Products are services

How Jobs To Be Done brings the customer's problems into focus, resulting in innovative products and services.

Matthias Feit
Smartphone beats newspaper in the job to "find out current stock market prices"

True innovations - i.e. products that offer a new, previously unknown way of solving problems and are new to the market - succeed extremely rarely. Companies of all kinds find it very difficult to do so, and only a few manage to confirm an initial success on a lasting basis.

The best-known technical innovation of the last 15 years is certainly the smartphone. With the iPhone, introduced in 2007, Steve Jobs and Apple revolutionized an entire class of devices - quite contrary to the predictions of some competitors¹. The success of the iPhone cemented Steve Jobs' reputation as one of the most innovative CEOs of all time.

However, Jobs' massive success during his second term as head of Apple was preceded by a phase of personal failures. In particular, the Apple Lisa and the NeXTcube were absolute flops on the market and sold extremely poorly despite massive amounts of features and novel operating concepts. So what went wrong?

Looking at the success rate of newly launched products, one finds that the failure of Lisa and NeXTcube is more the rule than the exception. According to statistical data, 76 percent of all product launches fail within a year.² Nor are there any more promising figures in the startup scene, which is regarded as particularly innovative. More than 80 percent of the startups that receive great praise fail within three years.³

Upon Steve Jobs' return to Apple in 1997, he addressed the failures of previous projects and summarized his resulting lessons as follows::

You have to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology (Steve Jobs)

Traditional Innovation processes

Contrary to this guiding principle of Steve Jobs, companies often rely on an idea-driven approach. The implementation of these ideas is often coupled with incentives for employees. These incentives often reward only the scheduled implementation of personal projects - i.e., the output - and not the outcome, i.e., the actual result of a measure.

The following process is often used:

  • Ideation: it is ensured that a large amount of ideas is generated
  • Scope: The winning idea is determined from the competing ideas according to a defined process
  • Business Model: Development of a business model that fits the idea
  • Development: a product is developed from the idea
  • Testing & Validation: the product is tested and made ready for the market
  • Launch: the product is introduced to the market

Approximately 68 percent of all companies develop their products and services according to such a scheme⁴. (Stage-Gate-Modell).

The plan: in the ideation phase, a large number of ideas are generated ("brainstorming"). Through iterative sorting out ("failing fast") of the ideas that do not resonate, one ends up with a winning idea that should succeed in the market.

What is there to criticize about this model?

  • The ideation phase is often thought of from a corporate level (cool features) instead of based on real customer needs.
  • It is very unlikely to land on a product idea that addresses the most important customer needs in the process described above.

If we are to follow Steve Jobs' recommendation to "start with the customer experience and derive your technology decisions from it," we need a different approach.

Change of Perspective: Jobs To Be Done

The origins of Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) can essentially be traced to quotes from Theodor Levitt and Peter Drucker⁵. Levitt's quote "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole." functions as a simple explanation of the fact that in every product there is also always a service included. Harvard professor Clayton Christensen used this view in his 2003 book "The Innovator's Solution" and applied it to the topic of innovation. The following metaphor is the nucleus of JBTD:

People hire products to get a job done.

Jobs To Be Done as a model can be reduced to the following principles⁶:

  • People hire products to get jobs done.
  • These jobs are functional at their core, with emotional and social components.
  • A Job To Be Done is stable over time
  • A Job To Be Done is solution-agnostic.
  • To be successful, the customer's job must be the focus of the analysis instead of the product or the customer itself.

If you apply these principles, the change in perspective comes almost automatically: away from features and functions to the real needs of the customer.

Unternehmen die im Nutzenversprechen ihrer Produkte und Services die wichtigsten und drängendsten Bedürfnisse zu berücksichtigen, erhöhen die Chancen auf eine erfolgreiche Produkteinführung am Markt wesentlich.

Companies that consider the most important and pressing needs in the value proposition of their products and services significantly increase the chances of a successful product launch on the market.

The perfect service provider: the iPhone

Looking back at the success of the iPhone through the lens of Jobs To Be Done, it's clear how Steve Jobs' focus on customer experience played out. Among other things, the iPhone elegantly solves three functional jobs of the customer:

  • Make phone calls on the go
  • Listen to music on the go
  • Access to the Internet wherever I am

The introduction of the App Store also created an ecosystem for further solving all kinds of jobs.

To that end, the iPhone also solved an emotional job of the user almost perfectly: "Reduce the chance that I'll get stuck or give up in frustration when operating my device."

Two Competitors for a Job To Be Done (Source:

Even 15 years after its market launch (2007), the iPhone is still a central product in Apple's portfolio and is regarded by customers as the gold standard in the smartphone category. The ecosystem of services continues to expand and each evolution of the device solves new jobs or improves existing solutions.

Looking through the Jobs To Be Done lens, we quickly discover more examples of products and services that perfectly solve customer tasks in terms of true innovation.

Vorwerk Thermomix

Prepare a tasty meal with fresh ingredients in a short time with little effort.


Ambitious, motivating and varied training under pandemic conditions (at home).


Pay for purchases or transfer money simply, securely, immediately and without the need for cash.


Companies that have understood their customers' Job To Be Done are provided with a tool that enables them to identify real customer needs over a stable period of time. With this market advantage, products and services can be developed that customers buy, appreciate, and recommend.


  5. Process need, unlike the other sources of innovation, does not start out with an event in the environment, whether internal or external. It starts out with the job to be done. Peter Drucker (Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 1985)