Book Notes: “The Jobs To Be Done Playbook”

The Jobs To Be Done Playbook: Align Your Markets, Organization, and Strategy Around Customer Needs
By Jim Kalbach, with a foreword by Michael Schrage
Two Waves Books, 2020

A couple of disclaimers before I tell you about The Jobs To Be Done Playbook: first, the author is a friend. Second, the book is published by Two Waves, which is also my publisher. As a result, I got this book for free. Did these facts alter my perception of the book? Perhaps. I may be more predisposed to like books in which I can hear the author’s voice in my mind.

Still, I think The Jobs To Be Done Playbook is worth your attention. I was about to write, “is worth your attention if you’re responsible for designing digital experiences,” but that’s not necessarily true. This book is useful for anyone responsible for user experiences, whether they are designers or not. (I suspect product managers will also find it particularly valuable.)

In case you’re not familiar with the phrase jobs to be done (JTBD from now on), it refers to a concept popularized in the business world by the late Clay Christensen. The core idea is that customers don’t buy your offerings because they want your offerings per se, but because of what “jobs” those offerings perform in their lives. An example that comes up frequently: the customer doesn’t want a drill bit, s/he wants a hole in the wall. Identifying the jobs your offerings perform allows you to better serve your customer’s needs and stay ahead of the competition.

In preparation for reading The Jobs To Be Done Playbook, I read Mr. Christensen’s (et al.’s) Competing Against Luck, in which he and his collaborators explain the concept of JTBD. This earlier book does a good job (ha!) of laying out the theory. That said, it’s short on pointers for implementation. (The book even includes a defense of the value of theory per se.)

That’s where the Playbook comes in. While it, too, describes JTBD at a high level, the point of the book is to provide clear and actionable instructions for implementing JTBD in real-world situations. Instructions appear as “plays” (in the sense of sports tactics) throughout the book. The intent isn’t to be authoritative or canonical, but to offer practices that have worked for teams on the field.

This is JTBD through the filter of Jim’s real-world experience (and the experience of other professionals cited in the book.) He distills the framework down to five core elements:

  • Job performer (who): The executor of the main job, the ultimate end user
  • Jobs (what): The aim of the performer, what they want to accomplish
  • Process (how): The procedure of how the job will get done
  • Needs (why): Why the performer acts in a certain way while executing the job, or their requirements or intended outcomes during the job process
  • Circumstances (when/where): The contextual factors that frame job execution

As you may expect, defining these components requires research. The book describes specific practices and offers grounded advice for both getting the required information and synthesizing it into models that inform product decisions. There are many references throughout, should you want to explore any one of the practices in greater depth.

As someone who’s long advocated for clear, actionable visions for digital products and services, I find the JTBD framework very compelling. Its aim isn’t just to clarify teams’ efforts but to center them on user needs and wants. As happens with other theoretical frameworks, I had questions about how to implement JTBD in real-world scenarios. The Jobs To Be Done Playbook offers solid answers grounded in practice.

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