Author Talks: 27th of May 2021 – “the Jobs to be Done playbook”

Here is what Jim Kalbach said about JTBD:

  • JTBD comes from the business community.
  • “I wrote the book based on my own struggle and pain trying to understand JTBD. I wanted to put all the mistakes that I made in a book to help and prevent other people from making the same mistakes.
  • “JTBD is like learning a language. I can teach you the basics in German, but you need a lot more practice in order to be able to speak German. I am trying to do both the learning and practice curve as short as possible.
  • “I’ve been doing a workshop on the topic for 4 years which helped me listen to questions people had and also think about what is the simplest way to explain this. (…) The first and biggest question I get is: How do I decide on the Job to be Done?
  • “I see JTBD as a catalyst for conversation, an innovation framework and a way to structure insights from human beings that comes with prescribed language. A normalized language enables you to compare things. You can also build very stable models when there is a regular language.”

Learn more:

Recording of Meet-Up.


JTBD is like learning a language

A talk with Jim Kalbach on JTBD and why writing books is an architectural problem. 

JK: Hi, my name is Jim Kalbach, I’m the author of the Jobs to be Done playbook, also chief evangelist of Mural. Mural is the leading online whiteboard where you can digitally write in your browser, write in the cloud, you can collaborate visually. I’ve been with that company for 6,5 years now so I was employee number 12 and through the pandemic our business have grown incredibly. 

We hope we have a solution that helped people through the pandemic because everybody was thrust into this suddenly working-from-home environment and I think we helped a lot of people to get through that with our solution but at the same time we benefited from that. So now we are 600 people at the company. And I give talks and workshops on JTBD on a regular basis too. I am based here in New Jersey city, right outside of Manhattan, the East Coast of the U.S. 

CK: Do you currently work with UX at Mural?

JK: I don’t work with the UX team too much. Previously I headed our customer service and support teams and learning experience teams, so I was much more in the go-to-market side than product development and UX. I know the design team and speak with them but not in the design team directly anymore. Around Nov. 2020 I handed over the teams that I formed and managed and became chief evangelist and haven’t got any who report to me anymore. My job is more external facing; giving talks, writing, interfacing with our biggest customers. So still concerned about our overall customer experience but not looking at ux design in particular. 

Sometimes they use me not only as a mentor but because i have been around so long I know our products and customers too so part of my role as a chief evangelist is not just to promote Mural outwardly but also to bring customer feedback internally too. Sometimes I am a resource if we want to launch a new capability to connect product teams with people to speak with or just for advice. Because I see in the wild how people use Mural and can use it internally too. 

CK: Moving on to your book JTBD. We highly recommend the book to our members because we have experienced and heard of companies that although they state [and want to be] customer centric, research and scoping are still driven by business priorities based on traditional market research e.g. benchmarking up against other companies in the sector. And although I’ve worked with JTBD for some years it wasn’t until I read your book that a lightbulb went off. In your own words, why did you write this book?

JK: It’s really nice to hear that a lightbulb went off for you and I think I wrote it for exactly that reason. For me I first got introduced to JTBD in 2003 after reading a HBR article by Tony Ulwick called “Turning customer input into innovation”. I had been steeped in human centred design before that and thought “wauw this is brilliant!” because the themes are very similar to ux and human centred design but it’s coming from the business community so thought it was going to be a great dimension to add to the overall human centred design conversation. 

But it didn’t click for me. It took me years, YEARS, to figure out what the differences were. 

I wrote the book based on my own struggle and pain trying to understand JTBD so that other people could read it and get a lightbulb quicker

…and not have to take a decade to figure it out. That’s why I put it together. I’ve been doing a workshop on the topic for about 4 years which helped me listen to questions people had and also think about what is the simplest way to explain this. After I did that after 4 years I thought I had enough experience and enough to say about the topic to put it down on paper. I continue to learn. How to explain JTBD. How to teach JTBD. There are already a few things I wish I could change in the book although it has only been out for a year. So yes, I wanted to put all the mistakes that I made in a book to help and prevent other people from making the same mistakes!

CK: Could you elaborate on what you want to revise in the book?    

JK: Sure. A couple of smaller things. I would like to relabel “main job” to “target job”. In JTBD there is a strategic decision you have to make upfront. There are fundamentally 2 questions: Who do you want to innovate for and where do you want to innovate. I described the where with the idea of a main job. Then people at my workshops started asking, is this too high or low of a level of abstraction. I think target job basically says you can target any level. It is just where you are deciding. The word target job has a bit more of a decision in there, you can target a big or small job. They are all right, it just depends on where you want to innovate. Are you a CEO looking to acquire a new company then your target job is going to be really high. Are you a solutions team and looking at a set of functionalities then your target job might be lower.

The other thing about JTBD is that it brings a lot of focus with it. I have done lots of ethnographic studies before where you go out and listen to people, take a lot of notes and write big long reports and there are lots of dimensions to it. There are emotions, aspirations etc. I am not saying, don’t do that, I have done a lot of that in my career. 

