Driving Strategy with JTBD: Interview with Zac Lyons

JTBD Toolkit
7 min readOct 14, 2023

Zac Lyons is a leading practitioner of jobs to be done (JTBD) with over 20 years of experience in the field. He founded the firm Agile Innovation Advisors to help leaders identify growth opportunities and feel confident they are on the right track.

Zac has a marketing and product management background with broad analytical problem-solving and business leadership, having worked for companies like Deloitte Consulting, PwC Consulting, Intuit, and Strategyn Consulting.

Zac Lyons, JTBD expert and founder of Agile Innovation Advisors

We were fortunate to have Zac, along with his business partner Brent Schmidt, on our monthly community event “JTBD Untangled.” I caught up with Zac afterward to dig a little deeper into his work and his approach to JTBD. Here’s what he had to tell us.

JIM: Tell us how you got into JTBD originally. Where and when did you get your start?

ZAC: The journey I am currently on started about 20 years ago. I’ve always been naturally inquisitive and love finding better approaches to solving problems.

In the early 2000s, I was a newly minted product manager at Intuit and was asked to develop a new version of TurboTax for Millennials. Being new to the role and wanting to be successful, I started going to conferences, reading books, and interviewing firms to get up to speed.

As I dug in, however, I quickly learned that most new products fail, 75–90%. I didn’t want to fail. As a result, I was compelled to find a better way.

During this pursuit, I stumbled upon a boutique consulting firm that introduced me to JTBD, the theory that customers hire products and services to get something done (a job). Soon after, I hired them to do a project for me.

I still remember the day we got the insights back from the study. I quickly pulled a team of marketing, design, and tax experts together and, within days, we developed marketing and product concepts that ended up bringing in 10k Millennials to TurboTax, winning us accolades from the WSJ and Business Week, and leading to my first patent.

A light bulb went on in my brain. If I could be successful innovating with this approach, anyone could!

Needless to say, I fell in love with JTBD and joined the consulting firm. I was cruising along as a consultant when, after 5 years, I started to get restless. There were some gaps in the firm’s methodology that I wanted to fix. So, I decided it was time to leave and go on my own.

JIM: Is that when you started Agile Innovation Advisors?

ZAC: Yes. I began Agile Innovation Advisors over 10 years ago and have been helping companies improve their products and services by gathering actionable insights on customers using JTBD ever since.

I’ve now done over 150 studies. I am proud to say that I have never stopped innovating my own methodology. It’s not a stretch to say that I took the best innovation process in the world, and made it better.

JIM: Amazing. That’s quite a start to JTBD! Can you share a brief success story from the 150+ studies you’ve done, perhaps around another patent you’ve received or something else you’re proud of?

ZAC: Here is an interesting story that I am proud of:

Workfront was looking to grow their business by getting new customers to use their B2B SaaS platform. Most of their growth had come through selling additional licenses to current customers. A big challenge with growing a software platform is understanding why customers use the platform and then making improvements that matter to customers.

We first learned that 80% of Workfront’s customers turned to their platform to get 5 core jobs done (manage a project portfolio, develop a new product, manage the review and approval of content, manage a client project, and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements). By studying these core jobs, we were then able to help Workfront focus their go-to-market messaging and prioritize product development to take advantage of the biggest growth opportunities.

Workfront revamped their website around these 5 core jobs, attracting new customers who were seeking solutions to help them get one or more of these jobs done. Furthermore, the team used the jobs-to-be-done approach to help them develop out-of-the-box templates that allowed new customers to see value right away when using the product. The company’s growth took off and they were acquired by Adobe in 2020 for $1.5 billion.

JIM: Great to see JTBD used in all of these ways — website design, GTM messaging, and product development. That brings up a question though: How do you go about measuring the impact of JTBD efforts? What are the ways you’ve seen impact measurement successfully done?

ZAC: Good question! Given that JTBD efforts should align with an organization’s business objectives, such as revenue growth, customer retention, or market share gains, the best way to measure the impact is how much it moves the needle on those business objectives.

However, since there is typically a delay between doing a JTBD study and achieving the desired results, an intermediate measure is needed to provide feedback to the team and let them know if they are on the right track.

JIM: Can you give an example?

ZAC: Sure. The best example of this is the work we did with First American. They use NPS on an ongoing basis as their primary customer feedback mechanism. So, we did a correlation analysis between the unmet customer needs in the JTBD study and NPS. Consequently, First American knew which unmet needs had the biggest impact on NPS.

Furthermore, like most NPS surveys, they ask customers why they chose the score that they did. Customers can fill in an open text box as well as choose from the list of highly-correlated unmet needs. We learned that 80% of the time, customers chose at least one of the highly-correlated unmet needs.

With this insight, the team began rolling out one change at a time to address the unmet needs and then watched in almost real-time what happened to NPS, and which needs customers chose as the reason why on the NPS survey. If NPS went up, they kept the change. If it went down, they would make tweaks until they addressed the targeted unmet need.

The result was First American raised their NPS by 20 points in 6 months, a big improvement. Perhaps more importantly, the team received very timely feedback on their JTBD efforts so they could move forward with confidence.

JIM: Thanks Zac — that’s really good insight. Final question: what recommendations do you have for folks looking to use JTBD in their own work? What advice can you give people just getting started?

ZAC: Getting started with JTBD, and seeing the benefits, is fairly simple.

The first thing I would tell them is that, although they likely already have a solution in mind or in the market, take a step back and think about for whom you are ideally trying to create value. Who is that group of people that you want using your product or service?

Make sure you define these initially in a way that covers everyone in that role so that you don’t miss an opportunity to innovate within a segment of the market.

For example, if you sell cars, we recommend defining the target audience as car buyers instead of 35-year-old women buying a car. Furthermore, who you are creating value for does need to be a set of people and not an entity. So, for example, financial advisors, not an investment firm.

Next, identify what it is they are doing or trying to get done for which your product or service will be used. Many times, what folks have in mind is only a small piece of what their customer or target audience is trying to do. You may be looking to launch a new app, but you should explicitly ask questions about who would use it and for what purpose.

JIM: Can you break that down a little, perhaps with an example?

ZAC: Sure. We worked with a company that had launched a VPN service. After we studied their target market, security/privacy-centric consumers, we learned that they don’t just want to protect their security and privacy when surfing the internet (what VPNs do), but also keep their passwords, files, and old social media posts secure.

So, the business went on to launch a more complete solution for consumers, helping them get more of the job done, and at a higher price point.

Getting out and interviewing the target audience is the best way to do this. Ask them when they use your product, what are they trying to accomplish or achieve? What do they hope to get done? This will help you identify the job they are doing.

The good news is that even thinking in this way can help folks begin to see beyond their product or service. The goal is to develop an outside-in market perspective and move away from the inside-out company view most people have.

JIM: Thanks, Zac!

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