Jobs To Be Done at Scale in the Enterprise: Interview with Alex Cottrell, Zurich Insurance

JTBD Toolkit
12 min readFeb 29, 2024

Alex Cottrell is a product innovation specialist within Zurich Insurance Company. His team provides a range of services to the business making use of customer-centered and Lean UX-style approaches, as well as facilitation and innovation training.

Throughout his career, Alex has seen a lot of the challenges enterprises face when it comes to innovation from different angles. He’s held many product roles in large organizations, as well as consulting roles across a range of businesses and government agencies

Alex Cottrell, Product Innovation Lead at Zurich

We hosted Alex on an episode of JTBD Untangled, where he shared real-world stories from the field in trying to scale jobs to be done (JTBD) practices across the organization. You can view the session here.

Jim caught up with Alex after the session to dig deeper into some of the main points. Read on to learn more.

JIM: What are some of the top challenges you face at Zurich?

ALEX: In my experience, all large companies face similar challenges. One of the most pressing issues for my team is the question of how we identify and prioritize the opportunities that will offer the most value for customers and help drive the business strategy.

In a competitive environment, our focus must then be on how we identify the needs that, if addressed, would provide the greatest opportunities for differentiation and value creation.

Another challenge in a company of around 5000 people is being able to collaborate effectively and progress opportunities as a cross-functional team. Doing so enables a better holistic understanding of the customer problem from all angles.

This then helps us to create an effective solution that works for customers, can also be delivered and supported effectively at scale, makes commercial sense, and aligns with our values and high levels of regulatory standards.

Finally, finding an approach that enables us to do all of the above but at speed, while maintaining maximum input from customers throughout the journey is key.

JIM: Yes, those are common challenges across enterprises. So why did you think JTBD could help? What was it about the approach that initially attracted you to the framework?

ALEX: From the outset, our principles included being customer-centric, evidence-based and outcome-driven. Keeping to these principles was key for us to ensure the most valuable opportunities progressed and others were closed down quickly.

To do this we needed to ensure that we had an approach that was completely rooted in the problem space to begin with and where any discussion of the solution could only occur when we had an understanding and evidence of our customers’ struggles.

We also wanted to ensure that our process was human-centered and involved a healthy amount of time with real customers before thinking about any solution. We then wanted a predictable way of identifying and evidencing the outcomes that were most important to the customer.

Having the data that gave us this direction enabled us to have a seat at the table when representing the voice of the customer and reduced the guesswork as to what was important to the customer. It enabled us to fail ideas in the problem space because of a lack of customer need, even before we start discussing the solution. That does justify the term ‘failing fast’ when you can close something down due to a lack of need or change course even before the solution is even discussed!

Another important specific area where JTBD has made an impact is in our adoption of Design Sprints, which we’ve had a huge amount of success with. A critical part of our differentiator is our availability to create completely new products and services for customers, as well as prototype and test quickly.

Before committing to building, Design Sprints and prototyping enabled us to do this. Adopting Sprints wasn’t plain sailing in the early days as found that when we followed the book, on Day 1 (i.e., the day the team shares their knowledge of the customer’s problems and needs) we lacked real evidence from the customer’s mouth. In addition, because the customer hadn’t identified their own underserved needs through importance and satisfaction, it was left to the team to vote on which needs were most important to address.

All this led to the team making too many assumptions about the customer’s struggle. We only had the opportunity to understand their needs once we were testing the prototyped solutions. After a few repetitions we knew that we needed to create a very definite line between the problem and solution space and JTBD and everything that went with it was the answer.

JTBD blends perfectly with Design Sprints and works as a great precursor to the activities. It also gave the business the confidence that they were designing a new customer experience that would add the most value and differentiation for the customer.

JIM: How did you get started with JTBD? What were some of your first steps?

ALEX: The first step was to understand what flavor of JTBD to start with. When you delve deeper you find that there are competing methods with slightly different takes and priorities on how it should be followed, we needed to decide whether we wanted more structure (Ulwick) or to improve how we understand the mindset shift (Moesta).

Because it gave better data up-front we settled on structure first. However, we knew that we could ultimately weave the best parts of both approaches together as we matured the process.

We then focused on what it took to formulate a good job statement. This is never an easy task and we felt that if this wasn’t done well then it could take the whole opportunity in the wrong direction.

