Book Review: The Jobs To Be Done Playbook


Insights from UX research

A column by Michael A. Morgan
July 20, 2020

Cover: The Jobs to Be Done PlaybookIn this edition of Discovery, I’ll review Jim Kalbach’s recently published book, The Jobs To Be Done Playbook: Align Your Markets, Organizations, and Strategy Around Customer Needs. If you know nothing or everything about jobs-to-be-done, I’ll provide enough information in this review for you to decide whether this book is right for you.

In addition to authoring two other UX books—Designing Web Navigation and Mapping Experiences—Jim Kalbach is a well-known speaker at UX conferences and workshop moderator. He is also Head of Customer Experience at Mural, a software company that develops digital collaboration tools for organizations.

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In this book, the author ties together myriad applications of and different schools of thought about jobs-to-be-done (JTBD). Any UX professional who has read even a single book on this subject likely knows that there are different—and sometimes highly divisive—perspectives on JTBD. Rather than sidestepping this controversy, Kalbach attempts to lay out all of these perspectives as an objective third-party might do. He thereby enables readers to form their own impressions and decide which techniques would best fit their needs.

For those of you who have read many books on this subject—and perhaps even integrated some aspects of JTBD into your own practice—you’ll find that the first few chapters of this book serve as a good refresher course on JTBD concepts. At the end of most chapters, Kalbach offers extremely practical case studies and applications of the techniques he’s discussed in the chapter.

Throughout the book, the author describes a little theory; mentions articles, case studies, and books that other JTBD practitioners have written; and provides the steps for executing a particular technique. He cleverly calls these step-by-step vignettes of theories and their practical uses Plays—a sports metaphor that indicates these are targeted strategies and their use depends on specific situations.

Other sections of the book cover interview questions and methods that I have not seen in other books about JTBD, which gives you an additional reason to add this book to your collection. Whether you are new to JTBD and are simply curious about this method or you just want to add another set of tools to your practitioner’s toolbox, this book really is the perfect place to start.

Book Specifications

Title: The Jobs To Be Done Playbook: Align Your Markets, Organizations, and Strategy Around Customer Needs

Author: Jim Kalbach

Formats: Paperback, Kindle

Publisher: Two Waves Books

Published: April 7, 2020

Pages: 300

ISBN-10: 1933820683

ISBN-13: 978-1933820682

The Organization of the Book

Now, let’s dive deeper and explore how Kalbach has organized the book. The table of contents looks like something you might see in a freshman textbook for a survey course, which, in a sense, it is. But simply looking at it as a survey book would ignore the book’s intent. Survey books offer tiny morsels of information on many different topics, but this book gives you heaping cups of information on many topics.

Kalbach has organized his book around a core JTBD concept: value. The titles of the main chapters of the book are as follows:

  • Understanding Jobs to Be Done
  • Core Concepts of JTBD
  • Discovering Value
  • Defining Value
  • Designing Value
  • Delivering Value
  • (Re)Developing Value
  • JTBD in Action

I’ll briefly summarize each chapter. Given the high density of the information in this book, it would be difficult to capture all of the main ideas from each chapter. Therefore, I’ll describe specific topics from each chapter that I think readers might find particularly useful for their own practice.

Understanding Jobs to Be Done

This chapter covers the history of JTBD and explores its different schools of thought. Kalbach describes the Outcome-Driven Innovation (ODI) approach that Tony Ulwick developed, which takes both a qualitative and a rigorous quantitative approach to understanding customers’ jobs and identifying product opportunities. He also considers the Switch technique that Bob Moesta developed, whose goal is understanding customers’ underlying motivations for switching from one product to another. The author acknowledges that he has used both of these techniques in his practice and weaves these perspectives together throughout the book.

For the newbie who is just beginning to explore the various perspectives on JTBD, it is easy to get lost and muddle together the different messages that its practitioners use in describing JTBD. To bring clarity across these perspectives, toward the end of this chapter, Kalbach elaborates on five principles that all practitioners can agree upon, regardless of their perspective. These principles are especially important for newbies who want to separate truth from fiction. Probably the most important of these principles is the fifth one, which reminds readers what JTBD really is: a discipline-agnostic lens rather than a specific method or technique—that is, “a way of seeing that can be applied throughout an organization.”

