Jobs To Be Done, Good Enough and Your Mobile App


The basics behind Clayton Christensen Jobs-to-be-done theory is that customers buy or “hire” products and services to do jobs. Some of those jobs are quite clear: I hire the metro to take me from point A to point B.

But there are other jobs for which people might hire the metro: to be eco-friendly, or to be able to read a good book or work while traveling. As your brand’s mobile app product owner or strategist it is your responsibility to identify and solve both the obvious and the subtle jobs your customers hire your app to do.

A famous example was developed by Theodore Levitt, Ph. D of Harvard Business School. He stated that drill manufacturers are not in the drill business, they’re in the “holes in things” business. People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole. Drill companies that understand the real job customers hire them to do build better “hole makers” – not necessarily better drills. This, ultimately, creates better products for customers.


When a innovator enters a market, they are typically smaller and therefore don’t require the large profit margins that the large incumbent needs. As the large brands flee to the higher end of the market to serve power users and to reap larger high-end profits, the disruptor targets the lower margin and underserved segments.

In comparison to the incumbent, the innovator’s product likely lacks the complete features power users demand. Even with a product that isn’t necessarily good enough for all jobs, the the innovator’s product better serves the jobs for the lower end market.

Because innovators are more nimble and accustomed to lower margins they are able to rapidly iterate, solving more and more jobs at a better price point. This process devours the incumbent from the bottom up. Eventually, the not-good-enough disruptor’s product solves enough of the core jobs to simply take over the entire market. As the innovator spreads, they swallow up the incumbent leaving the once powerful eviscerated. Mobile apps have the power do this faster than ever before.

Uber, only founded in 2009, has grown to an valuation of over $40B and is razing the entire for-hire transportation industry. Uber is seeing such staggering growth because the nature of apps allowed it to rapidly iterate to satisfy customer needs. Uber came seemingly out of nowhere to gobble up the well-entrenched taxi market in just 6 years.

Not just Good Enough

“Good Enough” is the theory that a product doesn’t yet satisfy all the jobs customers want it to do. Take phone cameras. First added to mobile phones in 2000, they took terrible pictures and were barely used by most users. But the best camera for the shot is the one you have on you.

Each year, phone makers added better sensors, lenses, software, etc. In 14 years, Canon et al. are completely unable to compete in the point and shoot market, because Apple and Samsung are shipping $300-400 subsidized mini computers with high-quality cameras with features like HDR and two-element flash – features the camera makers can’t implement competitively. Plus, camera makers have to overcome the whole its-already-in-your-pocket problem that the phone was already solving.

In mobile, Apple and Android work feverishly to improve upon and find new jobs to be done to avoid being just Good Enough. Take HealthKit and HomeKit. Our phones are getting good enough at pictures and communication, so Apple is expanding into new things we might hire a phone to do.

In addition to your own innovations, your brand’s app should ride in the wake of Apple’s and Android’s wave by implementing each year’s new OS features that help your app better solve your customers problems.

Take heed

The business graveyard is full of the dead and dying companies who rode the train until the rails fell off. Rovio has been doing this by reskinning the same Angry Birds game over and over. And Microsoft is the biggest cautionary tale in software. Bill Gates infamously killed the Courier tablet because it did not help sell the company’s biggest hits, Office and Window. Now both Windows and Office have been Good Enough for years and Microsoft barely has a footprint with its failed Surface tablet.

What do you do when your app gets Good Enough?

Invariably your app will become Good Enough and serve all the needs your customers hire it to do. The key is to continue to innovate and grow beyond your app. Take the same team that build your successful apps and challenge them to solve a new problem for new customers (even ideas that may cannibalize the brand’s incumbent products). Pick up new jobs and expand existing ones. Don’t encumber the team with business requirements and minimum revenue models.

Mobile has changed business forever and those that seek to remain dominant by remaining entrenching in a successful but Good Enough product will find themselves engulfed and eclipsed by new and (most likely) unseen innovators.

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