To do this we focused on creating a hypothesis statement that contained the customer, the job trigger, the job to be done and the context by which we wanted to play. Using this gave us a great starting point for discussing the important factors with the business before proceeding.

Finally, because our mission was to bring the cross-functional business team with us we brought this all together in a day workshop. In this workshop, we ran activities to understand the customer/job beneficiary and other important parties. Because we have a large B2B business, it’s essential to understand all the actors, especially in the brokered space.

JIM: How did you introduce JTBD to your business stakeholders?

ALEX: We first guided the business to use what they knew of the customer to create the job map and outline the customer’s functional, social, and emotional struggles, as well as which needs we thought could be most important and least satisfied. This allowed us to create a new customer experience and a storyboard that addressed these needs.

We did this without customers to be able to create a clear starting point on what we thought the customer’s needs were and what a solution could look like. This gave the sponsor clarity early on and by going through the activities up-skilled the team by going through the JTBD mindset and empathy for our customer

JIM: This is an interesting customization to the JTBD framework. Starting with a solution without customers feels contrary to the JTBD ethos. Can you tell us more?

ALEX: Yes it does feel a bit counterintuitive but after a lot of tests and learning, it is definitely the right approach for us.

As an innovation function, one of the areas where we bring the most value is in our ability to increase the number of opportunities that can be explored in the business while reducing the cost and risk of doing so. To do this we must have a process that brings a cross-functional team together for a short but quality time to progress the thinking on the opportunity.

This then enables the sponsor to have their first opportunity to clearly understand the team’s thinking so that they can either green-light its progress to go into customer engagement or close it down quickly. We found that this first round had to include 3 things, a clear view of who the customer was, an understanding of what their struggles were and a first view of what a solution was that we were proposing to bring it to life.

We say up-front that this first stage will contain a lot of untested assumptions but that’s acceptable as the investment in time and resources has been minimal. The alternative would be to dive directly into customer engagement and our JTBD process which would be a much more lengthy and costly process, something that we don’t want to do if we

JIM: What techniques did you use to guide the conversations in these workshops?

ALEX: To deliver this clarity after the workshop we bring all the thinking together in a ‘PRFAQ’, the Amazon way of creating a product vision, this document can then be iterated and built on as we progress the opportunity. The Future Press Releases an amazing tool for creating clarity. It fits perfectly with JTBD in terms of defining the customer and their struggle, articulating the outcomes they want to achieve and how the solution addresses them.

It also enables us to gather a huge amount of information through the PRFAQs from across the business on the questions that the customer and business may have. This enables the Sponsor to understand the challenges and questions that the opportunity may face.

Running this visioning session workshop enables us to introduce the concepts to the cross-functional team that we will be taking them through in depth in future stages. This is critical because the tools and techniques that we use are not as commonplace in traditional business.

First and foremost is introducing them to JTBD. By participating in the workshop, the team will spend time creating empathy with the job performer, considering the trigger that activates the job to be done, what the job steps could be that the customer goes through, the struggles that they might encounter, spending time turning struggles into needs statements and understanding how they must evaluate each in terms of importance and satisfaction. If we didn’t have this first session, then they wouldn’t understand these concepts.

Then in the solution space, we get them familiar with Design Thinking /Design Sprint Concepts including ideation, lightning demos and storyboarding. It’s quite a journey we take them on in a day!

Finally and most importantly is what we take away from it. Because we have spent a good amount of time with the team and Sponsor in discussing the customer and their job to be done we can feel confident that we understand who we want to interview and what the job to be done is that we want to talk to them about.

This is the only information that is ‘fixed’ at this point. The rest — including the assumptions we are making about their problem and the new solution — are all likely to change based on the engagements we are about to have with the customers.

JIM: Fascinating! What have been some of the most notable impacts of bringing JTBD into your process?

ALEX: In a recent podcast I heard Bob Moesta ask the question “What is the progress that they want to make?” It felt like such a powerful singular starting point for any opportunity. In innovation it can be tempting to jump to the shiny new solution, however by anchoring the team’s mind on such a fundamental human question we found that it removes all conversation about what the solution could be and centers the conversation instead on the person and their struggle.

