The differences between being output focused and outcome focused are determined by how success is measured.
Product and development teams that measure success based on efforts rather than the consequences of those efforts are being output-focused. A common trap that these teams fall for is to think they’re on the right track when efforts are high but then neglect to measure the consequences of those outputs.
For example, a product manager might think they’re successful because they released seven new features over the last six months. In reality though, if those features provided no additional value to the customer or the business and nothing was learned from those releases then those efforts were wasted.
- Scrum teams that measure success based on the number of story points completed are being output-focused
- Employers that measure success based on the number of hours their employees sit in front of a screen are being output-focused
- Development teams that measure success based on the number of lines of code written are being output-focused
- Scrum teams that measure success based on the number of tickets complete are being output-focused
Product and development teams that measure success based on the consequences of effort rather than effort itself are being outcome-focused. Mature teams purposefully determine what problems are being solved, what value is being delivered and how success will be measured after predefined milestones are met.
For example, rather than celebrating that a feature was merely released, an outcome-focused team would consider a release successful if it resulted in a measurable increase in revenue or customer satisfaction.
- Product teams that measure success based on a positively trending Net Promoter Score (NPS) are being outcome-focused
- Product teams that measure success by aligning their releases with the business' Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) are being outcome-focused
- Business leaders who measure certain Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to determine where limited resources should continue to be spent and where others should be reallocated are being outcome-focused
In a scene from the 2011 movie Moneyball, Billy Bean (the owner of the lowest paid team in the MLB - the Oakland A’s) is sitting around a table with his scouts trying to determine how to build the most successful team for the next baseball season. The scouts made output-focused comments about which players to bring onto the team such as “He’s got a baseball body”, “Good face”, “Good jaw”, “He’s a good looking ball player”, “The ball explodes off his bat”, “He’s got a classic swing; a real clean stroke” and one even went as far as discounting a player because “he has an ugly girlfriend”.
Not seeing how these traits would help them compete, Billy Bean tried exploring a question an outcome-focused person would ask: “What is the problem?” Once again, his staff continued to frame the problem by focusing on outputs rather than outcomes. Ultimately, because Billy Bean focused on the outcome of winning rather than outputs like jawlines or awkward pitching deliveries he was able to construct a team that would end up getting as many wins in 2002 as the New York Yankees–the highest paid team in all of MLB. Billy Bean changed the game forever by focusing on outcomes rather than outputs.
Focusing on outputs can be a lot like focusing on vanity metrics. They might make someone look good on the surface but favoring form over substance is rarely a long term winning strategy. Outcome focused teams start with the end goal in mind and work backwards from there. They know the why behind what they’re doing. They recognize that effective outputs contribute to a desired outcome but they don’t allow short-sighted accomplishments to blind them from the long term outcomes they’re aiming to achieve.