McDonald's had a mystery on their hands. While seeking to boost milkshake sales, they were analyzing franchise data in a particular region of the U.S. when they discovered four peculiar statistics:
- 50% of all milkshakes were sold before 8 a.m.
- Customers buying the shakes were always alone.
- The milkshake was the only item they bought.
- They never drank the shake in the restaurant.
This was pretty strange behavior, so they engaged a consulting firm to find out what was going on. This obsession with data, by the way, is pretty much a core McDonald's trait. Way back in in 1940, Dick and Mac McDonald painstakingly developed the optimal oil temperature (360 degrees) and cooking time (3.5 minutes) for the perfect French fry. The brothers' modus operandi was to measure everything, then iterate all processes to arrive at innovation. By optimizing their menu options, their customer service, their operations, et cetera, they arrived at their biggest win of all: Time, enabling them to put an order in a customer's hands in 170 seconds. And despite the takeover by Ray Kroc in 1961, McDonald's remains true to its data-driven roots.
Back to the milkshakes. The consulting firm staked out several franchises like detectives, approaching and questioning milkshake-bearers as they departed. "Excuse me, but what job does that milkshake solve for you?" A strange way to frame it, but the consultants were using a formal innovation methodology, popularly referred to as Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD).
The idea is that people don't want the product itself, but rather the outcome the product provides. The marketer and Harvard professor Theodore Levitt summed it up perfectly: "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill [bit], they want a quarter inch hole."
Photo by Simon Caspersen on Unsplash
Although the JTBD framework has recently received a huge boost in recognition from Clay Christensen, the business consultant known as one of the godfathers of modern innovation methods, the process originally emerged over 20 years ago with the less catchy title, Outcome Driven Innovation (ODI).
As innovation expert Tony Ulwick, the founder of ODI describes it, "Customers are not buyers, they are job executors. Competitors aren't companies that make products like yours, they are any solution being used to get the job done."
Here is the useful thing about using JTBD lens for your designs and your products: Solutions change a lot, but the jobs don't; they tend to be stable over time. Consider music. We still love listening to music on the go, but in the last 25 years the tool we used to do that has profoundly changed, from the Walkman, to the iPod, to Spotify.
So in our mystery at McDonald's, what "job" is the milkshake addressing? This is what customers told the consultants: They needed something to do during their long morning commute; something that would fill them up, keep them awake, and allow them to have one hand free. Apparently the McDonald's milkshake, with its viscosity, calories, and coldness executed that job better than the competition. Competitors included a cream cheese bagel (messy), a banana (requires two hands to peel) and a snickers bar (too much guilt).
Once McDonald's leadership saw their milkshake through the JTBD lens, they were able to improve upon it using a completely different strategy than they had originally planned. They offered a pre-paid card and moved the milkshakes closer to the cash register so customers could dash in and go. Sales increased sevenfold.
In Ulwick's framework, there is an important distinction between a "solution" and an "outcome" – for instance in the milkshake example, the solution is the milkshake but the outcome is that the commuter has something to occupy his time until 10 a.m. Ulwick and Christensen have found that winning products are those that help customers get to a desired outcome better or more cheaply than other solutions.
In order to leverage JTBD, the innovator must first break the job down into an underlying process, then measure two variables from the customer's point of view:
1) How important is the job?
2) How satisfied are they with the current solution?
All of this is anchored in the customer's overarching desired outcome, and the best solution is the one that helps them reach it.
There's at least two things that designers, or companies hiring designers, need to bear in mind here. One is that the solution might have nothing to do with the company's existing product designs or form factors. Two is that the answers given in interviews may not be straightforward and will require a particular type of questioning.
I'll give you an example. Consider Cordis Corporation, a company that manufactures the angioplasty balloon, a tool enabling cardiologists to restore bloodflow in a blocked artery. In 1993 Cordis leadership used the JTBD process to better understand what outcome cardiologists wanted, as well as the series of jobs necessary for that outcome. The idea was to iterate on their current product designs.
To gather data, they conducted dozens of interviews with surgeons, nurses, and hospital administrators. JTBD interviews are an important part of this process – and tough to do correctly. The first step is to have the participant describe their process or "job" in detail; however, participants will often describe solutions or products. For instance, surgeons would say "I use a balloon that is smooth and easy to maneuver." In order to get to key insights, the JTBD interviewer followed up with, "Why?" Surgeons said, "I need to move quickly through tortuous vessels." The JTBD team translated this into: "Job is to minimize the time it takes to maneuver through a winding vessel."
When framed in this light, Cordis realized that they didn't need to iterate on the angioplasty balloon at all; they needed a completely new tool that minimizes surgical time.
Once the JTBD team completes a sufficient number of interviews, they rate the needs and outcomes on two measurements: The importance of the outcome and the degree of satisfaction with the current solution. These ratings are then prioritized via an algorithm to provide an accurate idea of potential opportunities for product development.
