to elevate the company into a leadership position in the angioplasty balloon market. The article describes a series of Outcome-Driven Innovation process steps that Cordis used to capture, analyze, and use customer inputs. First comes in-depth interviews, where a practitioner works with customers to deconstruct a job or activity to unearth the "customers' needs" or "outcomes." Researchers then compile a comprehensive list of outcomes that participants rank in order of importance and the degree to which they are satisfied by existing products. Finally, using a simple mathematical formula, researchers can learn the relative attractiveness of key areas of opportunity. This simple mathematical formula is called the "opportunity algorithm", which is also introduced in the article.

2003: BOOK - "The Innovator's Solution"

In this business classic by Clayton Christensen, we learn about "Jobs to be Done" - people don't buy products, they hire them to do a job:

JTBD History

The footnote credits Ulwick and Richard Pedi:

JTBD History

"Jobs to be Done" now becomes a part of the business lexicon.

2005: BOOK - "What Customers Want"

Anthony Ulwick's book, What Customers Want: Using Outcome-Driven Innovation to Create Breakthrough Products and Services, is a paradigm shift in innovation practice.

Based on more than 200 studies spanning more than seventy companies and twenty-five industries, Ulwick contends that, when it comes to innovation, the traditional methods companies use to communicate with customers are the root cause of chronic waste and missed opportunity.

Ulwick demonstrates that all popular qualitative research methods yield well-intentioned but unfitting and misleading information that serves to derail the innovation process. Rather than accepting customer inputs such as "needs," "benefits," "specifications," and "solutions," Ulwick argues that researchers should silence the literal "voice of the customer" and focus on the "metrics that customers use to measure success when executing the jobs, tasks or activities they are trying to get done."

2005: "Marketing Malpractice" in HBR

Clayton Christensen's December 2005 HBR classic echoes Ulwick:

"Marketing executives focus too much on ever-narrower demographic segments and ever-more-trivial product extensions. They should find out, instead, what jobs consumers need to get done. Those jobs will point the way to purposeful products—and genuine innovation."

"Jobs to be Done" goes mainstream.

2007-2008: SMR and HBR

Both Clayton Christensen and Anthony Ulwick publish JTBD related articles in MIT's Sloan Management Review:

Anthony also co-authors another seminal artlce in HBR with Strategyn colleague Lance Betterncourt:

2010: The Edison Award

Ulwick and Strategyn collaborate with Johnson and Johnson's Ethicon Endo Surgery to create a product using Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI) and win the Edison Award.

2015: 12th ODI patent granted to Ulwick

Anthony Ulwick is granted his 12th patent related to Outcome-Driven Innovation.

2016: JTBD BOOKS by Christensen, Ulwick, and Wunker

October 2017 sees the release of two books on JTBD:

And November sees another book launch. Stephen Wunker, one of Clayton Christensen's students at Harvard, writes Jobs to be Done: A Roadmap for Customer-Centered Innovation (AMACOM).

Also during the same time, an article in HBR describes the involvement of Bob Moesta in JTBD:

2016: Strategyn completes 25 years as a consultancy

With over 250 engagements focused on Outcome Driven Innovation and Jobs Theory, Strategyn celebrates its 25th anniversary in business.

BOOKS

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What Customers Want by Anthony Ulwick

JTBD


 

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