@INTERACTIONSMAG 80 INTERACTIONS JANUARY–FEBRUARY2019
This forum is dedicated to maximizing the success of HCI practitioners within the frenetic world of product and service design.
It focuses on UX strategy approaches, leadership, management techniques, and above all the challenge of bringing HCI
to peer-level status with longstanding business disciplines such as marketing and engineering. — Daniel Rosenberg, Editor
FORUM THE BUSINESS OF UX
business professor who told students,
“People don’t want a quarter-inch
drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”
This quote captures the essence of
JTBD: Focus on the outcome, not the
technology. The drill is a means to an
end, not the result.
Peter Drucker, a contemporary
of Levitt and the father of modern
management, first used the phrase
jobs to be done in relation to customer
needs. In his 1985 book Innovation
and Entrepreneurship, Drucker writes,
“Innovation does not start out with
an event in the environment, whether
internal or external. It starts out with
the job to be done” [ 2].
Neither Drucker nor Levitt
developed their ideas in a direction
that resembles modern JTBD. It wasn’t
until Clayton Christensen popularized
the concept that it became widespread.
Nearly every contemporary mention
of JTBD links back to Christensen’s
use of the concept outlined in T he
Innovator’s Solution [ 3], the follow-up
to his landmark work, The Innovator’s
Dilemma [ 4].
Unfortunately, since Christensen’s
introduction of JTBD, the field has
split into different schools of thought.
Newcomers may find an array of
opinions on the topic, leading to
The simplest way to describe the
difference in perspectives on JBTD is
by making a distinction between the
problem space and the solution space.
Problem-space JTBD is a view of the
world from an individual’s perspective,
separate from a given product or
service. Tony Ulwick has done some
of the most extensive work in this area
Why isn’t Intuit dead? After all, the average lifespan of companies on the S&P 500 is half what it
was a generation ago—now under
20 years. Yet as competitors die out,
the tax software giant continues to
deliver double-digit growth after 25
years of existence.
There are reasons. For one, Intuit
takes courageous leaps. It expands
into new markets quicker than
others, often through acquisition
(e.g., Mint.com and Quicken Loans).
Employees are also encouraged to take
risks; experimentation is part of the
But Intuit doesn’t just make guesses.
Underpinning its seemingly leap-of-faith decisions is a firm grounding in
customer needs. Focusing on customer
jobs to be done (JTBD) allows Intuit to
find opportunity for growth from the
outside in. As founder and chairman
Scott Cook says, “Jobs Theory has
had—and will continue to have—a
profound influence on Intuit’s approach
to innovation” [ 1].
At its core, JTBD is simple: People
“hire” a product or service to fulfill
a need. Starting with the objective
shifts the focus from features and
capabilities to outcomes. For instance,
razor manufacturers may focus on
sharpness or the number of blades. But
the underlying intent is to remove body
hair, which can also be achieved with
an electric razor, waxing strips, hair-removing lotions, or laser removal.
To anyone in design, focusing on
the goal, not the means, should feel
natural. But while there is overlap
with design approaches, there are
differences too. Chief among these is
that JTBD is not a design method, but
rather a way of understanding market
needs. JTBD is about getting the
right direction from the beginning to
make subsequent solution design and
More important, JTBD also comes
from the management community and
is well socialized in business circles.
Having a common language around
needs makes our job as designers
and researchers easier because
communication with stakeholders is
naturally grounded in customer-centric
insights and thought. Ultimately, JTBD
presents an opportunity for designers
to leverage their skills for greater
ORIGINS OF JTBD
Early origins of JTBD thinking point
to Theodore Levitt, the famous
Jim Kalbach, MURAL
Maximize Business Impact
→ J TBD is an approach that
comes from the business
community for understanding
customers and market need.
→ Techniques in J TBD overlap with many techniques in
design, giving designers the
opportunity to leverage our
skills in new ways.
→ JTBD isn’t a design method per
se and can be applied across an
organization for a broad awareness of customer objectives