Live from ConveyUX: Fundamentals of JTBD

conveyuxFundamentals of JTBD, by Jillian Wells

“…People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.” Theodore Wells (Harvard Marketing Professor)

…but most people don’t want a hole. They want to put up their bookshelf, so that their living room that feels like their own.

When we uncover goals, we can create disruptive solutions. Rather than starting with solutions.

JTBD = Finding Goals

Jillian works at Intercom. She loves Jobs To Be Done (JTBD)

  • Innovative work begins before design. It begins with research.
  • JTBD helps reduce feature creep: innovation means finding the right features, not just adding on more

JTBD is a research technique, but not the only one. It doesn’t replace diary studies, mental models, or customer journeys.

JTBD is a formative research technique.

Two Schools of Thought

Outcome Driven Innovation: founded in 1990 by Anthony Ulwich

  • Focuses on how jobs are accomplished

JRBD Theory: founded in 2000s by Clay Christensen

  • Focuses on jobs as progress
  • i.e. people are “hiring” a tool to get a sense of


  • JTBD Theory focuses on why activities are happening; ODI focuses on which activities are being completed
  • JTBD Theory seeks to identify the goals the user is trying to achieve; ODI focuses on how to optimize the process
  • JTBD Theory seeks to create new solutions; ODI seeks to iterate on existing solutions

Neither is wrong. They are just different.

Today? JTBD Theory


  • Why do people use the map Intercom offered?
    • Turns out they weren’t using it as a map. They were using it to show investors where they had sites.
    • They changed it so it looked less like a map and more like an image
    • This made it a success because they focused on the goal people had, rather than the tasks they were accomplishing

The timeline matters:

  • First thought
  • Action
  • Action
  • Action
  • Purchase

Drawing out the timeline helps identify what’s happening during consideration.

Four forces:

  • Old World
    1. Problems with existing solution
    2. Existing loyalties
  • New World
    1. Benefits to new solution
    2. Worries about new solution

These four forces impact why someone chooses to or not to switch products.

Job Stories vs User Stories

Job stories say: When I X I want to X so that I can X (e.g. When I get a drill I want to make my bookshelf so that I can set up my living room.)

Job stories are used to brainstorm. They also tether designs back to research. They are not intended to guide development – they are stand alone.

Job stories also have multiple layers, and tasks that feed into them. Those tasks may break down into user stories.

Types of job stories:

  • Aspirational job: the main goal; the Everest
  • Supplemental jobs: smaller goals that make the aspirational job attainable
  • Tasks: how participants try to achieve their goals today

User Research using JTBD

Ask questions that get people talking about:

  • First thought
  • The forces that impact them
  • Early use (timeline)
  • Longer use (timeline)
  • Job stories

Tips to Put JTBD in Practice

  1. Focus on 1 teacher. You can’t do both at the same time.
  2. Start with a switch
  3. Use a switch script – there are a lot of resources available to find them.
  4. Never stop asking why.
  5. Remember, job stories are just one way of presenting insights.
    • When I [situation] I want to [motivation] so I can [goal]
    • If they’re not working, throw them out! Do something else!

Marli Mesibov

Marli is a content strategist with a passion for the user experience. Her work spans websites, web applications, and mobile. Marli is the VP of Content Strategy at the UX design agency Mad*Pow, where she helps healthcare, finance, and educational organizations communicate with their audiences. Marli is a frequent conference speaker, and has spoken at conferences including Content Strategy Forum and LavaCon. She can also be found on Twitter, where she shares thoughts on content strategy, literature, and Muppets.

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