From Jobs to Be Done to Jobs to Be Won™


The elegantly simple idea that people hire products and services to do a job for them and that companies that help get these jobs done will win in the marketplace has been the subject of many books, scholarly articles, blogs and podcasts. Jobs to be done practitioners have analyzed milkshakes, mattresses, vacation rentals, and more to uncover the jobs they fulfill in people’s lives. But in all this compelling discourse, one important area has received less attention: how can we be sure these jobs are worth pursuing before we spend too many calories trying to get hired for these jobs?

We have all learned the hard way that not all jobs are worth investing in, and not all people are worth pursuing because some will never turn to our products or services. The pursuit of solutions for jobs that are too infrequent to sustain a viable business—or functions people say they want or prefer but ultimately don’t pay for—is what we believe is at the core of the poor success rate of innovation efforts. A recent study by MIT Sloan revealed that of 9,000 new products sold by a national retailer, just 40% of them were still sold three years later and a poll by McKinsey (cited by Harvard Business Review here) found that the vast majority of global executives (94%) are dissatisfied with their organizations’ overall innovation performance.

This anxiety-inducing possibility of blowing the innovation budget on a future flop has come up countless times in strategy sessions with our own partners, who range from global CPGs and retailers to regional non-profits. Across the board, our clients are seeking new ways to innovate and deliver organic growth, yet they feel uncertain about what jobs are worth their time and money in a rapidly changing marketplace. Surely there must be a way to take the next step from discovering jobs to be done to measuring their viability?

Over the last several years we set out to find a way. In the process, we designed a more holistic and scalable approach to identifying and prioritizing a wider range of jobs to be done. We put our jobs theory into practice to not only pursue high-potential innovation dig sites, but we also pushed into how jobs insights could fuel sharper brand positioning and enterprise selling solutions.  This journey required us to shift from jobs to be done thinking to jobs to be won thinking.


Feeding a craving

Most of the of the jobs to be done literature can be traced back to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen’s and Michael Raynor’s book The Innovator’s Solution (2003). One case study from this book (which also appears in Christensen et al’s 2016 book Competing Against Luck) has reached almost parable status. It recounts how a team of researchers sleuthed out people’s underlying reasons for hiring milkshakes (in lieu of soliciting their views about how the milkshake might be improved). By observing and interviewing milkshake consumers onsite at a Quick Service Restaurant, the researchers elicited various job stories, two of which have been frequently recounted: 

  1. “Most of these morning milkshake customers had hired it to achieve a similar set of outcomes. They faced a long, boring commute and needed something to make the commute more interesting! They were “multitasking”—they weren’t yet hungry, but knew that if they did not eat something now, they would be hungry by 10:00. They also faced constraints. They were in a hurry, were often wearing their work clothes, and at most had only one free hand.”
  2. “The researchers observed that at other times of the day, it was often parents who purchased milkshakes, in addition to a complete meal, for their children. What job were they trying to get done? They were emotionally exhausted from repeatedly having to say “No” to their kids all day, and they just needed to feel like they were reasonable parents. They hired milkshakes as an innocuous way to placate their children and to feel like they were loving parents.”

We nodded our heads in agreement when we read this account, not only because we’ve worked with the world’s largest purveyor of milkshakes for the last 20+ years and could relate to the business challenges, but because our team of applied social scientists appreciated that instead of using the milkshake attributes as a starting point, the research team began with people’s lives and the situations they were in when they purchased a milkshake. After all, people often hire a solution to a job that directly contradicts their overall attitudes, intentions and product preferences. Someone may claim they’re trying to eat healthier, yet the ability of the milkshake to provide a moment of stress relief can often override all the best of intentions. Focusing on the situation a person is in can help close the gap between understanding what people say they will do and what they actually do. In this regard, Christensen’s situation-based approach to revealing jobs to be done set the table for another path to innovation.

As powerful as this approach was, however, we couldn’t help but wonder about the stones that had been left unturned. Does the idea of a milkshake for breakfast doing a job for people offer a valuable growth strategy? Would positioning the milkshake as a solution for parents needing to appease their kids be viable? Maybe. But, once again, the question of “How can we be sure we’ve explored and prioritized a wide enough range of options so we can choose the best ones?” becomes a sticking point—and not an unreasonable one. Clients have every right to ask where this “job hunt” will lead. We believe that this dilemma can be, at least partly, resolved with a more systematic approach to identifying, sizing and prioritizing jobs to be done, earlier in the innovation process.


