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Delivering impact in today’s landscape is a loaded task. Here’s how focusing on outcomes can boost your team’s impact.

In today‘s fast-paced and competitive environment, organizations are under pressure to innovate and deliver quickly. To stay ahead, many are adopting agile frameworks and best practices to speed up feature delivery. However, this relentless drive for speed can make life miserable for teams, who are often overwhelmed by endless prioritization exercises and the pressure to do everything at once.

To boost team performance, leaders and managers turn to productivity metrics like team velocity to measure success. But in the process, they often lose sight of what truly matters: impact. The focus on productivity (i.e., the number of features delivered) overshadows the real goal of any team: to drive meaningful change and measurable value.

Outcome-driven delivery offers an alternative. By shifting the focus from feature delivery to better understanding and measuring the value provided to the users, organizations can build a culture that values tangible results over mere productivity.

Outputs, outcomes, and impact

To better understand the concept of outcome-driven delivery, it‘s crucial to understand the distinctions between outputs, outcomes, and impact.

Outputs are the tangible results of scoped work done by teams. Examples include features, bug fixes, documentation, and blog posts. Outputs, in turn, drive outcomes.

Using Joshua Seiden‘s definition, an outcome is a change in human or team behavior that ultimately leads to a measurable impact. For instance, an outcome might be reducing the time an engineer waits for their changes to go live in production, or increasing the time users spend in the application. Outcomes focus on changing human or team behavior.

Lastly, impact refers to the long-term business result generated by the measurable outcome. For example, when users spend more time in our application, we generate more revenue from advertisements.

The problem with output-driven delivery

Outcome-driven delivery shifts the mindset of teams and organizations to stop focusing on delivering the output (features) and start focusing on the expected outcome. It’s a common mistake to confuse shipping features for being a performant team. In software engineering, the amount of goods produced is not equal to the value provided. A feature can be finished, delivered, and work perfectly yet still provide no value at all. Think about all the options or settings that you have never used, and will probably never use, on your favorite applications. 

Outcome-driven delivery allows you to focus on the human behavior that will drive business success. It ensures you prioritize the most important features, ideally delivering only what‘s necessary to meet your goals.

Another common pitfall of measuring success by the number of features delivered is that it can lead to monotony and a lack of celebration. When teams focus solely on delivering feature after feature, they lose sight of the bigger picture and the impact their work has on the organization.

Outcome-driven delivery for managers

Establishing goals for organizations and teams can be a complex and challenging task for managers. The key obstacle lies in translating high-level business objectives into specific, measurable, and achievable goals that teams can understand and focus on. 

Unfortunately, many leaders rely on tools such as product roadmaps or project management delivery plans. Following these plans or roadmaps becomes the success criteria for leaders and teams, which does not encourage business agility and adaptability and can lead to a narrow focus on executing the plan, rather than achieving the original business impact. As a result, managers often lose sight of whether the executed plan drove business growth or delivered value to customers.

To bridge this gap, managers and leaders need to start using outcomes to help their teams deliver business impact. It becomes the role of managers to ask, “What is the outcome of this work?”, “Where does it fit into the larger value stream?” and “How is success measured for the work?”. These questions are valuable for leaders to help teams understand the purpose of their work and how to measure success for it, making it easier to decide whether to continue or stop a project/task.

Measuring success is a crucial aspect of outcome-driven delivery. Once teams identify the desired outcome, it‘s essential to clarify how they’ll measure whether that outcome is achieved. This provides a critical feedback loop for teams to reflect on the value provided by each feature they develop. By tracking the right metrics, they can gain valuable insights and make data-driven decisions to adapt development plans. In outcome-driven delivery, metrics should focus on tracking changes in human behavior (outcomes). For instance, a team might track the number of new account registrations after redesigning their website‘s homepage, or another team might monitor how much time users spend on their app.

How to get started

Luckily, getting started with outcome-driven delivery is not that hard, all it takes is being curious and asking a few questions. You can start with a practice like the Five Whys to really make sure you and your team understand why you are doing this work, and what outcome you‘re looking for. You can also start by using some of the following questions to focus on the behaviors and outcomes: 

  • Whose behavior will change because of this? This will help you to identify who you are targeting. For example, is it an internal user or a customer?  
  • What is their current behavior? This will help you to build empathy for your target user and better understand their current experience – what might be some of their pain points? 
  • How will their behavior change and how will this benefit the user/business? These questions help you to think about the outcome and impact of the change you want to introduce. These are crucial for determining how you‘ll measure if you are successful or not. 

Logic models are a visual tool that helps you make connections between the inputs (teams, hardware, time) and outputs (features, products) needed to drive the expected outcomes and impacts. They are a powerful tool to help you think about outcomes and break down larger initiatives into smaller measurable goals. Joshua Seiden‘s book, Outcomes over Output also provides a nice framework for thinking about outcomes.

Final thoughts

Embracing outcome-driven delivery can revolutionize the way your team works. By identifying the specific behaviors that drive business success, you‘ll not only provide meaningful and measurable goals for your team members, but also boost engagement and motivation. For leaders, outcome-driven management bridges the gap between strategy and execution, empowering teams to focus on finding the most effective solutions to drive business results.

To get started, try asking customer-centric and user-centric questions that prioritize the needs of your customers and users. By adopting outcome-driven delivery, you‘ll be able to create a more focused, motivated, and high-performing team that drives real business results.