Because of their comparatively loose structure compared with interviews with pre-set questions, I feel that everyone can run JTBD interviews which makes them very accessible. It’s a skill that you can get better at and shouldn’t be owned by a specific discipline such as UX Research.

With a few pointers I’ve seen people who have some of the least experience in interviewing, but who are genuinely interested and empathic to the customer’s predicament, run some of the best interviews. The fact that the interviews focus on the functional, social and emotional means that the interviewer becomes grounded by default in the human-centered design process.

One of the biggest impacts for us has also got to be the Importance / Satisfaction stage. These two parameters represent the value a need has to a person and the movement that they want to make to become satisfied. When you can survey a large demographic with these two questions, you really have a map that points you to the outcomes that could provide the most value to a customer. It’s instantly understandable when you show these two factors on a graph to a sponsor and it provides them with their first set of data in the evidenced-based journey that you are taking them on.

Finally, I find that JTBD really helps in the solution design stage. We use a Design Sprint format to identify the best solution and the assumptions that we want to test, one of the first stages that is traditionally run is ‘Ask the experts’. In this stage the ‘experts’ talk and ‘How Might We’ opportunities are captured by the team.

We always felt that this approach was a bit too ‘on-the-fly’ for identifying needs but if you do JTBD before your Design Sprint you have the customer’s HMWs prioritized for you, neatly set out in the right stage in your job map. I sincerely recommend combining JTBD with the Design Sprint you want to do, it makes the whole process much more effective and increases buy-in.

JIM: Great to hear how you’ve integrated JTBD with other techniques, like Design Sprints. Can you share any stories about the business outcomes that have come out of your use of JTBD, e.g., increased satisfaction scores or improved sales or similar?

ALEX: In insurance a lot of opportunities for innovation are in the prevention space as much as they are in the protection space. For example, we recently developed a great product to help our customers mitigate the risk of damage and business disruption such as fire caused by hot works on a site.

We saw a steady increase in customers adopting the product which in turn increased the likelihood that fire incidents can be prevented. The critical thing when measuring success here is to assign the outcomes their own input and output metrics.

For instance, we know that the outcome is to reduce fire incidents but it’s very difficult to observe that this is specifically due to the use of the product. We can however observe the input metrics that link to the outcomes, such as an increase in permits issued to contractors, an increase in the permits completed as intended and an increase in the number of times a customer has accessed a dashboard.

Beyond the innovation team, we’ve seen the business adopting the outcome-based mindset that JTBD offers. This has led to some really innovative products that have been released recently, such as in the retail life space. These have had a big impact on the market with the level of differentiation that they have which has come from an understanding of the customer’s underserved needs.

JIM: What advice would you give someone looking to bring JTBD into their organization just as you did?

ALEX: There is a lot that I would suggest but to keep it concise I’ll identify 3 priorities.

First of all, do your research. Deep dive into the texts of the main voices in the JTBD space like Clayton Christensen, Bob Moesta, Tony Ulwick and others like Dan Olsen. When you do this you may feel confused by some conflicting mindsets. To make sense of those, if you don’t mind me saying, use your playbook as the textbook that pulls it all together, that’s what I did. This will enable you to speak the language and start to see the code of the Matrix!

Secondly, focus on understanding how to articulate and sell the benefits of adopting this approach to the decision-makers in your organization. To do that you have to be a good storyteller, think about the needs that JTBD will address for the business and turn that into a compelling story. The good news is that you can apply JTBD to do this, think of the job that relates to embedding JTBD, then the factors that the business struggles with that applying JTBD will help them achieve, turn these into outcomes and then turn this into a narrative!

Finally, find a team who are both empathic and analytical and really want to solve customer’s problems. This will help ensure that you extract valuable information from customers, be able to synthesize and organize the data and isolate the outcomes that are most valuable to deliver solutions for. This team doesn’t need to be professional UXers or Product Managers, most of my team didn’t come from there.

Everyone has the potential to have this skillset, they just need to be an empathic human with a clear goal of understanding the progress that the customer wants to make.

JIM: Thanks, Alex!

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -

See Alex on JTBD Untangled:

--

--

JTBD Toolkit

Lead your team to think about customers in a whole new way. The JTBD Toolkit has videos, webinars, tools, and templates — your go-to resource for all things Job