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  • Writer's pictureLean Quest

Customer First - Job to be Done

Lean Quest has participated with the Department of Defense (DoD) in the development of the Open Source Management System. Lean Principles and Capabilities are at the heart of this model and have been combined with academic research and studies to develop a robust Management System. An example of how these are combined is the Lean Value of Customer First and the Product tactic of Customer’s Job to be Done.

Key Points:

  • Customer First – The Lean Value that means: the needs of the customer are always the priority – All processes and operations must begin with an understanding of the customer’s needs

  • Customer Job to be Done – We engage and deeply understand our customer’s problems, their underlying motivation for solving those problems and the frustration they are facing with current products (and/or services) they “hired” to get the job done

  • Innovation must be Customer Driven – Successful innovation is driven by better addressing the needs and motivations of the customer

Customer First

In Lean, Customer First means the needs of the: customer are always the priority. Value streams are designed to deliver exactly what the customer wants, when they want it, at the desired level of quality (the Lean Principle of Just In Time). By focusing on what the customers value, we can understand which activities add value to the customers and which are waste.

Lean addresses the needs of all customers, both external and internal; most organizations understand the importance of focusing on their external customers, but few organizations place the same level of importance on internal customers. The lack of importance organizations place on internal customers, allows inefficiency to grow within the organization. This lack of coordination reduces teamwork and leads to waste and sub-optimization.

Job to be Done

Customer’s Job to be Done is a tactic in the Product portion of the Open Source

Management System. Job to be Done was developed with contribution from several sources but advanced by Clayton Christiansen from Harvard Business School. With Job to be Done, you seek to understand “the job” your customer is “hiring” your product to accomplish. This understanding goes past the typical functional evaluation and includes both the emotional and social elements that motivate the customer’s decision-making process. Fully understanding your customer’s motivation allows you to properly design your product and then align your structure, processes, and people to provide the solution the customer is seeking. While Christiansen’s work focuses on product development for external customers, the logic of the theory can be applied through the Customer First Value to provide additional insights to internal customers as well.


One of the biggest questions facing businesses is how to sustain meaningful innovation over time? Whether this innovation is creating a new product or innovating a process to be more effective and efficient, the driving force behind sustained meaningful innovation is the link to the customer and better addressing their needs. Innovation for the sake of innovation is neither sustainable nor meaningful.

Jobs to be Done Theory documents four key benefits to aligning the organization behind a common purpose (the customer’s job to be done). These benefits align very closely to benefits typical of successful Lean implementations:

  • Distributed decision making – The focus on a common purpose facilitates distributed decision making >> In Lean, decision making is empowered at the lowest level; if you are responsible for the job, you are responsible for improving it – The Customer First Value and the Lean Principles provide guidance to align these

  • Resource optimization – Having all resources focused on the needs of the customer allows you to optimize the use of the resources >> Lean is exceptionally effective at optimizing processes around delivering value to the customer and eliminating waste (anything that doesn’t add value to the customer)

  • Inspiration – Creating solutions that are valued by the customer is inherently satisfying and inspirational to the members of the organization >> Lean Continuous Improvement has a long track record of being inspirational and building ownership within the organization

  • Better Measurement – “That which gets measured gets done.” Linking measurements to the customer protects organizations from the drift that occurs from metric-driven management >> Lean measures focus on the elements that drive value to the customers and stakeholders. These measures identify problems and drive continuous improvement


Most organizations think they understand the Customer’s Job to be Done. Yet they struggle with innovation and customer retention.

  • Do you understand your Customer’s Job to be Done?

  • Have you aligned your Processes to create the solutions that satisfy the Customer’s Job to be Done?

  • Is your organization (Product, Structure, Process, and People) aligned to meet the Customer’s Job?

  • Do you put the proper attention on internal customers and their needs?

What can you do now that will help you be more competitive in the future?

How can Lean Quest help you in the future?

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