Professor Clayton Christensen developed a technique to find out problems to be solved, called “the job to be done”. Clayton teaches at Harvard and wrote several books – amongst them The Innovator’s Dilemma: the revolutionary book that will change the way you do business, a must-read for all those who work in technology.

The idea behind “the job to be done” is that you must understand for which job your clients have “hired” your products. In other words, the job your clients expect that your products will perform.

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Clayton illustrates this technique with a very interesting example. He was hired to evaluate a specific product of a diner, the milkshake. The company already had surveyed clients asking what they wanted: creamier milkshakes, with cookies crumble, fruit or chocolate, or with more syrup. The answer of the research pointed out to a preference, which was implemented. However, this preference didn’t increase the sales, the main goal of the company.

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Clayton decided to do the survey differently. Instead of asking what clients wanted, he looked for understanding what was the work for which people “hired” the product, in this case, the milkshake. After many conversations with clients, he discovered that they passed by at the diner before going to work and spent a lot of time in the traffic. The milkshake was creamy and you could drink it using a straw, so it would take time to finish it. It would take the whole time of the trip to work, that is, it would entertain the client during the whole trip to work. People hired the morning milkshake before driving to work to have something to get entertained on the way.

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They have already tried with other “competitors”, such as fruit juices, but they end up very fast. They tried with bagels, but the work and the mess to eat it didn’t pay. The milkshake was perfect for this job to be done!

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After understanding the job to be done, the diner could improve the milkshake, making it creamier and putting little fruit pieces and/or cereal in it, in order to add small surprises while clients savor it. In addition, it set an attendance system that minimized lines to guarantee a minimum waiting time, for understanding that its clients were in a hurry and didn’t want to wait in the diner. These adjustments did bring sales improvements.