What clients want

I know what clients really want…

Many clients brief designers having already decided what the problem is and the type of work that needs to be done to solve it.

They come to the designer because they think they need a website or an app or a small campaign.

Here-in lies the problem.

Most clients have not analysed what job it is the really want done.

The idea of analysing jobs to be done started with Theodore Levitt when he proposed that;

‘People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.’

This lead to Tony Ulwick starting the Jobs-to-be-Done theory.

Jobs-to-be-Done theory is best defined as a group of principles that explain how to make marketing more effective and innovation more predictable by focusing on the customer’s job to be done.

Tony Ulwick along with Clay Christensen published a series of books and videos. Collectively they outline the four principles that form the foundation for Jobs-to-be-Done theory.

I stress the development of this system because it is a management practice designers can integrate with empathy mapping in human centred design. It gives designers the business language and methods that business owners understand.

The four Jobs-to-be-Done principles

  1. People buy products and services to get a ‘job’ done.
  2. Jobs are functional, with emotional and social components.
  3. A Job-to-be-Done is stable over time and solution agnostic.
  4. Success comes from making the ‘job’, rather than the product or the customer, the unit of analysis.

Principle one: People buy products and services to get a ‘job’ done

People have underlying problems they are trying to resolve. They have goals they are trying to achieve and tasks and activities they are trying to complete. They may be faced with situations they are trying to avoid. In each of these cases, people often turn to products and services to help them get a ‘job’ done.

A ‘job’ is not a description of what the customer is doing, the solution they are using, or the steps they are taking to get a job done. Rather, the ‘job’ statement embodies what the customer is ultimately trying to accomplish.

Principle two: Jobs are functional with emotional and social components

As a customer uses a product to get a functional job done, they often want to feel a certain way and be perceived in a certain light by their peers and/or friends and others. The way they want to feel and be perceived constitutes their emotional and social jobs-to-be-done. For example, when parents are trying to pass on life lessons to children (the functional job-to-be-done), they may also want to feel like they are contributing to the advancement of society and/or want to be perceived as good parents by their peers.

These are the emotional and social components they attach to the functional job, respectively.

Principle three: A Job-to-be-Done is stable over time and solution agnostic

A functional Job-to-be-Done is often a job that customers have been trying to accomplish for years, decades and in some cases even centuries. Parents, for example, have been trying to pass on life lessons to children since the beginning of humanity. A functional job is stable over time. What changes over time are the products and services that companies offer to help get the job done better. The job itself is solution agnostic.

Because the Job-to-be-Done is stable over time and solution agnostic, it is an attractive focal point around which to create customer value. It provides a stable target for market insights, strategy formulation, innovation, R&D and M&A investment, and growth. It also offers insights that can help prevent disruption.

Principle four: Success comes from making the ‘job’ the unit of analysis

Making the Job-to-be-Done the unit of analysis means it is the functional job — not the product, the customer, the circumstance, or customer demographics — that is to be studied, dissected and understood. This means that companies should not define and study customer needs around the product, but should instead define and capture customer needs around getting the job done.

In addition, with the Job-to-be-Done as the unit of analysis, measurement systems should be created to help companies determine which new product ideas will help its customers get their jobs done best.

Take away point

I have been using Job-to-be-Done practice with empathy mapping to help designers better understand their clients. The understanding of this methodology has then lead to designers selling a Job-to-be-Done and empathy mapping to clients in workshops.


Got a question? Want to share your point of view? Please feel free to email me.

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Greg Branson

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Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.

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