“Understanding human needs is half the job of meeting them.” - Adlai E. Stevenson
Once in a collegiate basketball game, I faced a formidable foe. His name was Steve. Steve was at the time seven feet tall and nearly 80 pounds heavier than me. I believed that to be successful, I needed to “Stop Steve from scoring.” That was my job. Every time I tried to stop or slow him down, the results ended up the same -- Steve scored another basket. This game would become one of my most embarrassing moments and greatest failures as an athlete.
Often in our work environment we think we understand what must be done to achieve success. We have huge projects to complete, teams to lead, reports to file, clients to meet -- the list can be endless. Yet many times we are not successful. Just as I failed with not knowing the job to be done with Steve, so we fail in not knowing the “job to be done” at work. If we are not clear on what the job is, we can become distracted by tasks that consume our energies, thoughts and emotions, and miss the needs of clients. So what is it that must be done?
Over 30,000 consumer products are launched each year, the fact is that over 90% of these new products fail. This is after marketing professionals have spent large amounts of funds to understand customer needs. Why is that?
Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt would tell his students, “People who buy power drills don’t necessarily want a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” A marketer’s roll is to understand what jobs arise in customer’s lives and what it is exactly that customers are trying to get done when they purchase a certain product.
Clayton M. Christensen, Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School, opens up the thought that the customer is actually hiring the product to do a certain job for them. The analogy might go like this: you purchase a milk shake, but using Professor Christensen’s thought you have actually hired the milkshake to do a certain job for you. Now, for some of us, this job might be a mid-morning pick-me-up between my hurried breakfast and late lunch. In this case I might want the milkshake to last a little longer or have some added fruit. For a parent who wants to placate a child, and let them know what a loving parent they are, a milkshake would be hired for an entirely different purpose. In this scenario, the milkshake fails as it takes too long for a child to suck up the treat through a tiny straw, or that it is so large, the child is unable to consume it. Thus the majority of it ends up in the trash. Knowing what a certain product is hired for opens up tremendous possibilities for success. For the parent, a smaller milkshake or a larger diameter straw would be significant help. Too often we only take a look and the product view (milkshake) or the demographic view (25-40 year olds) and do not view the Job to be done, which is to serve as a mid-morning boost, and help parents let their children know they love them.
In corporate life we do the same thing. For example, an IT department which has for its motto, “our job is to have world class technology,” will supply applications with all types of bells and whistles that have little to do with the job to be done by the sales division of whom they support. Instead of thinking they will love it, they should ask “what is the job they are hiring us to do?” This will take them to a conversation with the internal client and the development of a product that will accomplish exactly what the client wants done, a quarter-inch hole, not a quarter-inch drill.
For me in my game with Steve my view of the job “stop Steve from scoring” was a total failure. I needed to understand that my job to be done was limit Steve’s impact on the outcome of the game. Understanding the correct job to be done opens up several ideas to accomplish the task. I could make fewer turnovers, more rebounds, get him in foul trouble, or even make Steve’s teammates do less than their normal output. All of these would have increased the success of achieving the ultimate goal of winning the contest. Understanding the right “Job to be done” will also bring us the ultimate prize with our clients – a win for them, and a win for us.
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