Linking Jobs-to-be-Done Thinking with Technology Monitoring

Preparing and running innovation strategy workshops is one of the core – if not the core – activity of consultants like me. Such workshops are also often situations where two cultures are bound to clash: let’s label these two “cultures” – or should we rather call them “mind sets”? – under the terms “technology push” and “market pull”.

People who have been socialized in the former mind set strongly believe that successful innovations come primarily out of laboratories and technology incubators. Proponents of the latter mind set would rather argue that successful innovations come through close and meticulous study of customer needs and technologies developed thereupon.

You will certainly be able to come up with your own examples of companies that would fall into the one or the other group. Needless to say, that there are certainly proponents of either group within each company and their teams charged with innovation, depending on their position, professional history and their personal predisposition or willingness to take alternative viewpoints.

Reconciling the technology-push and market-pull mindset

So much for the workshop scene – enter the innovation consultant with Outcome-Driven Innovation® (ODI) in its mind and moderator’s case, a method that deliberately puts customer needs in the center, and rather uncompromisingly so. After a couple of minutes into the workshop, I typically introduce my audience to the core tenets of customer-centricity in general and Jobs-to-be-Done thinking in particular (check out the white paper section on our website to learn more):

  1. People hire (not necessarily “buy”!) solutions to help them get a job done
  2. Focus on target customers’ jobs-to-be-done to understand what to innovate, not your own or your competitor’s products or services (side remark: “at least not as the starting point for innovation”)
  3. Use the Jobs-to-be-Done perspective to get a new grip around the markets and segments that you are fighting for as a company.

Enter the head of research sitting at the back end of the room: “Excuse me to interrupt, but how would all this help us develop the next product generation? What technologies should we monitor that could potentially disrupt our business? By the way, did you know, there is a Silicon Valley Startup already working on XYZ. After all, let’s be serious: our existing customers will not be able to tell us which technologies they would like hold in their hands tomorrow.”

Some workshop moderators may use the moments of silence that ensue comments like these to take fake phone calls. Others do slightly better by mentally scanning their audience for those faces who show signs of agreement with their head of research and those who don’t, their potential allies (watch the moderator’s eye movements next time you sit in an innovation workshop).

Personally, I chose to avoid such situations altogether. How? Before even going into any details about customer-centricity, I typically spend the first minutes of such workshops to make clear that: (1) I am fully aware of the technology-push and market-pull “cultures” that may exist in the room and (2) I don’t want them to clash but work together on eye-level! We really need both sides as they deliver to the two inextricable components of the innovation equation: Successful innovation = underserved need + a solution. Therefore, Jobs-to-be-Done Thinking can help an organization bring together the competencies of technology research and the benefits of a customer-centric market view. Let’s see how.

How JTBD brings in the customer need aspect into technology monitoring

In 2010, the renowned Fraunhofer Institute published a paper summarizing the methods and process step that are typical for technology monitoring. The paper outlines four universally applicable phases of any technology monitoring process: 1) identifying relevant technologies and application areas, 2) collecting information on these, 3) evaluating the identified technologies, and 4) communicating technology monitoring results.

Let’s take a look at each of these phases and see how Jobs-to-be-Done Thinking can help you overcome the challenges of each phase:

  1. In phase 1, the goal is to identify relevant technologies and application areas. Now, of course, the key word here is “relevant”. The technology monitoring team is charged with nothing but a prioritization challenge.

    How JTBD can help: Start with organizing and dissecting your innovation playground into jobs that you want to innovate for as a company. Forget about product lines and services that you offer currently, but ask: who are the job executors that hire solutions from our company? Writing them down will very likely result in a job-based market ecosystem. This is your map of the innovation world that you want to look at. As you watch out for technologies (see phase 2), you can always come back to this map and ask: Does this technology do anything for any of the job executors in my eco-system? If not, put down the box of pins. If it does, take a pin and prick it into the part of the eco-system that may be affected. 

  2. In phase 2 of any technology monitoring process, the team is busy collecting information on these relevant technologies and application areas.

