Using the Jobs-to-be-Done Approach to Get Results

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This is part 2 in a 3-part interview with Jeff Baker, head of customer insights, category management and strategy at Valvoline and a former client of mine.

There are very few executives in the country who have the depth of experience with what’s known as the “jobs-to-be-done” (JTBD) innovation approach as Baker. He has been using the approach for nearly 15 years through his various roles at Microsoft, Strategyn, NetJets and now Valvoline. I asked him to share his perceptions of this new approach, which we outlined in this previous post: One Executive’s Perceptions of the Jobs-to-be-Done Innovation Approach.

This week, Jeff discusses how he uses the JTBD approach in his current work at Valvoline.

Q: How do you use “jobs” thinking in your current role?

Baker: At Valvoline, the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) thinking comes into play in two major areas. One is the product development area, because it helps our product and strategy teams figure out what our product family roadmap should be, what individual product features should be, things like that.

The motor oil business is one of the more challenging areas to apply the JTBD approach because the consumer does not have a real understanding of the underlying value of the product features; it’s just a fluid to them. They don’t know one oil from another. The chemistry is above their heads, so it’s very challenging.

We still apply it because we’re trying to understand what consumers are trying to do, not so much from the fluid point of view but from the car care point of view; that’s the job customers are trying to get done. The JTBD approach also ends up revealing a number of emotional jobs customers want to get done because there’s a whole bunch of anxiety around taking care of such an expensive asset.

So, we use it for product development, and we also use it for customer experience, like looking at the process of changing oil for do-it-yourselfers. For them, it’s not just about the fluid you’re putting in your car; it’s about the whole process of changing their oil. We have the potential to add value by making the process easier or more foolproof. We also use JTBD to understand the purchasing experience, to understand the process people go through when selecting motor oil.

(Urko’s note: I cannot speak for Jeff or Valvoline, but let me illustrate how the JTBD approach can enable any company to create a customer experience that people will love. Staying with the example of do-it-yourselfers changing their oil, there are a number of steps they must go through to complete the task, such as: 

  1. Define the equipment and materials required
  2. Gather the equipment and materials required
  3. Prepare the space 
  4. Confirm everything is ready
  5. Drain the oil
  6. Etc.

Once all the steps have been identified, companies can then uncover the criteria target customers use to measure success when executing each step. Remember, people can tell us what they want if we ask them what they want to accomplish rather than asking for product or service specifications. Additionally, we can determine which of the criteria are important and unsatisfied. This can be determined to some degree in the interviews or determined with statistical validity through a survey deployed to a representative sample of the target customer group. Important unsatisfied criteria are opportunities for innovation and growth. The more important and less satisfied a customer criterion is, the greater the opportunity for innovation and growth it presents. Obtaining this information is the key to success for designing and delivering experiences customer will love in any business.

This approach differs from customer journey mapping in a couple of significant ways. First, as alluded to above, market opportunities can be identified and ranked through quantitative surveys to provide leaders with great confidence about where to focus. Second, the job, step, and criteria statements are all solution-agnostic. That is, they don’t assume any product or service solution. This ensures companies are not constrained by current solutions and/or processes, and thereby increases the likelihood of breakthrough innovation.)

Q: How does the JTBD approach fit in with the concepts of “design thinking” and “lean startup?”

Baker: These disciplines get all jumbled up with one another because people don’t realize that these tools are targeted at different stages of the innovation process — especially, Lean Startup and the phrase you always hear: “failing faster.” If you have relatively low development costs, it may be fine to fail faster — if you know you’re pointed in the right direction.

And that’s what JTBD does for you before you ever start to apply Lean Startup or fail faster. Lean Startup is essentially chunking the development process into smaller pieces and evaluating them along the way as opposed to waiting until you get to the end to see how it all turned out, and that’s a very wise approach. But unfortunately, these different approaches get jumbled up and sometimes pitted against one another, when really there’s very little conflict.

In Design Thinking, I’ve not seen the same commitment to rigorous research up front. It may start with qualitative research but it’s not nearly as grounded or precise as the JTBD research. With the JTBD, you can identify and rank every opportunity in the market with statistical validity. You don’t get that out of the qualitative stuff in Design Thinking alone. That doesn’t mean you don’t get some good information out of the qualitative, but it’s just not the same.

When you do the JTBD research first, then the product designers can come in and leverage those opportunities that were identified and have a much more concrete understanding of what really will be valuable to the customer so they don’t end up designing for design’s sake. I always want to start with the right kind of research, and that is the beauty of JTBD. With JTBD research, you get to the core of what customers value before committing to any solution ideas.

Next week, in the final installment of our interview, Baker gives us an example of how he used the JTBD approach to deliver results, but he also discusses the limitations of the approach.

(A version of this article initially appeared in The Business Journals, August 11th, 2017)

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