Core Concepts of JTBD

For those of you who are already familiar with JTBD’s core concepts, this chapter provides a great review—especially if it has been a while since you’ve used JTBD. Plus, novices should appreciate this introduction.

Following an easy-to-understand “current events–like” format, which is depicted in Figure 1, Kalbach lays out the main building blocks that make up the JTBD framework: the job performer, the who; the job, the what; the circumstances, the where and when; the process, the how; and the needs or outcomes, the why.

Figure 1—The JTBD ecosystem’s key concepts and their relationships
The JTBD ecosystem's key concepts and their relationships

The author also presents a grammar for job statements, as follows: verb + object + clarifier—for example, gather together during mealtime could be a job for a family, the job performer.

Plus, Kalbach provides an extremely handy set of questions that readers can use as a litmus test to ensure that their job statements are ready for stakeholders and others within an organization to align on. There is one question that I found particularly useful: “Would people have phrased the job to be done like this 50 years ago?” This question helps the JTBD practitioner eliminate any potential solutions from the job statement—whose inclusion is a cardinal, but common sin of those who often put solutions before customers’ needs.

As the author covers these core concepts, he also spells out some possible sources of confusion for those trying to understand them. Job performers can sometimes be tricky to identify when you’re undertaking a JTBD effort. It is all too easy to conflate job performers with other functions within the job ecosystem. For example, one might confuse the buyer with the job performer, but these are typically two separate roles in B2B (business-to-business) scenarios, although they are usually the same in B2C (business-to-consumer) scenarios. Kalbach describes the various functions within the job ecosystem—for example, the buyer, approver, and reviewer—among many others. Calling out and defining these functions helps the JTBD practitioner to more easily figure out who is the job performer versus another actor within the ecosystem.

Discovering Value

In this chapter, Kalbach describes some practical techniques for discovering and understanding jobs. In addition to walking through aspects of ResearchOps such as recruiting and scheduling participants, he describes how to analyze the findings from JTBD methods—specifically, the jobs map for jobs interviews and the Four Forces technique for Switch interviews.

JTBD practitioners should pay careful attention to this chapter, especially if they are looking for hands-on techniques that they can apply to their own efforts. Unlike many other JTBD books that focus either on theory or on selling the reader on a specific technique, Kalbach provides real tactical advice to practitioners on how to conduct jobs interviews—not just what kinds of questions to ask, but also how to ask them, including tips and guidelines.

One specific technique Kalbach mentions throughout the book that I found potentially useful is asking Why?—to look at jobs broadly and discuss outcomes—and asking How?—to dig deeper into the process. This technique is similar to laddering, a technique from consumer and organizational research. It is also part of Means End Chain Theory, which researchers can use to capture attributes, consequences of consumption, and qualitative data about personal values to better understand consumer perceptions and motivations.

With Switch interviews, a technique that Bob Moesta and Chris Spiek developed, the focus is typically on B2C products, for which the job performer and the buyer are the same person. Despite Kalbach’s knowing that many of his readers might work in the B2B space, he provides a concrete example of conducting a Switch interview when the buyer and the job performer are two different people—in which case, the aspects of emotional motivation are largely absent.

Toward the end of this chapter, Kalbach delves deeply into the various steps of the job map, shedding light on how best to adapt the map to your own needs—for example, changing the standard labels for stages so they better reflect your project—while also adhering to the spirit of the guidelines that its creators Tony Ulwick and Lance Bettencourt originally devised.

Defining Value

Defining value is about understanding where the underlying opportunities lie. In this chapter, Kalbach describes some techniques for discovering value by identifying customers’ underserved needs. These are needs that customers perceive as important, but that are not well satisfied. Starting with Tony Ulwick’s ODI approach and using the grammar for defining needs or desired outcomes, Kalbach provides a simplified version of the steps that are necessary to measure desired outcomes, thereby identifying the underserved needs.

The author acknowledges that replicating ODI could be challenging—both because the method is costly to implement and can lead to misleading or invalid results—for example, by identifying incomplete needs or surveying the wrong people. However, by starting with a technique that could prove difficult for many organizations to achieve, Kalbach is able to give readers a more rigorous, exhaustive approach to the discovery of underserved needs—a foundational element of JTBD for identifying opportunities—then dials things down to more approachable, practical techniques for practitioners to use.