    How JTBD can help: Use Jobs-to-be-Done and their job steps to communicate your search space of interest to the team that is charged with collecting information on relevant technologies. Using jobs language has two advantages: on the one hand, you will guide your team by practical (technology application) rather than theoretical (technology feature) aspects. On the other hand, you warrant the individual technology scouts the liberty to bring in their connection-making capabilities: let them surprise you with the crosslinks they come up with between some random technology and the relevance for your business.

    When we say “technologies”, it is not only about fundamental technologies such as 3D-printing, personalized medicine/pharmacology, contactless energy transmission. You may also want to take a second round and think of companies (incumbents, start-ups, spin-offs, etc.) that build solutions and services based on any of these technologies you have already identified. Of course, 3D-printing, for example, could revolutionize the architect’s job of designing a building (check out this example) or the constructors job of erecting a building (cf. the fully 3D-printed Canal House, or PERI 3D printing). 

  3. In phase 3 of the technology monitoring, it is all about evaluating the identified technologies and application areas.

    How JTBD can help: In this part of the process, the metrics that job executors use to measure their success in getting a job done will help you evaluate a technology. We call these metrics “Desired Outcomes”. Outcome statements come in the shape of 50-150 one-sentence, solution-free descriptions of what a job executor is after when getting a job done. There are typically three types of metrics that job executors around the world want to improve on in any kind of job: they want to minimize the time something takes, the errors that happen or the waste that is generated.

    Now, you can use outcome statements in two ways: if you already know which outcomes your target job executors struggle with most, take this limited set of outcome statements and ask: “Does this technology here have the power to improve satisfaction of job executors on any of these outcomes? If yes, will the shift of satisfaction be small or big?” Also, don’t forget to ask: “Will a particular technology have the power to render entire job steps or even jobs that exist in my ecosystem today superfluous?”

    If you don’t know the desired outcomes of your job executors yet, attempt to reverse engineer the technology that you identified: instead of describing features only, go the extra mile and formulate outcome statements describing what outcomes the technology may improve: Does it minimize the time to do XYZ? Does it minimize the likelihood that XYZ occurs? Sometimes, these outcome statements may come easy, with some other technologies they may come more difficult because of their wide application. The main thing is to start thinking jobs-based rather than getting it 100% right at the first shot. 

  4. Phase 4, according to the Fraunhofer paper, comprises the communication of technology monitoring results within the organization.

    How JTBD can help: Even in this step, jobs, job steps and outcome statements come in useful to underline the relevance of a technology to your colleagues and the leadership team. By relating a technology or application to the jobs and outcomes it will improve on, you will help your internal audience build mental bridges immediately: rather than describing the features of a technology, describing the impact on jobs in your ecosystem is likely a much more powerful call to action.

Jobs-to-be-Done Thinking and technologies of the future

Some final thoughts: Sometimes new technologies appear on the horizon where it is not even clear what kinds of jobs these may affect in the future. Even in the early stages, Jobs-to-be-Done Thinking can help evaluate technologies: Force yourself to go one abstraction level higher and ask “What kinds of jobs-to-be-done might this particular type of technology innovate in the future? Is it likely to support pre-executional kinds of jobs (= planning jobs, enabling jobs), executional jobs ( = the actual doing of something), or rather post-executional jobs (= monitoring jobs, overarching process improvement jobs)?”

Take blockchain technology as an example: Arguably, you might say that this is such a powerful, potentially far-reaching technology and it is yet unclear which types of jobs it might affect. However, from the nature of this technology, I would argue, that blockchain technology will innovate more jobs that are heavy on post-execution, i.e. wherever a lot of monitoring, process management and process improvement need to be done. Now, if your industry is fraught with regulations, monitoring needs and the like, you may want to go one step further and identify the concrete jobs within your ecosystem that are potentially affected.

There is most certainly a lot more to say and discuss around this topic. But that’s all I wanted to write down for now – looking forward to your thoughts and fruitful discussions. Just write me personally at oliver.ratschka@edizon-innovation.com.

JTBD Strategy Class , 10. Nov, 2021


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