In the Q&A of a Meetup, someone from the audience asked a very interesting question: Is there a connection between Blue Ocean strategy and Jobs-to-be-done?

The question was put rather loosely and not specifically related to the content of the talk, so the answer we gave was a kind of shot from the hips. But the question is actually quite interesting and stuck with us. After giving it some more thought, here’s our take on where we see the connection between the Blue Ocean strategy model and our Jobs-to-be-done thinking.

Moving from a red to a blue ocean involves 3 elements. Here’s the short take:

1) Change perspective: Jobs-to-be-done makes you think about the customer and her needs, not your competition. Thus, addressing the first element in Blue Ocean thinking.

2) Roadmap: Jobs-to-be-done – at least how we at Vendbridge apply it – uncovers customer pains no player in the market addresses at the moment in a satisfying way. Thus, giving you a roadmap into a blue ocean, the second element in Blue Ocean thinking.

3) Confidence: Jobs-to-be-done applied the right way gives an organization incredible confidence and comfort to bet on the right things. Thus, addressing the third element needed to make a Blue Ocean strategy work.

From a red to a blue ocean

Professors Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne introduced the concepts of a red and a blue ocean in their 2005 book Blue Ocean Strategy. The empasis both of the book and the ensuing discussions have always been on the blue ocean rather than the red, or more precisley the question has always been how to move from a red ocean into a blue one. They actually do a great Job explaining what a red and a blue ocean is on their website.

In short a red ocean is a metaphor for a highly contested and competitive market space where price battles are raging and companies are competing for shares of an existing market. Blue oceans on the other hand are free of – as Kim and Mauborgne say – “cut-throat” competition. These markest are untained and unexplored yet and represent an untapped growth opportunity.

Kim and Mauborgne outline 3 key elements how to get from a red to a blue ocean: a change in perspective, a roadmap on what to do and confidence within the organization.

Jobs-to-be-done and the way we apply it can help in each of these 3 elements: Jobs-to-be-done shifts the perspective away from competition to the customer, Customer Pain Points help build or reorient the roadmap and validation buils confidence and alignment.

Blue ocean strategy element Jobs-to-be-done answer
Perspective change Customer’s perspective
Roadmap Customer Pain Points
Confidence Validation

Change the perspective through Jobs-to-be-done

In a red ocean the focus on your competitors: What do they do? What strategic marketing campaing are they launching? How should we react? And so on… Being in a red ocean emphasizses looking at competition for knowing what to do.

To free the organization from this focus on competitors it helps to aks: Who are you competing for? Of course for customers! Jobs-to-be-done is a logic that can quickly and radically help to change exiosting perspectives and take the customers perspective. Jim Kalbach (@JimKalbach) described Jobs-to-be-done as an out of body experience for companies: Through Jobs-to-be-done they can see themselves from the outside, i.e. from the customers perspective.

How does Jobs-to-be-done do that? It instantly gives you a general answer to the question: What do customers want? They for example do not want drills, they want to mount something onto the wall. Customer do not want to sit in a train, they want to get from where they are to their destination. Customer’s, in short, don’t want products, they want to achieve a certain goal or purpose – a Job – and hire products to help them get there. Knowing the “There” means knowing the Job your customer want to get done.

If your organization starts to think about itself in terms of Jobs-to-be-done, the view naturally goes away from competition and gets into focus what matters to the customer: getting their Jobs done better than they can at the moment.

Pain Points outline the roadmap to the blue ocean

Shifting the perspective alone is not enough. Organizations need to prioritize their initiatives and projects accordingly, i.e. they need a clear roadmap. But not just a roadmap: one that gets them more and more out of a red into a blue ocean. What is needed, then, is to identify what problems customers have today that no one is solving.

That’s precisely what Pain Points are. Pain Points are problems customers have when they try to get their Job done. If that Pain Point is widely shared and independent of the solutions they are using at the moment: Bingo! If all customers of all the existing solutions at the moment have the same issue when trying to get the Job done, then, solving that Pain Point instantly moves your organization out of the red ocean. By defintion, you are now in a position that no other organization is at: you are solving a problem no other product is solving at the moment.

Applying Jobs-to-be-done the way Vendbridge has been applying more than 100 times does not only give you Pain Points but also prioritizses them from a customer perspective. Our CFI (Customer-Focused Innovation) approach can tell you which Pain Point is more important to customers than another. Taking that prioritized list of Pain Points provides the roadmap from a customer perspectve. Once you know the prioritized Pain Points you can reorient your product roadmap accordingly.

Validation builds confidence and alignment internally

Doing something new that you are not used to doing requires confidence and courage – but also a robust indication of success. Most people in an organization do not lack the energy – they lack conviction and alignment.

This is where the validation of Jobs-to-be-done as we do it can play an important role. By itself it is not enough and organisational change needs different efforts as well. But the CFI method insits that whenever possible qualitative insights about customers must be quantified. A sentence we regularly hear – and love to hear – after a quantiative results workshop is this: “It’s nice not having to discuss opinions in never neding debates on what customers want and what’s important to them, but start discussing how we can solve their Pain Points”.

Ideally that is the result of a quantitative study on the Pain Points of customers: it gives a credbile basis everyone agrees on to move forward with the roadmap.

Go where the water is blue!

In summary, Jobs-to-be-done is an ideal starting point to shift the perspective away from domination by competition and their actions towards the customer.

That shift opens up the view on what really matters: unsolved customer Pain Points. Knowing these Pain Points from a customer perspective translates quickly into a customer-focused roadmap towards as of now untapped market opportunities.

To align the organizations and establish a credible customer foundation validation can help kick start your adventure into bluer waters and leave competition behind.