Designing Value

Having a product-development roadmap is essential for any company’s success. Kalbach says, “It is about getting a common understanding of where you’re headed.” JTBD helps product teams focus on the right problem to solve, based on their customers’ needs. The author mentions the four elements that go into a product roadmap—product vision, business objectives, timeframes, and themes—then describes the steps for developing a roadmap. Similar to many of Kalbach’s plays, he has based this roadmapping process on advice from the books of roadmapping experts and research from other practitioners.

Kalbach also describes an agile-friendly approach to JTBD. Similar to user stories, job stories describe what users do in a JTBD-friendly format, including their need and motivation. The format is as follows: When [situation], I want to [motivation], so I can [expected outcome]. For example: When at the movies, I want to recline in my chair, so I can get more comfortable without spilling my gallon of soda. Kalbach provides additional perspectives on job stories from other JTBD practitioners, including that of Alan Klement, who recommends being more specific in their details to better demonstrate causality. Andrea Hill, another practitioner, ties solutions to the job stories. By exposing readers to an array of perspectives, Kalbach enables them to choose what fidelity and frame would best fit their JTBD efforts to their organizational culture.

JTBD also ties into product architecture—that is, how to organize a solution to support customers’ jobs. The author describes various well-known models that connect the structure of products to specific customer jobs, including Jesse James Garret’s five-layer model for user experience design; Beyer and Holtzblatt’s User Environment Design (UED) from their landmark book Contextual Design; and Indi Young’s mental model–mapping technique, which lets you design a Web site’s navigation based on users’ mental models.

At the end of this chapter, Kalbach describes how you can test hypotheses using JTBD. He uses Lowdermilk and Rich’s Hypothesis Progression Framework (HPF), shown in Figure 2, from their book The Customer-Driven Playbook.

Figure 2—Lowdermilk and Rich’s Hypothesis Progression Framework
Lowdermilk and Rich's Hypothesis Progression Framework

Kalbach describes their two-phase process, which breaks down customer development and product development into four stages—two stages per phase, as follows:

  • Phase 1—Understanding the customer and the problem
  • Phase 2—Defining the concept and the feature

These phases can involve experimenting and testing hypotheses at any stage, while including the job-to-be-done within each phase. For those who are familiar with the double-diamond model—or perhaps have their own framework for product development—you’ll find this approach extremely familiar, but worth exploring further.

Part of this technique involves using an MVP to learn something about your product without investing too much development effort up front. As a practitioner who was unfamiliar with the HPF framework and is always under tight deadlines for delivering research results, I plan to explore this play further to see how I could integrate this method into my projects.

Delivering Value

Kalbach describes some techniques you could use during the various phases of a product’s customer-experience journey in this chapter. He uses journey-mapping techniques to describe the consumption jobs that a buyer might experience, which differ from the main job and include the steps for finding a product or service, deciding to purchase it, and getting value from it. For those of you who have read the author’s previous book Mapping Experiences, you’ll immediately recognize this technique. This is one example of the many maps that the author refers to as value-alignment maps. In addition to explaining how you can apply these techniques during the consumption phase of a product experience, the author provides a step-by-step description of how practitioners can use them for onboarding, retention, and customer support.

Alan Klement, a JTBD practitioner, has developed a framework for designing customer-onboarding experiences that lets practitioners separate customers along two dimensions:

  1. How well they know how to do a job—A concept Klement calls job comprehension
  2. How well they know how to use a particular solution—The solution experience

They can then design experiences that emphasize different content for customers with different combinations of the low / high dimensions. For example, a customer who falls into a low solution-experience / high job-comprehension category might require a tour of all product features and instructions on how to use them, as well as information about how the tool differs from others, but less information on how to do the job itself.

While much of the book provides practical techniques for using JTBD thinking, the author also provides some research-based models that are useful in establishing a foundational understanding of the applications of jobs thinking in this chapter. For example, in the section on retention, the author describes the Behavior Model of Stanford University psychologist B.J. Fogg as a way of understanding the factors necessary for changing people’s behavior. To change a person’s behavior, all of the following factors must be present: motivation, ability, and prompts, or triggers. Having a better understanding of these factors lets product teams tap into the psychology of their customers to create habit-forming products.

