This has been excerpted from the Harvard Business Review May 2008 edition.

By thoroughly mapping a job the customer is trying to get done, a company can discover opportunities for breakthrough products and opportunities.


  • In looking for ways to innovate, it is most effective to examine what customers are trying to get done when they “hire” a product or service, not what their existing process is.
  • To do so, companies must deconstruct every customer job into eight universal steps : defining objectives, locating inputs, and so on.
  • Within each of these discrete process steps lie multiple innovation opportunities for making the job simpler, easier or faster.


  • All jobs are processes

Every job, from transplanting a heart to cleaning a floor, has a distinct beginning, middle and end, and comprises a set of process steps along the way.

  • All jobs have a universal structure

That universal structure, regardless of the customer, has the following process steps : defining what the job requires; identifying and locating needed inputs; preparing the components and the physical environment; confirming that everything is ready; executing the task; monitoring the results and the environment; making modifications; and concluding the job. Because problems can occur at many points in the process, nearly all jobs also require a problem resolution step.

  • Jobs are separate from solutions

Customers hire different products or services to get the same job done.


    • Define

What aspects of getting the job done must the customer define upfront in order to proceed? This step includes determining objectives; planning the approach; assessing which resources are necessary or available to complete the job ; and selecting resources.

    • Locate

What inputs or items must the customer locate to do the job? Inputs are both tangible a intangible.

    • Prepare

Hoe must the customer prepare the inputs and environment to do the job? Nearly all customer jobs involve an element of setting up and organizing materials. Before cooking french fries, the fast-food operator must open bags, portion, and load fries into baskets; the nurse must set out and organize surgical tools before an operation must begin. At this stage companies should consider ways to make setup less difficult.

    • Confirm

Once preparation is complete, what does the customer need to verify before proceeding with the job to ensure with its successful execution? Here, the customer makes sure that materials and the working environment have been properly prepared; validates the quality and functional capacity of material and informational components; and confirms priorities when deciding among execution options.

    • Execute

What must customers do to execute a job successfully? Whether they are printing a document or administering anesthesia, customers consider the execution step the most important part of the job. Because execution is also the most visible step, customers are especially concerned about avoiding problems and delays, as well as achieving optimal results.

    • Monitor

What does the customer need to monitor to ensure that the job is successfully executed? Customers must keep an eye on the results or output during execution, especially to determine whether they have to make adjustments to get the task back on track in the event of a problem.

    • Modify

What might the customer need to alert for the job to be completed? When there are changes in the inputs or in the environment, or if the execution is problematic, the customer may need help with updates, adjustments or maintenance.

    • Conclude

What must the customer do to finish the job? Customers often think of concluding steps as burdensome because the core job has already been completed, so companies need to help them simplify the process.


To find ways to innovate, deconstruct the job a customer is trying to get done. By working through the questions here, you can map a customer job in just a handful of interviews with customers and internal experts.

Start by understanding the execution step, to establish context and a frame of reference. Next, examine each step before execution and then after, to uncover the role each plays in getting the job done.

To ensure that you are mapping steps [ what the customer is trying to accomplish ] rather than process solutions [ what is currently being done ] as yourself the validating questions below at each step.

  • As defined, does the step specify what the customer is trying to accomplish, or is it only being done to accomplish a more fundamental goal? [ Valid step : ascertain patient vital signs. ] [ Invalid step : check the monitor. ]
  • Does the step apply universally for any customer executing the job or does it depend on how a particular customer does the job? [ Valid step : place an order. ] [ Invalid step : call the supplier to place an order. ]

Defining the Execution Step

What are the most central tasks that must be accomplished in getting the job done?
END : Validate the steps.

Defining Pre-Execution Steps

What must happen before the core-execution step to ensure the job is successfully carried out?

    • What must be planned or defined before the execution step?
    • What must be located or gathered?
    • What must be prepared or setup?
    • What must be confirmed before the execution step?

END : Validate the steps.

Defining Post Execution Steps

What must happen after the core execution step to ensure the job is successfully carried out?

    • What must be monitored or verified after the execution step to ensure the job is successfully carried out?
    • What must be modified or adjusted after the execution step?
    • What must be done to properly conclude the job or to prepare for the next job cycle?

END : Validate the steps.


With a job map in hand, you can begin to look systematically for opportunities to create value. The questions below can guide you in your search and help you avoid overlooking any possibilities. A great way to begin is to consider the biggest drawbacks of current solutions at each step in the map – in particular, drawbacks related to speed of execution, variability, and the quality of the output. To increase the effectiveness of this approach, invite a team of diverse experts – marketing, design, engineering, and even some lead customers – to participate in this discussion.

Opportunities at Job Level

  • Can the job be executed in a more effective or efficient sequence?
  • Do some customers struggle more with executing the job than others [ for instance, novices versus experts, older versus younger ]?
  • What struggles or inconveniences do customers experience because they must rely on multiple solutions to get the job done?
  • Is it possible to eliminate the need for particular inputs or outputs from the job?
  • Is it necessary that the customers execute all the steps for which they are currently responsible?
  • Can the burden be automated or shifted to someone else?
  • How many trends affect the way the job is executed in the future?
  • In what contexts do customers most struggle with executing the job today? Where else or when else might customer want to execute the job?

Opportunities at the Step Level

  • What causes variability [ or unreliability ] in executing this step? What causes execution to go off-track?
  • Do some customers struggle more than others with this step?
  • What does this step’s ideal output look like [ and in what ways is the current output less than ideal ]?
  • Is this step more difficult to execute successfully in some contexts than others?
  • What are the biggest drawbacks of current solutions used to execute this step?
  • What makes executing this step time-consuming or inconvenient?

To identify opportunities for innovation, some companies focus on product leadership, some on operational excellence, and some on customer intimacy. Some offer services ; others offer goods. Regardless of which business model a company chooses, the fundamental basis for identifying opportunities for growth is the same. When companies understand that customers hire products, services, software, and ideas to get jobs done, they can dissect those jobs to discover the innovative opportunities that are the key to growth.

by Lance E. Bettencourt who is a senior consultant with Strategyn, an innovation management consultancy based in Aspen, Colorado and Anthony W. Ulwick who is the CEO and founder of Strategyn. Anthony is the author of What Customers Want.


Subscribe to the newsletter

By checking this box, you confirm that you have read and are agreeing to our terms of use regarding the storage of the data submitted through this form.