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Jobs to Be Done is Product Management

Karen Dillon, Contributing Editor of Harvard Business Review and co-author of Competing Against Luck, dissects the most common problems with corporate innovation efforts and shares how understanding customers’ job to be done can help product teams make better decisions.


Karen has been studying disruption theory with Clayton Christensen for years. The problem they discovered was that while many companies aspire to disrupt, disruption theory doesn’t explain how to disrupt. As a result, most corporate innovation efforts fail and waste billions of dollars in the process.

That’s why Karen, Clayton, and their co-authors wrote Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice. The book reveals their theory called “Jobs to Be Done.” The theory provides innovators with a framework for understanding customer needs and building successful products.

Jobs to Be Done is controversial in that Karen and her co-authors believe that droves of customer demographic data and elaborate personas won’t help innovators build successful products as much as they think they will. Rather, Karen says innovators should focus on their customers “job to be done.”

A job to be done is not a product, service, or a specific solution. It’s the higher purpose that customers are working towards. Karen describes how this influences buying decisions:

“The reason people make choices is not because of who they are, or the specific features and benefits, it’s because [they’re] struggling with something and trying to make progress to accomplish something.”

The reason people buy a product is not just for its functional dimensions, it’s to do the job they’re trying to get done. Therefore, Karen advises listeners to understand the social, emotional and functional components of that job.

Karen provides Airbnb as an example of a company that has done this successfully. The team at Airbnb understands that people want to live like a local, not just have a place to sleep. The job is emotional and social as much as functional.

To get started with the Jobs to Be Done framework, Karen says leadership must understand it and measure success from the Jobs to Be Done perspective. This episode helps with just that.

Here are the highlights:

  • How does Karen use Disruption Theory to help companies innovate? (2:50)
  • What are the most common corporate innovation strategies today? (5:35)
  • How does “jobs to be done” inform product and feature development? (7:30)
  • How can companies discover their customers’ jobs to be done? (9:30)
  • What companies have successfully adopted the “jobs to be done” framework? (11:30)
  • What are best practices for adopting the “jobs to be done” framework? (13:00)
  • How can product teams track their progress towards helping customers’ achieve their “jobs to be done”? (15:30)

Karen Dillon

Contributing Editor of Harvard Business Review and co-author of Competing Against Luck

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