Defining Jobs

From inventors toiling over big ideas at their kitchen tables to corporate innovators doing the same at high-tech, global innovation centers (and everyone in between), there is a general consensus that it is important to more deeply understand what people are seeking to accomplish and the solutions they have (or don’t have) available to them. What tends to vary is consensus on the definition of a what a “job” is and isn’t, perhaps stymieing advancement of the broader jobs theory and practice.

In some instances, the definitions of a job are in direct opposition. Entrepreneur and long-time jobs evangelist Tony Ulwick’s Strategyn website says, “We define a market around a functional job, not the emotional goals that accompany it.” Meanwhile, in his book When Coffee and Kale Compete, jobs practitioner and theorist Alan Klement writes, “A JTBD describes why (motivation), not how (functionality).” (p. 20)

In Competing Against Luck, Christensen et al define a job as “the progress that a person is trying to make in a particular circumstance” and they go on to say, “A job can only be defined—and a successful solution created—relative to the specific context in which it arises.  There are dozens of questions that could be important to answer in defining the circumstance of a job.” (pp. 27, 28)

The cases presented in Competing Against Luck often contain information related to both the circumstances of the job and the job itself. Some include elements of a person’s identity (e.g., dad with his kid on a weekend) while others do not (e.g., all morning commuters vs. subsets of morning commuters who are habitual coffee drinkers or those who are extremely health-conscious).  Likewise, when the source of the product or service is included it is often limited to the company being studied (milkshake from a QSR), but doesn’t include important comparisons to other available channels (a Frappuccino from Starbucks; a Red Bull from a convenience store, a breakfast smoothie from home).

By studying the existing jobs literature we’ve learned that, in all cases, multiple elements come together to comprise a job story, but what’s lacking is a framework that organizes these elements.


Jobs vs. Jobs Stories

To frame our own jobs explorations, we have developed a framework that explicitly separates the job from the elements of a job story. If we were to investigate the role of the milkshake in people’s lives, we would break our inquiry down to three primary elements: PEOPLE’S LIVES, which includes both identity elements (life stage, gender, category attitudes, brand loyalty, etc.) and details related to specific life situations (morning commute, weekend with the kids, etc.), THE JOB, which is the motivation for seeking a solution (seeking a moment of stress relief, wanted to save the day, etc.), and THE SOLUTION, which includes details about both availability and efficacy of solutions (here, the milkshake takes center stage, but other beverage options and non-category options were likely considered or hired) as well as details about sources considered, selected  or rejected (QSRs, convenience stores, etc.).


In our Jobs to Be Won™ framework, we define the true job as a person’s motivations: the unobservable needs, wants, interests and desires that energize and direct a person’s behavior. The circumstances surrounding a job (including the life situations that people are in that can bring rise to jobs, the tasks and activities they perform along their journey, and the solutions they seek, choose or reject) are essential for surfacing jobs to be done and understanding the context and causal factors needed for finding ways to win those jobs—but these factors are not the job itself.

You can also see how jobs and motivations are inextricably linked. This is not surprising. Motivations have always been central to jobs theory. Seeking to uncover why people make the choices they do requires a reach past the observable into the human mind, where powerful forces push and pull people toward or away from choosing a solution to a job to be done. Fortunately, applied psychologists have been studying motivations for much longer than jobs theory has existed, yielding a deep and widely accepted understanding of the underlying dimensions of human motivation. By reviewing this extensive literature, we have found that it is possible to identify a reasonable lexicon of human motivations that cover the full spectrum of human motivations that are most likely to come into play in people’s decisions.

The tricky bit is finding a way for people to access and divulge their underlying motives. If you ask someone why they bought a beverage, they’re likely to tell you that they wanted to quench their thirst. Or it tastes great. Or it was convenient. What people typically articulate reflects functional and rational responses rather than the personal, social and emotional motivations below the surface.  On the other hand, if you ask someone what they were seeking to accomplish in a recent situation independent of their solution (in this case, a milkshake), we have found that people can better articulate their underlying motivations. People have little difficulty articulating their motives on their Monday morning commutes vs. their motives when going out with their friends after work on a Friday night vs. spending time with their child on a Saturday morning. Someone might not readily say they were anxious on a Monday morning, but relative to Friday evening with friends, the relative impact of anxiety is simply revealed. By leveraging the same lexicon of human motivations across all situations, we identify the essential jobs to be done.

