Job To Be Done Theory – Applied to Project Management

Any project is being executed in order to ‘get a job done’. A critical, up front, strategic action for the project manager is to gain clarity on the ‘job to be done’ by the project. This is often also called the ‘product of the project’ – but maybe it goes deeper.

This article looks at the strategy of job to be done theory and how it can be applied to project management to gain clarity on the purpose of the project. Most importantly, it can help keep the project aligned with the ‘job to be done’ of the organization.

What Is Job to Be Done Theory?

job to be done theoryThe job to be done represents a paradigm shift in how you look at a customer. Instead of taking a more ‘market research’ oriented approach of looking at customers as fitting into certain categories, such as income range, geographic locations, or many other attributes, you shift to looking at what job the customer is trying to get done. Even an attribute such as ‘interests’ may seem to get closer, but it still misses the point of getting a job done. On internal projects, the breakdown typically can also include position or role, which also can miss the job that someone needs to get done.

Indeed, here are some pertinent quotes from some notable scholars to help provide clarity to the ‘job to be done’:

  • Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”
  • The late Harvard disruptive innovation strategist Clayton Christensen said, “People buy products and services to get a job done”.
  • Late management guru Peter Drucker said, “The customer rarely buys what the company thinks it is selling him.”

Job to be done theory is typically applied to innovation in organizations, as it enables organizations to grapple with what potential customers really want in the absence of historical data. After all, there is no real historical data, other than for reference points and inference, for innovations, which by definition are different from what is already out there and available.

For project managers, this can be a profoundly different way of looking at customers and stakeholders. Typically, you will have some key stakeholders who have ‘hired’ you – either as an external or internal service provider – to deliver the product of the project. However, while that product may be well-defined in many ways, as are customers with various demographic attributes, it will always be your job to connect to the ‘job to be done’ for each constituent stakeholder that you are directly or indirectly serving, as well as the overall job to be done for the organization.

The Job To Be Done and the Purpose of the Project

When initiating a project – or planning it in the initiation phase – a best practice is to capture the purpose(s) of the project in writing. Thinking in terms of the job to be done, this provides an opportunity to consider what job each of your stakeholders is hiring you and the project team to do.

One approach is to keep asking why to go deeper and deeper into the purpose. Naturally you will probably start with the stated purposes of those who have allocated the funds and literally hired you to execute the project.


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All stakeholders matter. There may be priorities, but even lower rung stakeholders can hold significant power to put a dent in the level of success of the project because of lack of interest or engagement when needed, simply because the job they have to get done is not being considered.

This is what ‘buy in’ is all about – getting stakeholders to buy in to the project. Buy-in is more likely to occur and be stronger if you can get a good handle on the job to be done for each stakeholder.

Components of the Job To Be Done

Think about the last time you went out to a restaurant. What led to your decision to go out, and what did you consider in choosing the restaurant? Finally, how did your experience map to your expectations?

We are not going to delve into that particular restaurant experience, or restaurant experiences in general. The point is to simply get into the frame of mind of the process that we go through when we hire someone or something to get a job done for us.


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Anthony Ulwick, founder of Strategyn, focuses on the innovation side of jobs to be done and has made a science of jobs to be done (JTBD) theory. He has even developed a process, called Outcomes-Driven Innovation (ODI), where he breaks it all down into the following components:

  1. Define the Customer
  2. Define the Job-to-be-Done
  3. Uncover Customer Needs
    1. The Universal Job Map
    2. The Desired Outcome Statement
  4. Find Segments of Opportunity
  5. Define the Value Proposition
  6. Conduct the Competitive Analysis
  7. Formulate the Innovation Strategy
  8. Target Hidden Growth Opportunities
    1. The Opportunity Algorithm
    2. The Opportunity Landscape
  9. Formulate the Market Strategy
  10. Formulate the Product Strategy

If you are working on a project to bring innovative, disruptive products and strategies to market, or simply want to delve deeper and learn more, I recommend that you download Anthony Ulwick’s free ebook “Jobs To Be Done: Theory to Practice“.

For now, I will simply conclude that your component breakdown will relate closely to the objectives of your project, whether it is system implementation, changing a process, research and development, and many other things.

Putting Job to Be Done Theory into Use

Here are a variety of situations that project managers might find themselves, and how they need to consider job to be done in their management lexicon.

  • Startup company – Many, if not most, startups are operating in a disruptive market and are looking to sell to current non-consumers. It is critical that they build the business, and resulting projects, around these non-consumers’ job to done.
  • Small to medium (SMB) business – In taking care of existing customers, an SMB needs to ensure it is providing what they need and does not allow an opening for an upstart to take market share. If targeting new customers, an SMB needs to define its target customer and market by the job to be done.
  • Large business – Larger businesses need to be especially aware of the innovator’s dilemma, where they see an opportunity to innovate but find that they cannot do it within the context of the current organization. They need to devise a way to incubate and protect new business ideas from the wrath of current business models that might not fit.
  • Government organizations – To fulfill their chartered purpose, government organizations need to ensure they spend money wisely. They need to be cognizant to their internal customer’s jobs to be done, and need to also maintain awareness of better ways to get their jobs done as they present themselves.

There are lots of potential example projects, but the key is to understand that the job to be done concept applies on almost every project.

Leveraging Job To Be Done for Project Success

There is one key takeaway from this post for project success:  use job to be done theory to devise a clear ‘product of your project’.

Collaborate closely with your customers and stakeholders to clearly understand the job to be done and ensure you do not miss the mark in your project’s delivery. Think about your organization’s business model – or at least the objective business model that you are supporting with the project – and reflect on how your project is supporting the resources the organization needs, the organizational processes that it is supposed to support, and the ‘profit formula’ that enables the organization to prosper financially.

If you can develop clear metrics based on the job to be done, you should succeed in supporting the larger organization’s purpose for the project.

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