For the Cordis team, the rating algorithm revealed a surprising insight: the most important job with the least satisfying solution was to stop an artery blockage from recurring. Armed with this information, Cordis went on to develop the coronary stent, which became the fastest-growing product in medical device history, delivering $1B in revenue during its first year. The company's revenues doubled within two years. Three years after the JTBD interviews, Johnson & Johnson acquired Cordis for $109 a share.
The striking point illuminated by the JTBD methodology is that it is not the solution that's important; the product is the method that customers use (or "hire") to reach their ideal outcome. Once we embrace the idea that a customer's desired outcome is what we ought to focus on, innovative design can become predictable and powerful.
- More info on the Cordis case study here.
- Here's a PDF link where you can learn more about ODI and JTBD.
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When pitching new business, I always looked for the 'person with a problem'. If you can develop a solution that meets their need you will have a powerful ally in bidding new work.
So, I get this methodology, but I think it is definitely only one part of the problem. If you design a product based on the single outcome, then you are ignoring the other outcomes it might have. especially in the drill bit example, there are several ways that drill bits get used in the shop that aren't specifically for drilling - e.g alignment pin, precise shim, set of parallels, etc. in this case, the tool might be for creating 1/4" holes, or for having something 1/4" in diameter. The latter might imply a lot more uses than could be planner for. (it is also why I don't like drill bits with flats ground on the shank)
In designing products secondary functions always come up, but the point of a drill bit is to make a hole, not be an alignment pin. Other uses come from your ingenuity as a user, whether or not it's spotted as a possibility during the design process.
Great article, I had come across the milkshake story before, but had no idea it was mcdonalds. I think getting to the roots of customers needs is what design is about and the JTBD is a good tool to get the process started.
If your great design does not solve a problem then its not great design
So much obfuscated misinformation and faux prestige media reference dropping going on here in this article...beware.
The journalist is is making the case for only the economic behaviors that come after product design (without actually valuing the method that enables them). She is trying very hard in her writing to value the psychological results/outcome of product design over the actual delivery method itself.
By stating that "people do not want your product design, they want your outcome instead" she is ignoring the well considered and necessary delivery methods that leads to an outcome. This kind of narrative is analogous to wanting to have a cute baby with out the part that includes conception, giving birth, teething, adolescence etc). She argues for an outcome without putting forth any cognitive or physical effort on the part of the solution user.
"People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill [bit], they want a quarter inch hole." Yes...but you still at the end of the day need a well designed drill bit (and other things) to make the hole today in 2019. More evidence of ignoring the reality of the methodology that goes along with solving a problem and just focusing on the behavioral aspects of instant gratification, deliberate technology transparency that drives more and more dopamine addiction.
She goes on with regard to tools and jobs...."We still love listening to music on the go, but in the last 25 years the tool we used to do that has profoundly changed, from the Walkman, to the iPod, to Spotify." These tools that are designed and developed into products by designers and others that are the "jobs" to which we perform and are able to continue to listen to music in a variety of ways is support for the desire of a product design over the outcome rather than the other way round.
We need more understanding of what is going on around us rather than less. Understanding more how product design leads to our satisfaction (psychologically and otherwise) is a more holistic and mindful way of living in the world in the 21st century. We cannot continue to outsource everything that we need done in order to achieve the gratification we desire. Priming our brains with more and more dopamine hits without interaction in the real world will lead to more and more "outcomes" fantasy valuation over the ability of better product design solutions to actually achieve it.
And using a McDonalds milkshake as an example of outcome rather than the reality of a sales and marketing decision, truly reveals the misunderstanding of design in this kind of journalism.
If I understand correctly, you're saying the article ignores the importance of design and products as solutions for problems. But I think you're missing the point that from a customers perspective, the product doesn't matter.
This doesn't make sense.
McDonald's Milkshake: 530-670 calories, 54-168 grams of sugar
How is a milkshake 'less guilt'??? Also, at what point are you just enabling obesity? Sure, profits go up, but they're doing so at the expense of healthcare costs. Obese people put a huge drain on our medical industry, compared to people of normal bodyweight.
The article didn't say milkshakes had less calories than Snickers, it said that the consumer felt less guilt. McDonalds is in the business to make money by selling milkshakes (burgers, fries, etc) not controling people's calorie consumption or lowering the nation's healthcare costs. If people want to buy a milkshake for the morning commute it's McD's job to sell it to them at a profit. Feel free to open your own burger joint with whatever focus you want. It's called free market capitalism.
The link to the Cordis case study isn't working, is there some site where we could we find it?
Interesting article, but I don't see much difference between this methodology and let's say UCD or HCD. The approach is almost the same, but the outcome many times depends on how open is the company to investing and adopting revolutionary solutions, rather than just doing incremental innovations.
Sorry, have fixed the Cordis link. Let us know if it gives you any more trouble.