JTBD provides a lot of focus and gives you a clear unit of analysis in innovation, the job to be done, so you leave a lot out, but on purpose you gain focus. Not just for yourself but also for other people in the organisation. The word “target job” implies more of a focus too. All this other stuff is important, but what is our focus on innovation. My friends in Bainbridge Switzerland uses the word focus job, I started using the word target job and they used focus job and we compared notes and that idea came out.

I would also change “needs” to “outcome”. I think outcome is a slightly better word, because then you talk about “measures for success”.  And the word “needs” has so many complications in English.  

Besides these minor changes, I would focus a bit more on the strategic decisions that you have to make upfront. Who do you want to innovate for and where do you want to innovate.

I have been teaching a lot of JTBD courses, and the first and biggest question I get is: How do I decide on the job? 

I have developed better ways to explain that, so I think I would focus on what I call: “Scoping your JTBD landscape”. I might even have a whole chapter on that! 

UX Bookclub DK: That would be great!

JK: Yes, exactly. The other thing I would focus on is the end. How does JTBD fit into other disciplines and where do you go from there. In chapter 8 I have a lot of recipes, and I have one paragraph where I say: JTBD is compatible with design thinking, lean and agile. That’s it. I just say that. But How?!? And I have been working on that topic too. 

So if I would go back to add to the book I would focus on the scoping and the end. And make a couple of tweaks in the middle. 

CK: Apropos wording. Really like in your books that you call mapping for alignment diagrams. The whole purpose of mapping.  

JK: That’s another topic I would highlight even more in the book. I see JTBD as something to bring into the team as a conversation piece, a job map, a job story. That is a catalyst for conversation. I might be more explicit about how do you actually lead those conversations. Again in the book I just say: “You can bring a job map into a workshop with your colleagues and have a discussion about it”. So I might be even more specific about that. 

CK: Thank you. Could you introduce yourself, Peter? [ed. Peter is an information architect and has worked for a legal publishing house like Jim, but members are usually not coerced into talking during meet-ups!] 

PR: I am a programmer and writer right now and have had lots of different roles. Also been a software developer. Product developer at a legal publisher. It’s about information architecture; making useful stuff searchable and usable. And I have a half design degree but am an engineer. I am so interested in modeling, and the stuff that goes on when you build a book, the challenge how to get everything into one place. 

JK: I worked for almost a decade for Lexisnexis so I am very familiar with legal publishing.

PR: There are a lot of givens because they have more or less the same concept systems.

CK: What do you do with all the background info that leads up to e.g. a map. How do you create a repository of data?

JK: That is a perennial problem in any organisation and I have worked with lots of ux research teams or research teams and all of them have aspired to create a database or knowledge hub. “We know too much that is just lying around and getting old.” And then they create their own and it never works!. And then they buy a tool because there are a lot of tools that do that now on the market. 

It is a real problem when you have a lot of research and institutional knowledge. I have talked to people who are in that business about using the breakdown of elements of JTBD as a way to categorize things you put into a database. It’s an innovation framework that comes with prescribed language. JTBD starts with qualitative research and the outside world is irregular and your job as a researcher is to interpret that through a JTBD lens and rewrite this in a normalized language. The disadvantage is that you leave something out.

I see JTBD as a way to structure insights from human beings. I think there is a lot of power when you have a normalized language because you can compare things, you can also build very stable models when there is a regular language. 

And then you get regular categories with their own rules of grammar, has to begin with verb, no and’s and or’s, you get these normalized things that are database friendly. I can tag something and say that is a job step and outcome statement and it would be very regular. I think there is potential. It’s one of the things I would like to do actually, so it’s a really good question, but I haven’t quite solved that. 

PR: I have a colleague who is trying to map sub verticals, what are they doing, how does their domain work, what is the language that they talk. It takes several hundreds of engineers to develop it. How do we match what goes on in those different domains and the ways they do their business and their terminology. And try to map it to products and services. Combine the fuzzy world with the technical stuff.

JK: Ultimately that is what you can do, you get this qualitative view of the world, you normalize it without looking at technology and your own feature set but then you can compare. Think JTBD helps normalize variance in the field, where people are using different terms 

PR: You also want to capture their language.

JK: Right, I always teach that you should try as much as possible the person’s verbs but there is some rewriting. You are trying to be very compact and concise. Focus also leaves something out. There is potential there, to normalize across disciplines and people as long as you are willing to give up some of the fuzziness up because you have to be very reductive. Many researchers at my courses feel they are missing so much because they want to embrace different words and emotions. 

With any research you leave something out, and with JTBD you leave out a lot. And it gets back to the theory of JTBD that if you get the job done better or more complete it increases the likelihood of adoption. It doesn’t say forget about all the other stuff, it is more about sequences. JTBD says start with understanding the job and make sure you get that done better than anybody else and then you can look at the other factors. But don’t do that the other way around, don’t start with high level aspirations and try to innovate from there because that can take you in any directions, you can add aspirations, emotions and the humanness later. People find it very reductive and artificial too. But unless you can take 2 years and live with people in their homes and do real ethnography, and even then you are not going to understand it. 