(Re)Developing Value

In this chapter, Kalbach offers a JTBD approach to analyzing disruption that is based on Maxwell Wessel and Clayton Christensen’s Harvard Business Review article “Surviving Disruption.” He provides steps for analyzing the disruptor, placing jobs at the center of the analysis. The author also describes different ways of viewing product-strategy options. In addition to describing two older models—the Ansoff Matrix and BCG growth-strategy matrix—Kalbach describes Tony Ulwick and Strategyn’s growth-strategy matrix, which encompasses all the product-strategy approaches that use JTBD, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3—Tony Ulwick’s and Strategyn’s growth-strategy matrix
Tony Ulwick's and Strategyn's growth-strategy matrix

Kalbach points out that, while these older models look at strategy from the business perspective, they do not necessarily consider strategy from the customer’s perspective. In contrast, the growth-strategy matrix looks at strategy from the outside-in—that is, from the perspective of the customer’s job. It considers how inexpensively and quickly a product can get a job done. According to the author, by having this knowledge, organizations can achieve more predictable growth. Kalbach outlines the steps for defining a job-based strategy using this matrix.

Once your team understands which of your customers are overserved, underserved, are nonconsumers, or have limited options, you can begin to consider which strategy to choose from the matrix. Plus, just as the competitive landscape can change rapidly, so might a firm’s product strategy. Kalbach reminds us that a company who starts out with one strategy—for example, a differentiated strategy such as Uber’s UberBLACK—might decide to expand into other offerings—for example, a dominant strategy such as UberX—that get a job done more cheaply, but just as well.

The chapter concludes with a description of how to organize teams and products around the jobs customers are trying to get done. Kalbach acknowledges that accomplishing this could prove difficult at the higher levels within an organization, but then suggests a more grass-roots approach that might enable product teams to align on their projects’ jobs. He also provides a few case studies about companies such as Intercom, who aligned their product offerings around the different jobs their customers were trying to get done.

JTBD in Action

In this final chapter, Kalbach reminds his readers that customer-centricity begins with understanding what motivates customers. He offers JTBD as a lens through which you can envision successful products that customers want. Kalbach reviews some of the key tools that you can put into practice—some which are easier to integrate than others. These tools include ODI, the Jobs Atlas, and the Switch technique + Four Forces analysis—among others.

This chapter also includes recipes, which are very specific use cases in which you can put JTBD to use. For example, the recipe “Optimize an Existing Product or Service” provides steps that utilize some of the tools the author has explained throughout the book—for example, jobs interviews and creating consumption journey maps.

If Kalbach ever publishes a subsequent edition of this book, it would be great to see a map of all these recipes, bringing them together into some sort of decision matrix. Given the myriad use cases and scenarios for applying these techniques, a map would help show all of the techniques and how they relate to one another.

Concluding Thoughts

This book will be a go-to reference for UX professionals and other JTBD practitioners who are looking for clear, direct approaches for their customer-research projects.

By now, you probably know whether you want to add this book to your collection of UX books—or your JTBD collection. If you’re looking for more specific details on the theories that this book outlines, Kalbach has provided lots of resources at the end of the book.

Although this book is available in both digital and paper versions, I highly recommend your acquiring a paper copy. In JTBD-speak, a paper book would best satisfy the underserved need of allowing a UX researcher—the job performer—to minimize the time it takes to find a specific JTBD approach when performing the job of researching approaches to projects with tight deadlines


Hawley, Michael. “Laddering: A Research Interview Technique for Uncovering Core Values.” UXmatters, July 6, 2009. Retrieved May 17, 2020.

Kalbach, Jim. The Jobs To Be Done Playbook: Align Your Markets, Organization, and Strategy Around Customer Needs. New York: Two Waves Books, 2020.

Senior UX Researcher at Bloomberg L.P.

New York, New York, USA

Michael A. MorganMichael has worked in the field of IT (Information Technology) for more than 20 years—as an engineer, business analyst, and, for the last ten years, as a UX researcher. He has written on UX topics such as research methodology, UX strategy, and innovation for industry publications that include UXmatters, UX Mastery, Boxes and Arrows, UX Planet, and UX Collective. In Discovery, his quarterly column on UXmatters, Michael writes about the insights that derive from formative UX-research studies. He has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Binghamton University, an M.B.A. in Finance and Strategy from NYU Stern, and an M.S. in Human-Computer Interaction from Iowa State University.  Read More

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