Why is motivation the lynchpin? There are four main reasons:

  • Motivations are stable, while solutions and competitors are rapidly changing​. The need to connect with others is as old as cavemen’s drawings; the solution has evolved to Snapchat—and will continue to evolve.
  • Motivations frequently override general beliefs and attitudes. I believe that eating healthy is very important, but, right now, I deserve a treat.
  • Motivations are category agnostic.​ I don’t care if I get it from Amazon or Whole Foods—I just want it fast.
  • Motivations cross cultural and geographical boundaries. I need do wind down, and it doesn’t matter if I’m Southern, French, American or Japanese, I may hire an alcoholic beverage.

We believe it is critical to differentiate between jobs (motivations) and job stories (all the elements that come together to make up a job to be done), and our framework allows us to do so. We also believe that to be most useful for a brand, jobs must be scalable. That is why, using our approach (surveying anywhere from 1,000 to 50,000 people), we gather many more jobs stories (in some cases, in the millions) than is typical of the current jobs to be done approach, capturing the same dimensionality of responses that deep qualitative research may reveal, but at a quantifiable scale. Of course, we cannot go deep enough to uncover deep, subconscious motivations, but our goal is to gather a macro-level understanding of jobs to be done to help organizations confidently greenlight new initiatives. When it’s time to execute against a job, then there is a need for deeper, qualitative digging, to perfect the product, service or experience.


Expanding the job hunt

The hunt to reveal jobs to be done and jobs stories generally starts with conducting interviews with recent purchasers using interview techniques adapted from Berstell’s Customer Case Research approach. Bob Moesta’s purchase timeline model (hear it in action here) is the most widely accepted approach, wherein interviewers establish a timeline of the triggers that lead to an eventual decision and uncover the detailed circumstances of a person’s struggle to make progress in their lives. This approach has reliably generated jobs to be done that have fueled innovation efforts across many categories. What becomes challenging in practice is that the number of interviews required to paint a wide enough landscape of jobs and jobs stories to find the most viable, valuable and winnable innovation dig sites early enough in the innovation process is often untenable.

If we were to continue to investigate the role of the milkshake in people’s lives, we would likely recommend thinking through a much wider range of possible jobs stories (switch parents to a single woman in her 20s, change the milkshake to a coffee-based drink). We might suggest investigating people stopping for a meal vs. stopping for a snack; people using the drive-thru vs. eating in; people who are alone vs. those in a group; people typically stopping at our QSR vs. people loyal to the coffee shop competitor down the street; people in the United States vs. people in Germany. In the milkshake example, one can easily envision 500,000+ reasonable jobs stories to explore. Each would be rich with circumstance, emotion, and the underlying motivations people have to make progress in their lives.

Certainly, examining all these combinations is not necessary to reveal unmet needs that can be the target of innovation efforts. It can take just one powerful insight from one jobs story to provide the mercurial spark for a disruptive innovation. But, in our experience, there are times when a handful of jobs stories are simply not enough to arrive at growth strategies that offer viable and valuable opportunities. We have found it to be extremely useful to broaden the number of jobs stories, to improve your chances of hitting the jackpot.

The evolution of our thinking from Jobs to Be Done to Jobs to Be Won can be most simply defined as follows:

  • Jobs to Be Done (JTBD) is a qualitative process that helps innovators arrive at several possible jobs to be done based on a story that captures a loose mix of people’s situations, moods, demographics and other possible elements; the viability of the jobs is anecdotal only.
  • Jobs to Be Won (JTBW) is a qualitative and quantitative process that identifies the full breadth of jobs to be done using a set framework and allows users to pinpoint the jobs that are most viable to pursue.


Jobs to Be Won™ as a strategic growth tool

In the process of gathering and analyzing data within any category, we arrive not only at all the jobs to be done in that category, we also arm ourselves with information—about people, their lives, their attitudes, their purchase decisions—to answer a wide range of other strategic questions. Our framework serves as a sort of medium: we can ask it questions that give us a better sense of the future.