CK: Why a book?

JK: I targeted lots of different outlets. I did a workshop, I have done blogpost, I have a website now called and we have some free resources like videos and live training too. I think a book is a certain stake in the ground, it has a certain position in all of those different formats. Writing a book is very different from a collection of blog posts.

Writing a book is an architectural problem, a structural problem: How do I put all this together? And as an author confronting this challenge is meaningful in terms of achieving what I just described before. In order to put all of my mistakes and have these AHA moments for yourself and others, I think a book does that differently than a blogpost, a tweet or a video. 

That is how I was thinking about JTBD, what is the overall structure here? In the beginning of my book, I have the figure 8 with the 5 D’s. That was an arbitrary structure but that was for me purely to structure all I knew about JTBD, just a way to tell that story, but that is how I think about problems on a macro-level and then I can solve it and fill in the blanks once I have a structure

PR: and then you know when you’re done!

JK: and then you know when you ‘re done. And you also know the end and the beginning are connected because there is that tissue you set up in advance. But looking at that thing in itself it is meaningless. It is just a way for me to organize pages because when you write a book, you got to go from page 1 to 2 to 3. It is very linear so you need a structure in order to organise things across hundreds of pages:

It is an architectural problem to write a book. It is a system you have to organize!

CK: What is next for you?

JK: Right now I am thinking about the We have free material and paid video courses and do live training. We launched that in October last year. We have tested out price points, how to market it, who to target and update our content so we have changed our course 3 or 4 times. Right now I am focused on that although the other topics are super interesting. For me I want to continue improving teaching and how I can make JTBD even simpler or provide more tools so you can get started right away. The book is just a starting point and the JTBD toolkit is where I am going to spend at least the rest of the year on this. 

PR: If the learning curve is too steep people will not onboard.

JK: Yes.

The concepts in JTBD are fairly simple to grasp but because it is a language it requires practice.

And people at my course say that “I understand that in theory and maybe I can do that a little bit of it but how am I going to DO that in my organisation with a dozen people on my team in a complex space?”. That takes practice. So it’s like learning a language. If I gave you a week-long course in Spanish or German, that I speak, I can teach you the basics, but you need a lot more practice in order to be able to speak German. So the initial learning curve is steep but the practice curve is very flat and long. And that is what I am trying to really work on. That is why I do the live courses because it is a chance to make all the stuff come alive, because you do it, I correct it and you are listening to the others’ questions so it’s a great point, Peter, because I am trying to do both the learning and practice curve as short as possible. 

It used to be one session, a bootcamp, 4 hours where I was talking very fast and tried to cram in as much as possible but we broke it up into 3 x 90 min sections across days e.g. monday, wednesdays, fridays. And we do a lot of pre-work and lots of thought works and assignments in between. Lot of time for reflection and self paced learning around those sessions. Breaking it up then we cover twice as much ground now.

Also less intrusive in people’s calendars. 90 min is like a long lunch break. Also a lot of out of class learning. So we are trying to get the class to practice and critique it together, a lot of Doing over Reading and Thinking. The book is a lot of thinking. As you said a lightbulb went off but can you DO it is the question. 

CK: Yes. I like the language learning analogy, and you also state JTBD is a unifying language across silos in the organisation. One last question we usually ask authors when we meet them. Which ux book are you currently reading?

PR: Also information architecture. 

JK: I am reading a lot of different books right now. I wouldn’t say I am in a research but I am in a gathering mode. This is just one pile [points to a pile of books]. “Rituals for virtual meetings”. “Visual collaboration”, I am reading some books on jazz too. But I am scanning them. 

CK: Where do you find the books? 

JK: Recommendations. Especially from the team at work: “You got to check out Ole’s book”. But these days books find me. My publisher and people send me books. 

CK: They are hard backs?

JK: I moved from Germany to the U.S. about 6 years ago and swore that I would never buy another hard copy again! But during the pandemic, I found myself looking at a screen all the time and don’t want to do that in the weekends too so it is just to save my eyeballs from the screen! 

UX BookClub DK: Time’s up now. Thank you so much!

Read more:

Book: “The Jobs To Be Done Playbook: Align Your Markets, Organization, and Strategy Around Customer Needs.” 2020. Pages: 320.
Author: Jim Kalbach
Time: Thursday the 27th of May 2021 at 15:00 – 15:45.
Place: Zoom. A meeting link will be sent to participants prior to the meet-up.

Meet the author: Jim Kalbach (library scientist, music theorist and information architect) has kindly agreed to join us from 15:00 – 15:30 to present his book and answer questions from his readers.

Summary: The jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) approach tells you how to create products that people will buy or subscribe to. This book is not only about solving problems but also about finding the right problem.

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  1. Dorthe-Maj Hovgaard

    Ser super spændende ud ;)

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