Briefs that describe the REAL job to be done.

The death last week of Clay Christensen led me to think more about the role he inadvertently played in helping designers understand their clients. Clay was known for his writings and presentations on the Jobs to be Done (JTBD) model. I refer to it as a model because many years ago I set up a JTBD canvas alongside empathy mapping as a model for developing client empathy.

It works equally well with clients and customers.

JTBD is a process to understand customer/client actions. It describes the process a customer/client does to take a certain direction or purchase a product/service.

From my observation, a market will develop, change and refresh when a customer/client has a JTBD; there is a need that motivates them to take action. The customer/client will take a certain direction or purchase a product to get a job done. They will undertake a process that has a beginning, an implementation and an end. That process involves logical and emotional decisions.

 Tony Ulwick, founder of the innovation consulting firm Strategyn and pioneer of Jobs-to-be-Done theory, defines JTBD as:

JOBS-TO-BE-DONE is best defined as a perspective — a lens through which you can observe markets, customers, needs, competitors, and customer segments differently, and by doing so, make innovation far more predictable and profitable.

Tony Ulwick’s approach to JTBD is complex. He has developed an methodology that is intended for large scale innovation.

I‘ve refined it and produced an approach that will suit most design agencies.

Implementing JTBD

Successful products and services help customers solve problems.
They help them get a job done.

The problem is jobs can be complex and multifaceted; they need a tight definition.

To start the definition I use is the 5 Whys process. This is a great example of how a problem went from being a technical fault to a human failing. In this case the job to be done was not to fix the server (although that did have to be done) but rather the job involved counselling and retraining a supervisor. 

How many times have you had a client come to you with a brief that gives the solution based on their gut reaction. It is an output solution – I need a new website – rather than an outcome solution – sales are falling and I don’t know why.

The solution is greater than sales figures, customer characteristics, product attributes, new technologies, or trends. It’s a great example of how jobs are never simply about function—they have powerful social and emotional dimensions.

When asking the 5 why’s it’s important to question the social and emotional motivations.

I use JTBD as an exercise that precedes an empathy map. It helps understand a person’s motivations. These are then converted into the appropriate part of the empathy map.

Unfortunately we don’t have the space here to give a full tutorial on how this works. However if you would like a copy of the JTBD/Empathy map canvas just email me.


Designers are uniquely positioned to do JTBD analysis as part of every brief they get. They are attuned to the customers needs in a way that makes it easy for them to understand the REAL job to be done.

Our Mentoring program helps agency owners develop new ways of working with clients.
We have a waitlist for a JTBD workshop. Register interest by emailing.


Greg Branson

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

Greg has developed The Design Business School to help owners manage their business better along with showing designers how to get more involved in the studio and develop their career path. Contact Greg.