Let’s say we’ve identified five jobs to be done in a given category—self-care, for example. We can apply a “People” filter (the left side of the chart above) to the various jobs to be done in the self-care category and ask away. Which jobs are millennial woman most engaged with in this category? What job is most important for boomer men? In what situations do both boomer men and millennial women both seek to fulfill these jobs? How important is this job in a particular geographic region? How important is it to people who are single versus people who are married, or people who have children or those who do not? We can also use the framework as a segmentation tool, by looking at people’s attitudes toward the category itself; if they are loyal to a category or brand, what job are they using it to fulfill? And how can you keep them happy by fulfilling their most important job to be done, while also convincing them to turn to you for more jobs (particularly those jobs that have the most volume, gaining you a wider audience)? Our framework is great for analyzing and optimizing category participation because it tells you who your rejecters are, who is loyal and who could be swayed (and tells you each of these groups’ jobs to be done, as well as the general population’s jobs to be done).

These are all strategic questions that can be answered from the “People” side of our framework. Now, how about the “Solutions” side? For any given job, there are many solutions, both inside and outside your category (aka the competition). We size the solutions people use to fulfill their jobs, along with the source (or channel) from which they came. This allows you to capture the potential market size, identify your true competition (adjacent categories, activities or McGyver-like workarounds) and reveal jobs with no or inadequate solutions. From a channel perspective, you can uncover channel strengths and weaknesses. When buying a milkshake from a fast food restaurant, the underlying job driving that choice may be very different than the job driving the choice to buy a milkshake from an ice cream shop. The job of the milkshake at a fast food restaurant may be an impulsive moment of stress relief, while the job of the milkshake at an ice cream shop may be driven by the desire to connect with others and make memories.

Through the identification of the full range of Jobs (center) and the application of key People and Solutions lenses, you can prioritize the jobs you have a right to win.


Applying Jobs to innovation… and beyond

The beauty of Jobs to Be Won is that it can fuel growth initiatives across an organization, from innovation to sales enablement.

  1. Innovation: A rigorous Jobs to Be Won study empowers organization to focus innovation efforts in prioritized dig sites, and develop new products, services and experiences from extension to disruption. This application is the one most often associated with Jobs theory, but again, our emphasis is on choosing the right jobs and providing a blueprint for designing new solutions.
  2. Brand and Portfolio Positioning: Identifying Jobs to Be Won allows organizations to grow their existing portfolio to target the right job(s), fuel strategic and creative briefs, and develop custom valuation and growth scenarios rooted in jobs. The idea here is that brands are better positioned to demonstrate their value when they know both the jobs and people that matter most to their business.
  3. Sales Enablement: Every organization is looking for unique information about people’s motivations (or jobs) for engaging in any touchpoint along their journey; likewise, every brand stands to benefit from a channel that gets it right. By understanding their Jobs to Be Won, sales teams can determine the appropriate distribution channels, optimize promotions and strengthen strategic partnerships.

Let me give you an example of how Jobs to Be Won can be leveraged across an organization. Enjoy Life Foods (an allergy-free brand under the Mondelez International portfolio) was seeking to grow. With this goal in mind, the company partnered with Tom, Dick & Harry, a Chicago-based advertising agency, along with Halverson Group, to help develop a strategy that would allow Enjoy Life to best serve both its core consumers (“Worriers,” i.e., people with allergies or who have family members with allergies) while attracting new consumers (“Wonderers,” i.e., those who have no allergies, but care about eating healthy).

Using the Jobs to Be Won approach, we helped Enjoy Life better understand the motivations (or jobs) of both groups (as well as all snack-seekers at large), size which jobs had the most volume for Wonderers, and help Tom, Dick & Harry arrive at a new brand positioning, as well as an advertising campaign, that simultaneously spoke to both groups. An understanding of its Jobs to Be Won will also inform Enjoy Life’s sales channel strategy—the brand now has more data, sourced from thousands of people, to convince distribution partners that moving Enjoy Life out of the allergy-free aisle into the regular snack aisle will drive sales among more Wonderers (a win for the channel and the brand). Finally, knowing the high-value jobs of Wonderers can drive future product innovation for Enjoy Life (because the company now better understands the jobs of its target, not to mention its core audience, and the general snacking population to boot).

The interconnectivity between brand, sales and innovation demonstrated by this case shows how aligning key departments around the brand’s Jobs to Be Won can galvanize an organization. Moreover, in the case of parent company Mondelez, the approach could be taken a step further, if the company where to identify the Jobs to Be Won for each of the brands in its portfolio, and pursue a jobs-centered growth strategy at the holding company level.


The evolution of a theory

Perhaps what’s most exciting about jobs to be done theory is that it is iterative by nature. At Halverson Group, we believe our contribution to the cause is the creation of an organizing framework and a powerful quantitative approach for broadening and accelerating the job hunt—all to fuel that holy grail of growth.