Jobs to be done to change the world

Most of us want to make a difference and bring positive change to the world.  But, where do we begin?  As a government consultant, I have had the opportunity to make valuable impacts on some really interesting initiatives and in the process become invested in my federal clients’ public missions.  If you think about it, it’s pretty easy to see the value in most agency’s missions, because they are founded for the public good.  Federal agencies aren’t in it for the profit, and instead provide public facing services, like the Environment Protection Agency’s mission to safeguard our water, air and land, or the Department of Homeland Security’s goal to ensure our country is safe from terrorists and other threats.  If you want to change the world, the federal government is a pretty good place to start.

Throughout my career, I’ve constantly searched for new ways to help my clients “change the world” – at least in areas within their span of control – and better support their noble missions.  There are so many methods, frameworks, and best practices to consider, like the PMBOK, Agile, ITIL, CMMI, Human-Centered Design (HCD), and Lean Six Sigma, which can and should be applied in a range of situations.  For example, strong project management skills are the backbone of the consultant support I provide to ensure projects stay on track and within budget and scope. Then there are basic knowledge management practices that help ensure people, processes, and technologies are optimally aligned.  But, perhaps the most innovative “consulting tool” I’ve found so far I came across during my research into HCD last summer.  I ran across the concept of “Jobs To Be Done” and I believe it has the potential to revolutionize the way to approach the government’s challenges.  I’d like to explain this concept at a high level and explain how it might be applied to change the world, through application in the government.

What compels us to buy things?  Or use a service?  Why do people do the things they do?  Most importantly, what is the right problem to be solved?

If you or your federal client are producing something or providing a service, the Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) framework can help you understand what needs to be produced and how to ensure it will be used because it meets a specific need.  JTBD is a collections of principles that help us understand customer motivations.  This, in turn, will ensure the product or service being developed taps into those motivations effectively and make adoption easier.

The JTBD framework was first introduced in 2007 by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, and was soon after mentioned in the Innovator’s Toolkit.  Prof. Christensen argues that customers rarely buy things (or use things) around what the average customer in their category (i.e. the customer’s age, race, marital status, or other attribute) may do, but instead find themselves with a problem they want to solve.  They “hire” products/services to solve a “job” they perceive.  One example Prof. Christensen gives on a podcast looks at the motivations behind buying a milkshake.  (You can see the full transcript or download the podcast here.)

McDonalds was trying to increase sales of milkshakes.  They found that through normal customer segmentation and discussions (ex: asking the customers directly how they would improve sales), they weren’t able to boost.  So, Prof. Christensen helped McDonalds understand what the “job” of the milkshake was.  He assigned a person to stand in a McDonalds for hours and take detailed notes.  Through these observations they discovered that about half the milkshakes were bought before 8:30 a.m., and they were the sole item the consumer purchased.  After interviewing these customers in person, it turned out they were buying the milkshakes to quell the boredom of a long commute.  They tried to “hire” other things, like a banana, or a donut, or candy bar, but they didn’t solve the problem.  A milkshake takes over 20 minutes to drink and enjoy, and is pretty easily handled while driving.  Thus, McDonald’s competitors were not just other places that sold milkshakes, but other products that people buy to lighten the slog of a long ride to work.  With this greater understanding of their customers’ motivation, McDonalds could make their milkshakes easier to handle while driving, or quicker to pick up on the way to work, or maybe thicker to allow for longer enjoyment.

There is a clear framework for determining the JTBD.  Several great blogs (like Medium) and other resources can help you learn more, but at a very high level the framework is as follows:

There are two types of JTBD:  Main Job and Related Job.  The Main Job describes the task the customers want to accomplish, and the related job is pursued in conjunction with that task.  There are two types of JTBDs, functional (practical/objective) and emotional (subjective – related to feelings).  Emotional jobs are further broken down to personal and social.

The better a solution fulfills all these job layers, the better chance it has to succeed in the marketplace. Based on the Innovator’s Toolkit, the JTBD approach can be broken down into the following five steps:

  1. Identify the market of interest (what do you want to build or improve upon?)
  2. Gain Empathy by gathering existing research and looking for gaps in understanding. I suggest starting with Human-Centered Design approaches.
  3. Synthesize your research. Central to this step, you need to define your “Job Story.”  To determine this you will need to separate the problem from any specific solution, to focus on the customer’s motivations or “drivers of action.”
  4. Create your job statement to define the JTBD, by using an action verb, object of action and contextual clarifier. Example:  “Access Focus Groups Virtually”
  5. Prioritize the JTBD opportunities, based on the job’s importance to the customer and how satisfied the customer is to existing solutions.

Each of these steps has multiple methods for achieving the desired outcomes, and multiple ways to approach them.  As I mentioned before, there are many different sources – some linked above -to explore for more details.

So, to change the world, why don’t we organize our government around the “jobs” the public wants to “hire”?   Is it possible to follow this framework and approach to identify what “jobs” are truly needed and address them through organizations like the Social Security Administration or the Department of Justice?  I think in many cases – Yes!   The General Services Administration has already developed a great way to identify some of these “jobs”, through a site designed to track federal government website traffic:  It’s a great resource to start to identify the “jobs” the American public is looking to “hire” the government for, and discover new ways of satisfying them.  For example, right now there are 227,701 people on government websites, and the most visited is the USPS homepage.  Seems like an interesting place to start.  Is it possible the USPS homepage can be improved to satisfy the real “job” these visitors have “hired” USPS to do for them?  Or, is that webpage a model for others to follow?

Do you have any experience with the JTBD framework?  What agency could you see leveraging this concept to help “change the world?”  We’d love to hear from you!

Thanks so much for reading!

Have Fun.  Do Good.  Add Value.

John Carr

John B. Carr, PMP, CSM, ITIL, is a senior project manager, scrum master, and strategic consultant who enjoys exploring creative solutions to resolve those complex, “wicked” problems of the federal government using empathy and agile approaches. He is the author of several white papers including “Innovating IT Solutions Using Human-Centered Design” and “Implementing Attribute Based Access Control in the Federal Arena” found here. Feel free to contact him at

2 thoughts on “Jobs to be done to change the world

    1. Thanks, Carolyn! The JTBD framework is great for early discovery and identifying actual challenges. Where the rubber meets the road is plugging those “jobs” into a decision framework that makes sense so that development can begin. We are working with a GSA 18F team now to do just that for one of our clients and it’s really exciting stuff!

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