The Universal Job Loop

April 21, 2020
Andrew DiMeo

Anyone that knows me well also knows I don’t subscribe to universal processes.  So, why did I use “universal” here? Mostly to be provocative for increased readership, especially from those who do think this is out of character.  Another reason was simply to poke some fun at the concept of the Universal Job Map as originally introduced by a different name in the 2008 Harvard Business Review Article, “The Customer-Centered Innovation Map.”  Certainly no disrespect to the thought leaders who wrote the article, nor to the usefulness of the framework.  I frequently refer to it and use it myself. But, universal? That’s at least questionable.

All that said, here I present an alternate universe.  The Universal Job Loop (UJL). I suppose it could be applied to any job, but why?  A lot of jobs don’t need a framework. In this case, the job to be done (JTBD) is “The Complex Job.”  Therefore, “prepare a meal” would not be a good choice to use as an example job. Rather something like, “prepare the Thanksgiving Day feast.”  Now that’s a complex job! Note, for a thorough introduction to JTBD, I recommend reading, The Statue in the Stone” by W. Scott Burleson.

A UJL has four main components: 1. Divergence, 2. Synthesis, 3. Convergence, and 4. Iteration

We can make the UJL appear extra universal by excluding parts of the loop.  Example: skip divergence and synthesis, converge onto whatever’s already in our head, and complete a total of 1 iteration.  Boom! Business as usual. All kidding aside, for complex jobs, this UJL does work quite well and is represented by the figure.  The expanding triangle on the left represents divergence.  The block in the middle is synthesis.  Convergence is represented by the narrowing funnel on the right.  Iteration is expressed with the arrow looping back to divergence.  Although this iterative loop may not always circle back to divergence.  It can just loop back to do convergence over again, jump back to synthesis, or even jump to an entirely different UJL.  Alas, the reference image is already imperfect.

We can rename the steps to our liking and/or our industry lingo.  For preparing the Thanksgiving Day menu (a job within the job), I might just say 1. Brainstorm for Diverge, 2. Sort for Synthesize, 3. Choose for Converge, and 4. Circulate for Iterate.  With these headings, a common conversation of the UJL may sound like this:

Brainstorm all the foods and beverages we can eat and drink on Thanksgiving Day.  Sort the ideas into categories, such as appetizers, main courses, sides, desserts, adult beverages, and non-alcoholic drinks.  It’s Thanksgiving! So we may be tempted to make everything. Likely, however, we’ll choose a few items from each category.  Then, we may circulate this with our family.  At this point the UJL repeats as new items are added to the list.  Maybe new categories are generated, like gluten free or vegetarian options.  And so from the larger group with added categories, we choose once again, and circulate back to the family.  Hopefully we can get this done in a couple of rounds, any more we may be canceling Thanksgiving!

The more complex the job, the more UJLs.  Consider the larger job of, “prepare the Thanksgiving Day feast.”  We just looked at one of the jobs (menu). But there are many including:

  • Prepare menu
  • Invite guests
  • Gather ingredients
  • Prepare meal
  • Prepare drinks
  • Serve food
  • Clean house

There’s of course many more jobs.  Some complex, some less complex. They all don’t necessarily need a UJL.  They also don’t need to happen in any particular order. They may usually happen in an order, but they don’t have to be in a specific sequence.

For each complex job, the UJL can be applied.  For example, “gather ingredients” may include a divergence stage of recipe research, a synthesis stage to organize the ingredients into what stores they are best purchased, and a convergence stage to select a specific product to purchase.  Likely we’ll have missed something.  Then we loop back around to determine the missing ingredients, categorize to store (whoops, forgot the Vodka from the ABC), and then select Tito’s.

It may seem logical that this step occurs before Thanksgiving Day, and certainly before guests have arrived.  As a reminder, however, order is not the issue, just that the job gets done, even if that means running out for a bag of ice in the middle of the feast.

So what does diverge, synthesize, converge, and iterate look like in other settings?

These use cases shown of investigating a crime, doing market research, and designing a widget are oversimplified for readability.  But the point is to show the flexibility of the model. Especially note that the iterative phase of “Design a Widget” demonstrates looping to a different job altogether as opposed to back to the start of the loop.

Why present the UJL?  Because of what CanvasGT is bringing to the table for a common problem in complex jobs: the transfer and maintenance of information.

Think about the tools used for the stages of the UJL.  During divergence, we are often using creative tools such as whiteboards, Post-it notes, napkins, and notebooks.  During synthesis we make use of organizational tools such as templates, frameworks, filing systems, and libraries.  During the convergence stage, we are using analytical tools such as tables and spreadsheets.

The pain points are in the transitions.  A common experience is a brainstorming session resulting in a room plastered with Post-its, dry erase boards, and paper taped walls.  Do we leave it up and bogart the room until synthesis gets done? Or do we photograph and transcribe to a virtual whiteboard for synthesis work?  Then what? Copy-paste from there to Excel?

For a classic example, recall back to the introduction of iTunes and the iPod.  It wasn’t simply about the discovery, purchase, and portability of playing music.  Before Apple got involved, exploring new music wasn’t too painful. Organizing music was a bit of a chore, but still, not too bad.  In the 90’s there were a lot of CD towers and pocket-binders to fill the Synthesis needs. Portable MP3 players were also readily available.  What Apple did with iTunes was to make the whole process of discovery, organization, and choosing music a seamless activity.  In a vacuum, the discrete steps of divergence, synthesis, and convergence were well serviced.  The Apple innovation was a complete UJL for music.

This is what we are doing at CanvasGT for “The Complex Job.”  The solution is well positioned for filling urgent needs in medical device design and a significant value add in new product development.  If you want to learn more about CanvasGT, please reach out to schedule a call or Zoom.

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